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Even the way VARs sell today is different from 10 years ago. Back then the job of selling consisted largely of convincing IT executives that a new product would improve productivity. Today, Pyle said, with a greater number of people savvy about IT, the sales pitch has to offer benefits to a wider audience.
Some solution providers also sense a reduction in conflict between channel partners and the hardware manufacturers and software developers they work with. While VAR-vendor relations still have their ups and downs -- witness the 2008 row between Symantec and its channel partners over the security software company’s plans to sell directly to hundreds of large customers -- executives at several solution providers say the overall trend has been toward more harmonious relations.
“I would say it was a more adversarial business back then,” said Chadwick, referring to VAR-vendor relationships around the turn of the 21st century. (Chadwick has been with Prolifics since 1991.) “In that perspective, it’s changed drastically.”
“It’s much more of a partnership model, a symbiotic relationship,” agreed Jeffrey Davis, president and CEO of Perficient, a St. Louis-based solution provider that works with IBM, Microsoft, TIBCO, Oracle and EMC, among other vendors. Davis, who has been at Perficient for 10 years and has worked in the IT industry for 15 years, said he believes vendors today better understand the value of the channel.
A decade ago, some vendors thought solution providers cannibalized sales that should be theirs, Chadwick said. He pointed to middleware developer BEA Systems, which Prolifics worked with before Oracle acquired it in 2008, as one such vendor that was difficult to work with. “Ten years ago, vendors were grabbing for every dollar they could get,” he said.
But that’s been changing. Chadwick pointed to IBM, which he said has shifted from having a huge direct sales force that sometimes clashed with channel partners, to a smaller sales force that’s more open to working with the channel. One reason for the change is that a number of vendors have pulled back from offering professional services that created conflict with all kinds of solution providers, from small resellers to large systems integrators, Davis said. He pointed to Oracle, which has all but exited the professional services business because of the friction it created with channel partners.
One thing that hasn’t really changed is the role of trusted adviser that solution providers played back then -- and continue to fill today. The IT marketplace is no less confusing and chaotic than it was 10 years ago. That poses challenges for VARs. But it also means businesses are just as reliant on solution providers now as they were then. Said Pyle: “The VAR has to take charge and be willing to change constantly.”