What is it about your IT vendor that really ticks you off?
We put that question to a number of solution providers, asking them what pet peeves they have about the companies they've partnered with to provide the building blocks of their technology solutions. Based on the responses it's clear that, well, there are a lot of peeves.
Vendor executives who undervalue the channel, high channel program fees, fast-rotating channel account managers -- we heard all the gripes. It was surprising how quickly the invectives poured out once the question was asked -- there weren't many "Let me think about that a moment" responses.
Two solution providers, in fact, were able to rattle off Top 10 lists off the top of their head. When asked how he was able to come up with such a lengthy list so quickly, one solution provider replied: "I live this."
In some cases bad habits on the part of their vendor partners are just part of the cost of doing business for many solution providers. But other times, the complaints pile up so high that a solution provider will give up on a vendor and go find a better partner.
"These guys are supposed to help us so we can help them," said David Geevaratne, president and co-founder of New Signature, a Microsoft solution provider in Washington, D.C., speaking about vendors he worked with in the past at other solution providers. "I just didn't feel the love. And that hurt my relationships with my customers."
Here's our look at some of the most common complaints plaguing solution providers right now.
NEXT: Are We On The Same Team?10. PARTNER DEVELOPMENT ISN'T EVEN ON THE RADAR
Sometimes channel partner programs are so hung up on dollars and cents that they miss the mark when it comes to helping solution providers build up the larger business opportunity. In short, too much focus on sales and incentives while not enough focus on partner development, said one solution provider executive who asked not to be identified. "If the partner program doesn't help a partner build a practice around their products, it's worthless," said one New York metropolitan area executive.
Many times, vendors put partner development on the back burner when they can't see past the shock and awe of their own products, said a solution provider executive in Southern California. "The OEM entirely overlooks the value-added advantage a VAR brings to them, beyond their product," he said.
9. VENDORS ACT LIKE WE'RE NOT IN THIS TOGETHER
Some vendors feel like they bestow a holy blessing on their partners every time they utter the phrase "extended sales force," but in many cases, solution providers don't want to be seen as employees of their technology vendors; they want to work hand in hand.
"Many vendors view the channel as just another commissioned salesperson," said a solution provider executive who works with a number of leading IT vendors, including Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard. "They treat us as if we work for them, rather than working together to support the customers," he said.
One of the worst sins a vendor can commit in Phil Mogavero's eyes is to roll out products to an unprepared partner base.
"Vendors produce technology, put it out on the market, and say, 'Here it is, go implement it, go support it, go make it work,' " said Mogavero, vice president and regional CTO of PCM, a Calabasas, Calif.-based solution provider. "What they don't realize is how expensive it is to do that right. So my biggest pet peeve is when vendors produce new technology, they need to make sure that VARs are enabled from an implementation perspective and from a selling perspective.
"If they want technology to be successful, they need to work hand in hand with the VAR as a partner, not as someone that's just out selling their wares," Mogavero added.
Don Felman, sales director at IT Savvy, an Addison, Ill.-based solution provider, said it's not that hard to keep channel partners happy. "All we ask is that they work with us," Felman said of his technology vendors. "Obviously we're bringing them quite a bit of business. So we want them to try to be as flexible as possible with us. Some are [flexible, but] others we do struggle with. And you see those sales affected by the relationship."
NEXT: Things Just Don't Add Up8. THE DOLLARS JUST DON'T MAKE SENSE
Sometimes it's a case of the incredibly shrinking margin. Other times it's a pay-to-play scenario where solution providers have to pony up to join a program. Whatever the case, one of solution providers' deep-seated peeves is when vendors simply don't respect the financial aspects of supporting channel partners.
Another California solution provider is decidedly ticked off about having to pay fees to join partner programs run by Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and other vendors. "You pay a fee to be a partner," he said with some exasperation. "It's a mandate; you have no choice."
And what do partners get for those fees? One thing they're supposed to get are sales leads, the solution provider executive said, but "it's usually no leads."
7. DON'T YOU TRUST ME?
Some peeves revolved around issues of trust and communication. "One area I do wish they would focus a bit more on is trusting the partners," said Louis Le, marketing director at Gibraltar Solutions, a Mississauga, Ontario-based solution provider. "From a program perspective, a lot of times they actually fabricate the program first, then tell us, 'Here's how it's going to be run.' I wish that they would come back to partners and say, 'What is it you want to see? And here's the money to pay for the growth and the program itself. We trust you to do right with that particular investment.' "
6. REVOLVING DOOR OF CAMs
There are few things more deflating to a vendor-partner relationship than the instability that comes from an ever-changing cast of channel account managers (CAMs). The California solution provider who had complained about paying fees notes that it's easier to build "synergy and momentum" with vendors when partners develop long-term relationships with CAMs.
Problem is, people don't hold those jobs very long, making it difficult to develop those relationships. One vendor, GFI Software, has assigned the solution provider 13 CAM representatives over the past four years. Some vendors, he said, "change your CAMs out from under you as often as people change socks."
