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2010 Partner Program Guide: Guiding Light

The 2010 Partner Program Guide offers solution providers the information they need to evaluate IT vendors -- whether it be the manufacturers and developers they have long relied on or vendors with whom they are considering working.

When solution providers partner with a vendor, they are looking for more than just a technology supplier. They need a partner in every sense of the word -- one that will provide them with the resources they need to be successful in today's competitive markets.

And that's never been truer than today, with the economy on the rebound and early signs of increasing demand for computer hardware, software and services.

"I think the purse strings are getting a little looser," said Ronnie Parisella, CTO of Primary Support Solutions, a New York-based solution provider that works with Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, SonicWall, VMware and Symantec, among others. "Things are definitely looking up for 2010."

As an example of how business is picking up, Parisella said he is currently working on a project for a customer that calls for $500,000 in hardware—the biggest hardware deal Primary Support Solutions has had in the past two years.

So what have your vendors done for you lately? Sure, margins are important.

But does the vendor provide the marketing resources and market development funds you need? How about technical training for your staff? Presales and post-sales support? And the all-important sales leads?And given the increased emphasis on services today, what about programs to help resellers expand attached services?

To give solution providers a hand, we offer the 2010 Partner Program Guide filled with the information they need to evaluate IT vendors—whether it be the manufacturers and developers they have long relied on or that vendors submitted outlining all aspects The guide is based on detailed applications vendors they are considering working with.

But does the vendor provide the marketing resources and market development funds you need? How about technical training for your staff? Presales and post-sales support? And the all-important sales leads? And given the increased emphasis on services today, what about programs to help resellers expand attached services?

To give solution providers a hand, we offer the 2010 Partner Program Guide filled with the information they need to evaluate IT vendors -- whether it be the manufacturers and developers they have long relied on or vendors they are considering working with. The guide is based on detailed applications that vendors submitted outlining all aspects of their partner programs. Everything Channel research crunched the numbers and, based on those evaluations, some partner programs were designated as 5-Star Partner Programs. (See the complete list of programs here.)

Next: Vendor Applications Offer Snapshot Of Programs

The applications also offer a snapshot of the current state of vendor partner programs -- not just those of individual companies, but of the industry as a whole. And comparing this year's data to information from last year's applications provides some eye-opening insight into channel trends.

The good news is that vendors have generally stepped up to the plate and boosted the services, support and resources they provide to the channel.

Take the issue of training. Vendors, recognizing that better trained resellers can close more sales, have increased the amount of training opportunities they offer partners. The percentage of vendors providing Web-based training increased to 95.1 percent from 90.8 percent in 2009, for example, while those offering self-certification and testing programs surged to 69.2 percent from 60.3 percent last year.Those offering instructor-led training, however, fell to 75.8 percent from 82.4 percent—reflecting, perhaps, solution providers' reduced travel budgets.

The percentage of vendors that provide training free-of-charge also has increased, to 64.8 percent today from 59.2 percent last year. The number of vendors that charge partners a portion of training costs and those that base the decision on tiers both declined.

And if there's any doubt whether training is important, take a look at the statistics John Dragoon, Novell's chief marketing officer and channel chief, disclosed to channel partners at BrainShare earlier this month. Dragoon said solution providers that underwent some kind of Novell training in every quarter during the last 12-month period reported sales gains 110 percent greater than those who took little or no training.

Vendors, generally speaking, are increasing the amount of goodies they offer through their partner programs to motivate and support resellers. More vendors are providing spifs (75.8 percent vs. 68.7 percent last year), deal registration (78.6 percent vs. 70.2 percent), loaner and demo units (80.2 percent vs. 73.3 percent), discount promotions (78.6 percent vs. 74.0 percent) and awards for sales (57.1 percent vs. 49.6 percent).

"A lot of them have been retooling their programs and focusing them more to meet the needs of their partners," said Daniel Lieber, president of Innovative Ideas Unlimited, a Wakefield, Mass.-based solution provider that works with IBM, McAfee and Symantec. While the emphasis used to be on recruiting as many partners as possible, Lieber has detected a shift by vendors toward working with fewer, higher-quality partners.

Lieber is on to something. Vendors were asked in the PPG questionnaire how fast their partners have grown in the past year. Nearly 13 percent of 5-Star vendors and more than 10 percent of all vendors overall said their partners, on average, grew faster than 50 percent -- a stunning statistic given the faltering economy.

Lieber specifically cited IBM's efforts to go beyond traditional compensation plans and reward channel partners for deals in which they play an influential role, even if they don't handle product fulfillment. "They've changed how the margins are managed," he said.

Next: 5-Star Vendor Programs Offer More Support

The 5-Star vendor programs offer more support -- sometimes significantly more -- than vendors overall. Nearly all 5-Star vendors (98.2 percent) provide MDFs compared to 89.0 percent of all vendors, for example. Deal registration is provided by 86.2 percent of 5-Star vendor programs in contrast to only 78.6 percent of all vendors. Take 5-Star winner AMD, which has been revamping its Fusion Partner Program.

"We've had a great reception to that," said David Kenyon, vice president of worldwide channels for the company. On the component side, for example, AMD has stepped up its program to provide its 30,000 partners with samples of new products.

