2013 ARC: At The Top Of Their Game

It's tough out there, as any solution provider will tell you. A highly competitive environment, an uncertain economic climate, and a fast-changing IT industry all add up to make these very challenging times for the channel.

And while not every solution provider will admit it, their success is very dependent on the IT vendors they partner with. Because without innovative products, solid marketing support and deep technical expertise from vendors, a solution provider's odds of succeeding are pretty small.

Solution providers today may ask their vendors: "Have you got my back?" Providing information to help solution providers answer that question is the goal of the Annual Report Card, in which CRN has been polling solution providers for 28 years for their take on the strengths and weaknesses of the IT vendors they work with.

What are solution providers looking for from vendors? There are the basics such as dependable products, marketing assistance and rules of engagement.

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"Avoiding channel conflict is a challenge and it's important to have some solid rules around that," said Stephen Blythe, founder and CEO of Blytheco, a Laguna Hills, Calif.-based solution provider. Blythe said he also looks for "good, solid margins" and co-marketing funds.

But solution providers also look for something deeper.

"For us, two of the more important aspects of vendor relationships are senior-level engagement and a more holistic view of our clients' needs," said Adam Eiseman, CEO of Lloyd Group, a New York-based managed services provider. "Too many vendors are focused on their products as opposed to their customers--us--and our clients' overall needs. We--and our clients--want partners, not vendors," he said in an email to CRN.

The CRN Annual Report Card is designed to help solution providers identify which vendors have a channel focus and have made the necessary investments for a successful channel effort. Take note, IT companies: Solution providers use Annual Report Card scores to evaluate vendors and determine which vendor they want to partner with--or not.

Analyzing the Annual Report Card scores can reveal interesting insights about IT vendors as well. The scores also have a way of shining a light on rising stars. For example, Buffalo Technology, this year's top scorer in the SMB Network Storage category, was not on many observers' radar screens when it made its first Annual Report Card appearance last year by capturing the No. 2 ranking in that category.

The ARC Methodology

The Annual Report Card scores rate vendors within their product specialties with criteria falling into three categories: product innovation, support and partnership. Within those categories are specific criteria.

Product innovation, for example, includes scores for a vendor's product quality and reliability, its level of technical innovation and its marketability. Support includes such criteria as pre- and post-sales support, marketing assistance and training. Partnership includes solution provider scores for vendor partner programs, the ease of doing business with a vendor, and a vendor's efforts to manage channel conflict.

The product innovation, support and partnership scores are averaged to determine a vendor's overall score in a product category.

This year's Annual Report Card survey generated more than 3,600 responses from solution providers, scoring 73 programs across 19 product categories. Each solution provider was screened to verify it had been reselling, recommending or supporting the vendor's products for at least six months.

This year's winners were honored in an awards ceremony at XChange 2013 on Aug. 20 in Washington, D.C.