Carrying The Channel Torch

Do online plans hold water?

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The battle among vendors to claim more and more attention from their partners--to the exclusion of other suppliers--probably will come down to bandwidth, both literally and figuratively.

One thing was ultraclear as we prepared this year&'s Channel Chiefs special report, vendor channel executives are pouring enormous sums of money into Web portals and partner relationship management systems. One example is McAfee&'s SecurityAlliance eXchange, a massive undertaking that includes extensive e-learning facilities, a service area, a configurator and a facility that lets partners view the same sales opportunities as their internal McAfee counterparts.

Darrell Rodenbaugh, vice president of worldwide field operations at McAfee, said the overhaul was focused on three umbrella themes: communication, collaboration and commerce. Indeed, the company has used the site, complemented by a strategic overhaul of its program engineered by channel chief Dave Roberts, to good effect, pulling off a profound re-engagement with the channel.

In their applications for this year&'s list, many channel chief heavy hitters listed automating various elements of their partner relationships as a continuing priority for 2006. “I realized [in 2005] how complex our organizations/processes can become for our partner community if we do not have a focused effort on preventing it from occurring,” wrote Cisco Systems Segment Vice President Chuck Robbins.

And here&'s the take from Symantec&'s vice president of global channel sales and strategy, Julie Parrish: “In order to be easy to do business with, a strong Web-based system is often needed—which must link to other systems and not break other processes.”

David Hall, senior vice president and CTO of Dallas-based CompuCom, a CRN Editorial Cabinet member, said his experiences with Microsoft&'s own massive portal have been mostly positive, although he is reluctant to provide the level of pipeline information required on this site and those of the other vendors CompuCom represents. “You do see things instantly as they change,” he said.

Darrel Bowman, CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based AppTech and another cabinet member, said he likes portals for their training capabilities, but they shouldn&'t be used as a replacement for people. “You need to know your customer, work through the process. There&'s nothing that can take place of that personal level of interaction,” he said.

The other problem with all these portals is that they require a time investment on the part of partners. If information isn&'t updated to the minute, it&'s much less impactful. Multiply that effort by three, four or five key vendors, and you have a major dilemma on your hands.

“This is a big problem,” said Oli Thordarson, president of Alvaka Networks, a managed services and network solution provider in Huntington Beach, Calif., and a member of the CRN Editorial Cabinet. “I understand the need of the vendors to get insight into what their reseller partners are doing, but we have limited time to be entering CRM information for every vendor on every deal. And then, if they are asking us to do weekly forecasting, etc., the time suck becomes unbearable.”

Clearly, automating certain elements of the channel-vendor dynamic will remain an important theme for all channel chiefs in the upcoming year, and it will be an element of our coverage that we&'ll highlight increasingly in months to come, as well as a consideration for next year&'s list. But these vendor executives mustn&'t overlook one important fact: Unless a solution provider has chosen to be exclusive with a particular vendor, its job is to be a provider of multivendor, multiproduct solutions. That mission may be at odds with the current focus of the move online. The channel executives who remember this in 2006 could find themselves with an edge over their rivals. Good luck!

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