With all the programs out there, how do you decide which to join and how many memberships make sense? Channel pros weigh in.
By Carolyn Heinze
February 14, 2011
How many calls a week do you receive soliciting your firm to join a new partner program—three, five, 15? With so many vendors in the IT community, it’s inevitable you will receive numerous partnership offers. And with start-ups popping up like daisies, the volume of invitations can be overwhelming. But there are benefits to partnering up, as long as you make your commitments wisely.
“The most important aspect of a partner program is that our customers become important to the OEM,” says Carl J. Mazzanti, CEO and vice president at eMazzanti Technologies in Hoboken, N.J. “When a customer has a problem, they’re important because we’re important to that manufacturer.” In addition, partner programs provide access to road maps so that Mazzanti’s team can plan for the future with its customers, and manufacturer training ensures that employees possess the right product knowledge without having to learn on the job.
Taylor Business Group is a Kansas City, Mo.-based consultancy focused on serving IT service providers. Josh Peterson, senior consultant, notes that for his clients, the primary advantage of partner programs is that the relationship between vendor and channel partner is strengthened. “The advantage is having a deeper set of offerings for their clients,” he says. “They can use products for their internal use. They can stay fresh on what’s going on in the industry.” And, in many cases, they may become familiar with technology before it’s officially released.
Daniel Duffy, CEO and CIO of Fresno, Calif.-based Valley Network Solutions Inc., notes that in theory, partner programs should produce increased awareness on the vendor’s side of the channel partner’s business, and what its capabilities are. “In reality, that is usually not the case,” he says. “Instead, they run us through reams of forms and applications, and still [that awareness] never seems to find its way down to the foot soldiers, in some cases years after we’ve been set up.”
Duffy believes this is because many programs are developed by those who are disconnected from the channel. “They have their perception of the channel, but it appears as if most of them don’t visit VARs, and they come up with forms and lots of things that, in reality, don’t often produce results—they just produce work.”
Vendor solicitations may also be a distraction, Peterson notes, both to business owners and their salespeople. “Salespeople are often the ones who field those calls, and suddenly they get interested in the next shiny thing,” he says. “The smaller partner programs can really muddy the waters, and they can serve to distract salespeople from a company’s core partnerships.”
CRITERIA FOR COMMITMENT
With this in mind, what criteria should channel partners apply to ensure that the commitment they’re making is the right one?
For Duffy, it doesn’t start with the almighty dollar; it begins with assessing the quality of the product. “I look first at the companies that produce the products that, if I were the customer, I would want to use,” he says. Longevity is also a factor: Companies that don’t appear capable of supporting the product, or don’t look like they’ll be around for very long, aren’t good candidates. “They should have some market leadership or some really strong innovation.” Then, Duffy will begin to explore how profitable the partnership could potentially be.
Duffy notes that the vendor’s approach to training is another major criterion that determines whether he will sign up or not. “The very first thing most of them want us to do is spend a lot of time on training and take all of our people out of the field who are normally productive either selling or doing service, and put them in a room in front of a computer,” he says. In the most extreme cases, some vendors want the channel partner to pay for this. “The companies that expect us to pay them are not even considered, and then those that want us to do all sorts of burdensome and time-intensive training are usually also not considered.”
That’s not to say that Duffy doesn’t recognize the importance of a trained staff. “We have to know what we’re talking about,” he says, but there is also a need for flexibility on the vendor’s side. “When we have opportunities, that’s when I want to get our salespeople certified and trained as needed. If I have one opportunity and I’m a small business, and my customer is a small business, I don’t need six engineers and three salespeople certified. I probably need one of each, and they probably don’t need to be certified for that first year—we just need to know what we’re doing.” Then, as the momentum starts to build, certification becomes key.