Spiderman Or Batman?

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It's always fun to watch the high-tech titans battle it out for dominance. Like our favorite superheroes, they all have their particular strengths and leverage points.

There are a number of skirmishes going on right now, some of which have broken into open battles. Cisco vs. HP is one of the more visible ones. Certainly, Microsoft against Google has been a longer-term fight. Then there is the increasingly interesting Apple vs. Google spat. There are dozens more, including AMD vs. Intel, Cisco vs. Juniper, Microsoft vs. Oracle and Dell vs. HP.

We in the press love to fan the flames, of course, because it makes for good reading, but the reality is these types of battles are independently good for the channel and ultimately the end user of technology.

But for solution providers one of the developments we are now beginning to see is the desire on the part of the superpowers to demand higher levels of loyalty. I'm convinced we are going to see more top-tier players attempt to look more partners in the eye and say it's either them or us, you choose, but you can't play in both camps.

That's a mistake and I'd encourage you to fight back for one very important reason. One of the truly unique values you bring to the customer is your opinion about what should go into a complete solution and the choices you can offer. Years ago I suggested to a solution provider audience at one of our XChange events that a single-vendor-dedicated business model was a dangerous play. A few of my solution provider friends disagreed. Some of them were Sun partners that ultimately went out of business when Sun fell on difficult times.

There's nothing wrong with having a preferred vendor. That, too, is part of your value, but if your preferred vendor is your only vendor I'm not sure a customer will believe you are being impartial.

You also need to realize that it's important you can take on new products as advancements come to market. High-tech is a game of leapfrog, and you don't want to be committed to a vendor that is playing catch-up on a hot technology.

Another reason I'm not a believer in dedicating yourself to a single vendor is leverage. If you have no other alternative, then you have little leverage with the vendor unless you're a top-tier partner--and even then it's hard for most solution providers to be material enough to have real negotiating power.

So how do you protect yourself if vendors demand loyalty in the future rather than try and earn it?

The first order of protection is customer control. In other words, if you have built the type of relationships that mean real influence inside the customer base you have what the vendors want, need and fear: the ability to switch customers from one product to another based on your relationship.

A concentration of business around some specific targets is also a powerful tool. Having a practice in health care when a vendor is driving toward a bigger position in that area makes it harder for it to play hardball with you.

I'm also a believer in keeping your customer list as close to your vest as possible. The less a vendor knows about your sales successes the better. This isn't always easy, but it's something that should be guarded when possible.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense. If you have a solid business with a good marketing and sales engine, you will be in a position of strength. And by the way, my money is on Batman because he's all about the technology.

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