GFI did not respond to requests for comment.
5. DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT WE DO?
Some vendors "don't make enough effort to understand the business strategy of the partners they depend on," said one solution provider based in the U.S. Northwest. "They're caught up in their own strategy."
One example: The channel partner quoted above is an ISV that builds its apps on a major vendor's platform. But while the ISV is trying to make a name for itself, the vendor's brand "is all over the inside of their software. It complicates our ability to sell a vertical solution," he said.
Chalk it up to OEM ignorance, said another solution provider. "They simply don't know who we are, what we do, and how we help them."
NEXT: Too Many Certs; Too Many Restrictions4. TOO MANY CERTIFICATIONS
What drives Ronnie Parisella crazy are all the vendor certification programs he has to keep track of. "Partner certifications are a big pet peeve for me because every vendor does it differently," he said. This is a big problem for Power Consulting Group, the New York service provider where Parisella serves as business development director, because it works with about 20 partners. He has some 15 engineers who need to be certified by vendors. "The training and certification Webinar schedule is a disaster," he said.
Parisella suggests that vendors allow major distributors to become a central source for managing training and certification programs, giving small service and solution providers a central place to go to manage those requirements. "One centralized portal for certification, training and sales proficiency," he said.
3. RESTRICTIONS, RESTRICTIONS
One of the easiest ways to tick off a solution provider? Tell him there's a product that he's not allowed to sell. See Exhibit A, Microsoft, which has raised the ire of many of its solution providers, first by refusing to allow any IT channel partners to sell its Surface tablet and then by opening up channel sales to only 10 of its biggest Large Account Resellers.
Jude Daigle, president and owner of Computer Connections, Greensburg, Pa., said Microsoft's go-to-market strategy for Surface is mystifying. "Microsoft just doesn't get it. It's foolish to not allow your distribution partners to authorize resellers for Surface," he said. "What's so hard about selling Surface? Why are they only authorizing a select few?"
2. WHERE ARE WE GOING ANYWAY?
For many solution providers, the strength of their vendor partnerships comes down to access: access to top executives, access to product road maps and access to information about strategic shifts on the horizon. There are few things solution providers hate more than surprises.
Some partners complain that they don't have access to top executives at vendor companies -- some, apparently, because those executives considered the channel to be beneath them. "Some of these top management people didn't take the partner program as seriously as we would have liked," New Signature's Geevaratne said of technology vendors he has worked with in the past.
Geevaratne said a major issue with vendors he once worked with was their refusal to provide partners with access to product road maps. Letting partners spend time and money on products that are suddenly discontinued is something that really annoys him.
Another solution provider said Cisco has a reputation for rapidly obsoleting products with new models with better performance and lower prices. Isn't that a good thing? Sure, the partner said, if solution providers were given a heads up about the coming switch, which he said they weren't. So customers would pay $4,000 or $5,000 for a Cisco product, only to see it quickly made obsolete by a lower-priced model. And Cisco wouldn't offer an upgrade. The result: a valued customer angry at the solution provider.
Cisco didn't respond to requests for comment.
Sometimes just spending a little time together is all a partner needs to feel loved. "We're not in a big, huge market, so to get [vendors] out of Houston and Dallas and Atlanta to come see us, it always helps," said Haggai Davis II, sales director at Gulf South Technologies Solutions, a Mandeville, La.-based solution provider.
NEXT: Channel Conflict1. CHANNEL CONFLICT
The age-old specter of channel conflict remains the single largest peeve that gets under solution providers' collective skin. It can take many forms: vendors that try to bypass their partners to target customers directly; sales reps that swoop in at the last minute and decimate partner margins to close a sale; or even channel strategies that pit partner against partner to build up conflict within the ranks.
"It really [bothers] me when vendor sales reps do 'whatever is necessary' to maximize their commissions, even if it negatively impacts our profitability," said the solution provider executive who works with a number of leading IT vendors, including Cisco and HP. "They are simply money-motivated and have little to no regard for the health of the channel or our business."
No solution provider wants to spin his wheels working against a vendor sales rep. "We chase the same sale they do, or vice versa," said the executive at the Southern California-based solution provider. He tells a story about how sales representatives at one major IT vendor will circumvent the vendor's deal registration system by calling customer prospects at the start of a the fiscal year and tag them as "named accounts" that are off-limits to channel partners. To be fair, he said the vendor is working to rein in the overly aggressive sales reps.
Another channel conflict-related problem, the solution provider said, is when vendors recruit too many partners with the same or overlapping territories. "The OEM will sign up as many VARs as possible, allowing 'Darwinism' to determine winners and losers," he said.
Relationships between IT vendors and solution providers will probably never be entirely free of conflict. But channel partners keep reminding IT vendors that alliances with solution providers are mutually beneficial. And the fewer "peeves" that come between them, the more profitable those relationships can be for both parties.
PUBLISHED AUGUST 12, 2013