|Robert C. DeMarzo is VP/publisher of VARBusiness and
I'm not sure which vendor did it first, but years ago, some savvy executive cooked up the idea of bestowing benefits to VARs that were willing to commit to a partner program. What those programs really stood for in their heyday was recruitment. Once a vendor had won over a VAR, it would offer volume-based discounts. When the flaw in volume programs was exposed via the gray market and channel stuffing, vendor executives became politically correct, basing program perks and discounts on value instead. It was a well-intended attempt at leveling the playing field so that box-movers wouldn't perpetually undercut VARs that invest in training and offer solutions. I suppose the value programs have worked, but what they effectively did, too, was add new layers of rules and regulations on top of programs that were already complex.
Need proof? When was the last time you heard a channel executive proclaim that Wednesday's garbage pickup would include trash cans filled with unused, unneeded partner program elements? It never happens. What takes place instead is the announcement of program enhancements every year at a vendor's annual partner conference, or during the vendor's first fiscal quarter, after the CEO has signed off on a program's new bells and whistles.
Here's another thing: If partner programs are so effective, why do vendors have so much trouble tracking their partners? I know for a fact that information on active partners listed in most vendors' databases is inaccurate and outdated. And here's a dirty little secret: A high percentage of sales go through VARs that aren't even members of a vendor's partner program. If that doesn't speak volumes about the state of today's partner programs, I don't know what does.
No one is saying there's no value in today's average partner program, but the number of program elements has become mindboggling. You have training, pre- and postsales support, a distribution program, marketing support, MDF, beta-program membership, technical support, a competitive sales escalation feature, advisory board membership and more--and that's just for starters. Shall we go to level two?
Are all of these elements necessary? No! Oftentimes, those elements find their way into the partner program of Company A because Company A was envious of what Company B included in its partner program and wanted to compete.
If I were the CEO of an IT vendor, I would require my channel chief to start from scratch. I would tell Bob Smith, "Throw the whole thing out and tell me what you really need to build a partner program." The answer had better be a very simple plan to sell to lots of VARs that understand my company's products and technologies and want to sell them to willing customers. After all, is any self-respecting VAR going to remain in a vendor's channel program if the vendor's product doesn't stack up? He may not ask that his name be removed from the vendor's partner list, but he won't be selling the company's products either.
So, again, what's the ultimate partner program? My answer: one that's simple to join and not overengineered by a channel executive. It's not focused on the vendor; it's aimed at ensuring the success of partners. Let's face it: The only thing that's as important as partner success is customer satisfaction, and the ultimate partner program can accomplish both.
Tell me how you define the ultimate partner program. I have special prizes for those of you with the top 10 answers. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.