In today's electronic world, the typical programs that vendors have provided throughout the years won't cut it.
Today, vendor program must-haves include an easy-to-use electronic site, money and time-saving elements including Web-based training, and a willingness to communicate what their sites offer and how to take advantage of those tools.
"The more they communicate with us about their tools, the more we will use them," confirms Marie Graziano, CEO for Computer Consulting Services Inc., a solution provider in Carrollton, Texas.
Vendors that understand and act on that will emerge victorious; those that don't will be left in their competitors' e-dust.
Who Gets It
Graziano gives high marks to Hewlett-Packard Co., Houston, and Acer America Corp., San Jose, for their e-nabled partner programs. HP, Graziano says, has a strong configurator, while Acer lets integrators order warranty-type parts online. For integrators like Graziano, ease of use and navigation are critical. "If a site is cumbersome or slow, and if you can't find what you're searching for relatively easily, people won't use those tools," she says.
IBM Corp., Somers, N.Y., clearly gets it. Late last year, the system-maker tied its backroom systems together with Savoir Technology Group, Campbell, Calif., an IBM midrange distribution partner (and soon-to-be Avnet company), to simplify the process of electronically placing and tracking an order. IBM plans similar engagements with other distributors and partners.
IBM has also begun offering e-business certification courses via satellite and Web-based training, and has created a database of potential partners. Business partners can expect more of a Web-based relationship with IBM going forward, "both in the way products are sold and in the way we deliver information and skills to our partners," promises IBM's Patricia Meacham, vice president of Global PartnerWorld.
Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., has also reinvented its model. The company reorganized to concentrate on specific customer segments and has begun to implement e-centric programs tailored to each. "The first step was to recognize that the partner community has evolved, and the second, more courageous step, was to execute change when things were going so well," explains Bill Cate, Sun's director of marketing, Americas eSun & Partner Sales, Dallas.
Cate says Sun is "dot-comming" itself to engage more effectively with its partners. For example, the company recently announced a dual-sourcing program under which selected products are now available to integrators through Sun's Web site or via its three authorized distributors, giving its integrators a purchasing choice. While Compaq Computer Corp., Houston, may have been first to test the waters with similar strategies, the more staggered deployment of Sun's program seems to be sitting better with integrators so far.
What Partners Want
Vendors e-nable their programs to offer:
Vendors e-nable their programs to offer:
Chris Conway, SGI's e-business manager, says e-business may not be the "be all, end all" in cost savings. "We look at it more as a customer satisfaction tool," he says. A year from now, SGI's profiling system will be more complete and likely the most visible change to the e-nabled partner program, adds Greg Goelz, SGI's vice president of worldwide channel sales and marketing.
Who's Still Working On It
While Acer America has been playing catch-up with its e-savvy competitors, it should be recognized for its new online program achievements. Acer has already begun to implement partner programs that can be accessed electronically, including a quotation and configuration tool that is in beta with integrators now, and, as Graziano mentioned, an accessories and hard-to-find parts inventory that's already available online. Next month, Acer will give integrators the ability to check their co-op balances and create marketing materials online. And in the June time frame, the company plans to roll out a lead-management tool.
Acer is also making good use of its online ordering capabilities and its ability to capture information about its integrator customers while simultaneously maintaining its relationship with its two-tiered distributors for fulfillment. Additionally, Acer has been working for two years on an overhauled supply chain infrastructure to allow for better forecasting; in the third or fourth quarter of this year, it will give its integrator partners access to that information. "Those are the invisible infrastructure things you have to do to be a leading-edge player in this new e-business age," says Greg Blum, Acer America's director of channel and vertical marketing. The company has spent nearly $10 million preparing its e-programs infrastructure so far. "And 2000 will be the year when it all becomes visible," promises Stu Carlson, Acer America's director of inside sales.
Compaq also fell a bit behind its competitors, if not in program design, in announcement. Compaq does have a slew of typical e-centric partner programs that include a variety of purchasing options, a partner locator and a lead-management program that, just last month, became totally executable via the Web.
Compaq delivers the bulk of its program suite descriptions to partners electronically. Its Active Answers program gives partners 24/7 online solutions to nonstop e-business questions. And in January, Compaq introduced "Meet the Experts," allowing partners to participate in interactive Webcast seminars. Clearly, Compaq is headed in the right direction, but it's not finished yet. "I would like to think that in a year, [nearly] everything we do could be done via the Web," says Fran Roberts, director of partner marketing. (For more on Compaq's e-business strategy, see "The House That Compaq Built")
HP, too, is catching up to its competition in the e-programs and services space.
"HP has taken tremendous strides to become more competitive in the Internet world," says Carol Eubank, the company's North American channel service marketing manager. "Hopefully, that's coming through."
Some examples of HP's e-nabled services: One-to-one Web portals between HP and its larger systems integrators kicked off in September of last year, but were not fully engaged until now. HP also offers online contract management tools and targeted lead-generation programs, and will soon roll out marketing fund management tools.
While such examples only provide a snapshot of the kinds of e-nabled programs vendors offer today, the delivery of programs and services online is critical. Judging vendors by their commitment to providing e-services may be a good indication of their awareness of the changing channel environment and their willingness to help you navigate through new waters.