COLUMN: Solution Providers Have Gotten More Sophisticated. Vendors Need To Keep Up.

Jennifer Follett

CRN Executive Editor Jennifer Follett says that as solution providers have become more sophisticated entities, they require more innovative relationships with their vendor and distribution partners.


Solution providers in 2023 are more advanced than they were when the pandemic hit three years ago, so vendors that haven’t evolved their partner programs along with them are letting their channel partners down.

One of the major IT story lines of the pandemic was the rapid adoption of the cloud and the quick compression of digital transformation timelines.

The corollary to that in the channel was that many solution providers shifted their business models toward services, moving away from sales of hardware they either couldn’t install in closed offices or couldn’t source because of supply chain issues.

Savvy solution providers leaned more heavily into as-a-service offerings in areas such as unified communications and collaboration to help keep customers connected, as well as managed security services to protect newly remote workforces as they accessed corporate data from home networks.

As golf outings and ball games were put on hold, solution providers also changed the way that they conducted business themselves, adopting new digital marketing strategies to help keep them in front of customers and prospects.

They are also being called on by a growing pool of customers to show progress in environmental, social and corporate governance areas.

It should come as no surprise, then, that as solution providers have become more sophisticated entities, they require more innovative relationships with their vendor and distribution partners.

The changes vendors are making to keep pace are front and center in CRN’s 2023 Partner Program Guide, which offers an in-depth look at the investments vendors and distributors are making in areas such as channel incentives, marketing, training and sales support to help solution providers succeed. An elite subset earn our 5-Star designation

Eaton has certainly recognized a shift, said Steve Loeb, vice president of distributed infrastructure sales at the power management vendor. The move by partners toward managed UPSes Eaton had started seeing ahead of the pandemic surged in the midst of it.

“Our partners had to become more virtual in how they approached customers, more service-oriented,” Loeb said in a recent interview, noting that he’s seeing an uptick in channel partners acquiring MSPs in an effort to beef up their services portfolios.

The changing dynamic has created a rising appetite among Eaton partners for presales expertise on the front end and beefed-up sales support throughout, he said. “Most don’t have power specialists on staff,” he noted.

That channel evolution is also why Ghassan “Guss” Lababidi, OpenText Cybersecurity’s vice president of partner marketing and enablement, is so laser-focused on the latter part of his job title, tasking a new team with making sure the needs of incoming partners are being met.

“I put together a team whose sole job is to on-board partners as we recruit them and at the same time be their ambassadors,” Lababidi said. “We wanted to make sure our resources and the talent is built around our partner needs,” he added.

And it’s why HP Inc. is taking steps to reward qualified participants in its sustainability-focused Amplify Impact partner program with a point toward advanced eligibility in its broader partner program and also supporting innovative managed print services partners as it moves to become a hybrid work powerhouse.

Take, for example, Saskatchewan-based WBM Technologies, an HP channel partner that during the pandemic developed a growing business out of removing printers from customers’ offices and replacing them with significantly fewer but better devices, wrapping managed services around the new sales.

“I suppose that to the overall print industry, a WBM program that takes an organization from 5,000 devices down to 2,500 devices will look like the market has shrunk by 50 percent. But to WBM, this is a net-new engagement: It’s growth, new relationships, and, if we are creating wow-factor results, maybe new opportunities as well,” Brett Bailey, vice president and partner at WBM, said in the article.

Solution providers like WBM are reaping the benefits of vendor channel programs that are evolving to meet the demands of the modern market. But many manufacturers have yet to adjust. This is one massive market shift vendors don’t want to miss.

Learn More: Eaton | HP Inc.
Jennifer Follett

Jennifer Follett is the Executive Editor for CRN where she has been covering the IT solution provider channel for 20 years. She currently oversees CRN magazine and, the website for the industry’s leading channel publication. She can be reached at

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