Focus on communications and uncommon commitment earn vendors gold-star status
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Gold star" storage vendors show uncommon commitment to their channel partners in terms of high margins and deal protection--two key reasons solution providers are committed to working with them in return.
Storage vendors that earned high marks for their channel programs in the VARBusiness Partner Programs Guide included an eclectic mix of top-tier vendors such as EMC Corp., Hopkinton, Mass.; Hitachi Data Systems Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; and Network Appliance Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., and a wide range of smaller vendors.
Tier-two storage vendors have historically focused on sales exclusively through the channel because their customers often have IT environments consisting of a mix of server platforms. At least two of the major vendors--EMC and NetApp--have responded by offering product lines aimed exclusively at the same markets.
Solution providers say that the most successful channel programs fielded by the larger vendors depend on close communication with their partners. Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Consiliant Technologies LLC, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider that works with such gold winners as HDS and Overland Storage, San Diego, said that HDS is quick to provide whatever information the solution provider needs to make a deal.
"I can get the information I need from the customer, then work with Hitachi, and then go back to the customer and say, 'Here's the product you need, here's the training, here's the price,'" Kadlec said. "And at the end, the customer is done. There's no need to go back and clean up after. Customers like that."
Having the right people is also important for larger vendors' success in the channel, Kadlec said. For HDS, that means Maria Gugerty, the local channel sales manager. "Having someone like Maria involved and keeping tabs on what's going on is very important," he said. "Relationships are very important. It helps us have great success with them, and we stay loyal."
NetApp has that same communications focus, said Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime Inc., a Tulsa, Okla.-based partner of NetApp and Overland. And that communication helps avoid channel conflict. "I've never felt like I've been scooped on a deal by NetApp's direct team," he said. "If we get scooped by another partner, it's a rare occurrence."
NetApp's new Authorized Service Provider program, along with its training and lead generation programs, demonstrate the company's commitment to the channel, Strasheim said. "The most important thing a vendor can do is show they will dance with us. Obviously they need a solution that passes engineering muster. And they have to have margins to make it worthwhile. But most of all, I expect commitment, like they expect it from me."
Solution providers also expect commitment from smaller storage vendors, but with more of a focus on higher returns.
Overland, for instance, has great spiffs and really knows how to motivate sales reps, Strasheim said. "They also have great programs, and their lead registration is a piece of cake," he said. "Overland has better margins than companies like NetApp. But we're talking about $50,000 deals. NetApp deals are much larger."
Overland is religious about its channel commitment, agreed John Zammett, president of HorizonTek, a Huntington, N.Y.-based solution provider. "They allow us to make a decent profit," he said. "And 98 percent of the time, we don't have to worry about anyone snaking deals from us."
Overland gets commitment from its channel partners in return, Zammett said. "They don't sell direct at all," he said. "And the fact that they live and die by us is important."