VARs are from Mars. Vendors are from Venus.
It may seem like that for many solution providers in the channel; partnering can be as difficult as relating to the opposite sex. Matching specific skills, sales goals, cultures and corporate values can be so daunting that it makes partnering seem like a losing proposition.
But as the economy slowly recovers, many solution providers are reinvesting in their partnerships. Resellers are working with new vendors eager to establish a channel business as well as their counterparts in the channel in an effort to extend their businesses.
VARBusiness sat down with four solution providers--Evan Leonard, president of Chips Computer Consulting, Lake Success, N.Y.; Jeff Medeiros, president of rs-unix.com, San Francisco; Thomas "Fox" Potter, principal at Computer
Sciences Corp. (CSC), El Segundo, Calif.; and Rick Tashman, a vice president at Syscom Technologies, Marietta, Ga.--at the recent XChange Solution Provider conference in Nashville, Tenn., to find out how they build profitable ties with other technology companies and what they look for in partners.
One thing became abundantly clear: These solution providers are thriving on strong partnerships and are putting more time, energy and money toward their more successful partners. Potter says his company has continued to invest dollars into training its engineers and consultants for such vendors as BEA Systems and Microsoft, and Medeiros says he's putting more money into building up his thriving IBM business at rs-unix.com.
"Partnering has been profitable for us, whether it's on the vendor side or with other VARs," Leonard adds. "For a company our size, it has been crucial."
Here's what these four solution providers said about their best partners and what makes partnerships successful.
What makes a vendor partnership successful? According to our roundtable participants, bigger isn't always better and price isn't always king. Several of the roundtable members saluted up-and-coming vendors as their best partners, not necessarily because of the high volume of product sales they enjoyed under those vendors, but because of superior partner programs, resources and benefits.
Leonard says Symantec has been his company's top partner of late. Chips' security business, which includes firewall and VPN software and appliances, and antivirus solutions, has been growing steadily, thanks to the vendor. The solution provider was part of a beta program for a new lead-generation system, which debuted recently. "We've gotten a couple of clients already from Symantec," Leonard says.
As for Syscom, Tashman says APC has been its strong-est partner in recent months. Syscom is an APC-certified partner for the vendor's InfraStruXure product line, which includes new data-center cooling, power-distribution and rack solutions. Tashman says APC products offer him better gross margins than most hardware and adds that the APC Alliance Program has also won him over.
"That has been a great program for us," Tashman says. "We have a regional rep who we do joint sales calls with, we get marketing support, we do trade shows together, we get lead generation and even client appreciation dinners with APC."
Solution providers are also finding valuable partnerships with smaller, lesser-known vendors. Another company that has been climbing the charts with Syscom is Zenith Infotech (no relation to Zenith Electronics), an India-based software company that specializes in network-monitoring and data-recovery software. Because the vendor was flying under the radar, Syscom attained an advantage after recently partnering with the company. "I became a sort of exclusive partner," Tashman says. "We've shown the products to a few clients and won some deals already."
That's not to say roundtable resellers don't partner with frontline vendors. Rs-unix.com, for example, an exclusive IBM Premier Partner, has thrived as a result of Big Blue's channel blitz and blossoming software business. "IBM has been very, very good to us," Medeiros says. "If you can keep up the level of competency on your team and deliver quality for complex projects, they'll love you."
Potter says CSC's partnering strategy is driven by the client and the specific project. The integrator likes to focus on customer development and, therefore, is extremely methodical in deciding which vendors and integrators to work with on a given project. "We don't go out and say we're going to partner on every job," Potter says, "but if we have a client opportunity where it makes sense, we'll do it."
Ironically, in addition to its top vendors, such as BEA Systems, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, CSC has also teamed with sometime-competitors, such as IBM Global Services. Co-opetition, as it's often called, has come in handy, according to Potter. "IBM has given us leads, and we've shared leads with them as well," he says.
Perhaps more so today than in the past, solution providers are working with other resellers, consultants and systems integrators. The channel ecosystem has evolved, according to the roundtable participants, toward more efficient, productive partnerships and complete solutions that are quickly deployed.
Thus, a premium has been put on teamwork, the solution providers say. In turn, many vendors have developed strategies designed to connect their various partners with one another to expand the collective opportunities.
"One thing Microsoft has done very well for us is to introduce us to other partners," Leonard says. Chips, for example, is strong on the network-infrastructure side, but Microsoft has gotten the solution provider in touch with other partners in the software market to help deliver Microsoft applications along with network solutions from Chips. As a result, those Microsoft VARs will call on Chips when they need networking services.
It's not just other solution providers that VARs are teaming with. IBM, Medeiros says, has invested more than $100 million in ISV relationships for its PartnerWorld members, and rs-unix.com has participated during the past 12 months to 18 months in regional programs that team various IBM VARs with Big Blue's software vendors. "We're now teamed with regional ISVs and systems integrators as a result," he says. "It's a partnering-with-partners strategy."
Distributors are also helping VARs network with one another. Tashman says Syscom subcontracts with other solution providers within the Ingram Micro Service Network and has found the group to be extremely beneficial in expanding the company's coverage.
Managing numerous partnerships can be complicated, however. Because CSC is usually the prime integrator on its contracts, the company is ultimately responsible for all subcontractors, vendors and solution providers under its keep. Potter, who serves as project leader for CSC, says VARs must carefully select their partners and make sure they match up well with their own corporate philosophies.
For Leonard, how quickly a prospective partner returns a teaming agreement to Chips is an indicator of how they'll perform; if the company takes its time getting the agreement back to Chips, Leonard says it sends up a red flag.
"You look for the same things in a partnership that you do in any relationship," Leonard says. "Are you bringing out the best in one another, and is there a give and take?"