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Of the Big Three, Venero said IBM lags behind both HP and Cisco in channel savvy. He said that IBM is the most complex of the three to engage with on a day-to-day basis.
As for HP and Cisco, Venero said HP clearly outshines Cisco with a vigorous embrace of the channel and strong day-to-day account engagement. "There is no question about that," Venero said. But, he said, it would be silly to discount Cisco's channel prowess. The $40 billion networking market leader, in fact, walked away with overall Channel Champion awards in Enterprise Networking and in Unified Communications and six subcategory awards. And Cisco's Enterprise Networking score of 81.2 was the highest overall score in the Channel Champion survey. What's more, Cisco achieved the top score in both the sales gains category, support satisfaction, and product margins, spifs and rebates, besting the entire Channel Champion field.
"Cisco has evolved over time and learned how to embrace the channel," Venero said. "Cisco used to be all about girth. Now they are all about quality in their delivery through the channel."
Venero said, however, that one of HP's biggest channel advantages is that its top executives are more accessible than Cisco's. What's more, he said, HP is also more "open" to channel business development ideas.
"Cisco account engagement is more limited in comparison to HP," said Venero, noting that Cisco should be concerned now that HP is getting aggressive in the networking market. "Is HP going to shut their business down? No. Is HP going to take a piece of that Cisco business? I think so. Just by default, people look for options."
With that said, Venero said both Cisco and HP are staples for the channel. "You need to have all the vendor relationships," he said. "HP is a staple. And Cisco is also a staple. And staples are what keep us eating and alive."
IBM's channel strength came in its overall awards in Middleware and in Midrange Servers (more than $25,000 in price) with a sweep of the technical, support satisfaction and financial subcategories in those businesses. The $96 billion behemoth also had the second highest overall score in the Channel Champion contest.
Joe Mertens, president of Sirius Computer Solutions, a San Antonio-based solution provider that is IBM's largest partner, said IBM's hardware and software product line is deeper than any other vendor's. What's more, he said, IBM's "historic commitment to the channel" is unmatched.
Mertens said on the hardware side IBM has made progress in alleviating channel conflict with a channel-neutral sales compensation model for IBM direct-sales reps and a clear line in the sand between accounts the channel is focusing on vs. the ones the IBM direct-sales force is focusing on. He said he would like to see the computer services giant do the same with its software business.