More recently, the company launched Fusion program tracks for commercial and software partners, including rolling out a global portal for partners with technical support, product information, and tools for reporting sales and tracking available market development funds. "The challenge is how you get out to the smaller partners in the far-flung parts of the world," Kenyon said.

Cisco, also a 5-Star vendor, launched a number of initiatives last June designed to help its legions of resellers get through the tough economic times. The company extended its channel financing terms from 60 days to 90, for example, and began a new program to make it easier for partners to offer managed services. It also enhanced its Value Incentive Program to reward resellers for selling not just advanced technologies, as had been the case with the VIP, but for selling more mainstream products like routing, switching and storage networking systems.

Vendors are catching on to the fact that value-added services developed around their products by solution providers are increasingly important.The application asked vendors how much in added services customers buy for every dollar of product sold.While more than 55 percent said the services attach rate was $3 or less, the percentage of vendors putting the rate between $4 and $10 increased to 14.3 percent from 9.9 percent in 2009. And those putting the attach rate at more than $10 grew to 6.0 percent from 3.3 percent last year. In addition to detailing what vendors have to offer channel partners, the statistics generated by the applications help paint a picture of the current state of vendor-solution provider relations -- the good and the bad.

Next: Vendors Offer Discounts For Registered Deals

A greater number of vendors offer extra points of margin or discounts for registered deals, 37.4 percent today compared to 29.5 percent last year. And vendor programs are supporting partners at all tiers with sales leads, not just top-tier partners.

"What we're looking for is, give me as much margin as possible and give us as many sales leads as possible," said Alex Rooney, vice president atVision33, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider that resells SAP's BusinessOne and Business-by-Design products. He said SAP, whose PartnerEdge program has 5-Star status, does a good job providing leads. "But they can always do more. I've never been in the situation of having too many sales leads. An SAP-generated lead tends to have a better close rate than partner-generated leads."

That fits with what Novell President and CEO Ron Hovsepian is hearing from his company's channel partners."There's a desire for leads, always.That's very consistent." Among changes Novell has made to its partner program in the last year are increased rewards for bringing in new customers. "We put a very rich incentive program in place for the partner to drive a new customer to us," Hovsepian said."Well above any of the other standards you'd see out in the marketplace."

IBM has begun offering more market development funds to help channel partners develop their own leads rather than developing leads for them. Solution providers, the argument goes, know their geographic or vertical-industry niches best and are better positioned to drum up business given more resources. While that may be true in some circumstances, Vision33's Rooney notes that not many potential customers look in the phone book for a local provider when they need SAP software -- they call SAP.

Some statistics provided by vendors show that they understand the value of the channel and want to preserve it. More vendors (74.2 percent in 2010 vs. 69.5 percent in 2009) said their partner program included rules of engagement for managing channel conflict. And 62.1 percent of vendors provide a clearly defined division between accounts for direct and indirect sales (up from 53.4 percent last year).

But there have been setbacks in vendor-partner relationships, according to the Partner Program Guide questionnaires. Fewer vendors, for example, have a partner advisory council today than in 2009. And of those that do have a council, fewer played an active role in designing partner programs. Fewer vendors provided partners with assistance in finding professional talent -- perhaps new employees are easier to find in a recession. And vendors were more reluctant to brief partners about new products more than a month before launch.

Vendors continue to recruit channel partners to improve their geographic coverage. But the percentage of vendors recruiting solution providers for "certain technical skill sets" dropped significantly, both for 5-Star programs and among vendors overall. If that trend continues, resellers run the risk of being seen as just an extension of a vendor's sales force and not the value-added solution providers they are.

Requirements for joining partner programs have shifted with more emphasis on focused business planning, territory coverage and quarterly revenue commitments. Nearly three-quarters (72.5 percent) of 5-Star vendors say they evaluate partners between one and three times a year to determine which ones should be deauthorized, up from 65.8 percent last year.

Vendors seemed conflicted when it comes to the need for industry expertise among their channel partners. When asked why they were recruiting channel partners, fewer vendors this year cited "certain industry expertise." And yet, when asked about requirements for joining a partner program, more vendors with 5-Star programs (44.0 percent in 2010 vs. 35.1 percent in 2009) cited "vertical industry/market expertise," as a criteria, as did a greater number of vendors overall (44.0 percent vs. 31.3 percent).

Vendors, not surprisingly, also report less market development funding (MDF) being left on the table by their partners. This year, 41.3 percent of vendors with 5-Star partner programs and 36.3 percent of vendors overall said that no MDF goes unspent on a quarterly basis. That's up from 29.2 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively. While that still left a lot of vendors reporting unspent MDF, the amount of unspent funding declined among 5-Star vendors and vendors overall.

Vendors, generally speaking, are cutting resellers a little slack when it comes to eligibility for MDF and cooperative marketing dollars. The percentage of vendors that based MDF eligibility on such criteria as sales volume, number of certified technicians and other benchmarks decreased somewhat this year, according to the PPG questionnaires, while more eligibility decisions were "discretionary based on channel account manager approval."

But while all the channel programs and resources are nice to have, Parisella said the most important thing a vendor can do for its channel partners is don't get in the way. "I don't need them to make my job more difficult," he said.

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