Dell is still as much as four months away from rolling out details of its expanded channel program, but solution providers at CMP Channel's XChange '07 began putting the pressure on it to come out with deal registration and certification programs that protect them from conflicts with Dell's direct sales.
Chris Bates, director of the Round Rock, Texas-based company's Solution Provider Direct organization, answered attendee questions for about 20 minutes during a Tuesday session at XChange '07, saying the eventual Dell program would likely be tiered and customer protection would work on a deal-by-deal basis. Bates said Dell's own research indicates 65 percent of solution providers have concerns about protecting their customers from Dell's direct business.
"Deal registration will respect the solution provider's relationship with the end user on that deal," Bates said. "It's not a customer (registration), it's a deal. That's fair. You've got to demonstrate value for that deal. And that also keeps Dell direct (sales) from bidding on that deal."
Dell currently provides deal registration for solution providers in its U.S. federal government business, and its executives have said that would provide a foundation for its plans across the market.
Bates said the final details would be hammered out under the supervision of Greg Davis, vice president of commercial channels for Dell's Americas group. Dell said Davis, former Dell Canada president and a former IBM channel executive, had already spent a week meeting with Dell's channel staff in Round Rock, though Davis has not yet commented publicly about his plans.
Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell said earlier this year that the company, with $4 billion in annual sales through solution providers, would expand its efforts and publicly reach out to the channel for the first time. Details on how it will go about that have been slow coming, and Bates would say only that Dell is on track to provide certification and deal registration by year's end.
The session at XChange '07 included questions from some VARs who already resell Dell hardware, including one who asked Bates whether Dell resellers would be forced to provide managed service technology to customers from Dell's newly acquired Silverback unit. The reseller said he uses competing technology. Bates said details would still be worked out.
Some VARs were hopeful Dell could provide a strong partner program, but said the key will be in seeing details in writing.
"I think that they are trying very, very hard and they kind of maybe jumped the gun a little bit by announcing this before working out the details internally," said Karen James, principal of GeminiTech, a Waipio Gentry, Hawaii-based solution provider. "We're all waiting to find out how it's going to look at the very end."
Patrick McNicholas, president and CEO of Maverick Computers, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based system builder and solution provider, said he has yet to hear something new from Dell.
"This is everything that we've heard before, that they haven't followed through with," McNicholas said. "They want to be part of the channel, and then we hear they don't exactly want to be part of the channel. Now they want to go into managed services. It sounds like they are going for the most profitable part themselves, and leaving us with the bits and pieces."
"They will have to make an extraordinary case to make us even consider switching (from another vendor to Dell)," said Jane Cage, COO of Heartland Technology Solutions, a Harlan, Iowa-based solution provider. "They have a lot to prove before we can even think about it." While she described her company's chances as slim to none that it would partner with Dell, she said she would keep an open mind and was even slated to meet with Dell in a private focus group at CMP Channel's XChange '07 conference.
Some solution providers at XChange '07 were eager to hear Dell's message and had a different impression.
"Dell's a good company," said Jason Knipp, principal in Knipps PC Solutions, a Des Moines, Iowa-based reseller and solution provider. "They have good products." Knipp gave a thumbs-up to Dell's responsiveness in providing quick products and parts, and he said he attended XChange, in part, to hear Dell's strategy for engaging the channel moving forward.