Dell's Launch Draws Passionate Reactions

Dell's official channel program, PartnerDirect, hit the public Wednesday, and was met by varying degrees of hope, excitement, skepticism and cynicism -- with company executives acknowledging it will take a lot of time and elbow grease to make it work.

The Round Rock, Texas-based company chose its new focus on managed services as a centerpiece of presentations to reporters, analysts and resellers themselves, with executives saying more than once that "value over volume" has been a key demand of channel partners.

Almost 500 solution providers tuned in for a "virtual town hall meeting" via conference call and Internet presentation, and tossed out a series of questions to Greg Davis, vice president and general manager of Dell's Americas channels group. Dell announced its formal channel program Wednesday, after 23 years of building a direct PC organization from top to bottom.

The company seeks to double the number of solution providers now selling Dell products over the next three years, and it will provide more than 360 channel sales representatives at the outset to work exclusively with channel partners.

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In addition, Dell launched a deal registration program, partner portal and said it would begin the formal work of growing channel sales. Dell sales representatives will now be compensated equally whether deals close directly to end users or through the channel - a move Davis said could go a long way toward eliminating incentives steal partners' business.

That topic was one of several questions thrown at Davis during the channel town hall.

"What prevents Dell's direct team from marketing to our customers once we have them registered?," asked one solution provider in a written question submitted electronically during the forum.

"Through our deal registration process, we go through a process to understand -- 'Are we already engaged at Dell with that opportunity, and have we already sold that product direct to the end user prior to registering it with the partner?,'" Davis said. "Once we verify and we register that opportunity, we communicate to our teams that this is a deal that we registered with our partner and we will be working with our partner exclusively to win this opportunity and they are not to be marketing to our customers for this opportunity."

Davis said that while not every deal submitted to Dell's deal registration program would be accepted by the company, "We will get back to you within 24 to 48 hours with an answer. And for those that we have registered, we will reduce conflict and we will not proactively market to your customers once we have registered those opportunities."

Another solution provider, in writing, asked, "Will the channel have channel-specific products (from Dell?)"

Next: Davis Addresses solution providers' Concerns

Davis didn't rule out he possibility, and suggested it was likely after the program matured a little.

"Clearly we have the opportunity to create channel-specific products and configurations. I expect I'll have an ecommerce site that is dedicated to our channel registered customers with best pricing from Dell on it every day by the end of the year," Davis said.

"We can use that as a vehicle to provide channel-specific configurations that only our partners can take advantage of," Davis said. "Again you've got to give me a little bit of time to get many of these things built."

At, audience comments posted on reports of Dell's announcement showing some degree of skepticism were running ahead of positive remarks. A separate, unscientific survey on, asking "can Dell become a true channel player?" were running about 2-to-1 in the "No" camp.

But there were pockets of strong support for Dell.

"We are so excited about that announcement," said Michael Alifano, owner and operator of Alifano Technologies, a Half Moon Bay, Calif.-based solution provider and Dell reseller, in an interview. "We are now able to put our Dell log on our Web site. They are going to do co-marketing with us. They are basically acknowledging us as a very important partner."

Alifano said his company is in touch on a nearly daily basis with Dell representatives, and that the company's decision to offer support for resellers -- which obviates the need for solution providers to call Dell tech support overseas and wait in a queue with end users for quick help with client issues -- will be a big boost as well. He also suggested that solution providers seeking to source non-Dell products could see a benefit as well.

"We actually get better pricing from Dell than we get, sometimes, from the major distributors," Alifano said. He pointed specifically to his need to source plasma displays for one customer's conference center needs. Dell offered better pricing on a Sony plasma display than the distributors he contacted, Alifano said.

David Cantu, vice president and chief operating officer for Redapt Systems, a Redmond, Wash.-based solution provider, said during the channel round table event that his company had previously sold Dell products to customers and was upbeat about the vendor's formal effort.

"Dell officially supports the program we've invested our resources in," Cantu said.