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Ask vendor executives what frustrates them about solution providers, and many will -- at first -- profess to love their channel partners and say all is right in their channel universe.
"We generally feel good about our partners," said Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, when asked in an interview about any frustration he has with the company's channel partners.
" 'Frustration' is too strong a word," said Kevin Gilroy, channel chief at SAP, when asked the same question. "I'm not frustrated with the channel."
But probe a little deeper and the frustration comes out: Partners that just resell products without adding value. Partners that fail to take advantage of market development funds and other vendor-offered assistance. Partners that don't prospect for new customers. And partners that just refuse to change with the times.
Here's our look at some of the most common complaints IT vendors have about their solution provider partners.
10. THESE STRENGTHS SHOULD BE SELF-EVIDENT
Somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of all channel partners "are ahead of the curve" when it comes to adopting new business models, selling new technologies, and even just understanding core sales activities such as demand generation, said Gilroy, SAP's senior vice president of global channels.
"For their sake, they should be more highly valued in the ecosystem," Gilroy said. While he acknowledges that that equation includes better rewards and recognition from IT vendors, he said partners should be doing more to promote their strengths. "We'd like to recruit them; we'd like to partner with them."
9. LANGUAGE LESSONS: LEARN HOW TO SPEAK 'BUSINESS'
"Too many solution providers go right to the IT department when they're trying to make a sale," complained a channel executive at a New York-based software company, who asked that he not be identified for fear of being seen as criticizing the company's partners.
While the IT department is still responsible for a lot of technology infrastructure spending, line-of-business managers have an increasingly bigger say in information technology purchasing decisions. Gartner has forecast that by 2017 CMOs will be spending more on IT than CIOs.
Many solution providers are more comfortable talking to technology people rather than business people, the channel executive said. And that's a problem. To compete, he said, channel partners really need to learn how to speak "business."
8. TOO MUCH FOCUS ON MARGINS
It used to be that margins drove the channel. But with the commoditization of computer hardware, and software and services becoming a bigger component of most IT deals, the pressure is on solution providers to go beyond reselling products.
Many are making the transition, developing services, content and other intellectual property around IBM products, said Mark Hennessy, general manager, global business partners and midmarket at IBM. "But some will remain focused on remarketing," he said, noting that some solution providers will likely never go beyond reselling products and making a living off the discounts.
Hennessy's comments came earlier this year in an interview at IBM's Partner World Leadership Conference where he and other IBM executives pleaded with partners to move into higher-value businesses.