2010 Channel Champions

When it comes to being a Channel Champion, no one comes to close to Hewlett-Packard. The $115 billion company, which has more channel reach than any and all competitors, won five overall awards and 12 subcategory awards in the 2010 CRN Channel Champion survey.

The two closest competitors finished with less than half of the top overall honors of HP and far fewer subcategory awards. IBM won two overall awards and seven subcategory awards, while Cisco won two overall awards and six subcategory awards.

The 2010 Channel Champions also featured Dell's first overall Channel Champion award since it started its channel march with a dedicated channel program three years ago. HP's impressive showing marks the third straight year that the company has easily outpaced Cisco and IBM to bring home more Channel Champion honors. This, as HP is stepping up its bid to grab a bigger share of the networking market from Cisco with a just-finalized $2.7 billion acquisition of 3Com. And remember, HP is also competing aggressively with IBM in the IT services market (HP acquired IT services giant EDS two years ago in a $14 billion deal).

"HP's all-in channel attitude is paying off," said Sam Haffar, president and co-CEO of Computex, an HP enterprise partner based in Houston. "HP is our top vendor. They are without question the top partner to work with. We are tied to HP at all different levels--from the field sales level to the management level to the [network] architecture level. We go to market together."

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That decision to go to market together with channel partners paid off handsomely in overall Channel Champion victories for HP in SMB Networking Hardware, SMB Network Storage, Volume Servers (less than $25,000 in price), flat-panel displays (19 inches to 30 inches) and a tie with Lenovo in the notebook computer category.

If that isn't enough, HP has moved to take its partner effort to new heights this year with an ambitious account planning and mapping strategy aimed at working hand-in-hand with partners to win business together in what it has tagged as 9,000 U.S. SMB, emerging growth, midmarket accounts.

Solution providers credit HP CEO Mark Hurd and his hard-driving focus on sales coverage for HP's channel renaissance.

"Things were a little rough under [former HP CEO] Carly [Fiorina]," Haffar said. "Since Mark Hurd took over he doubled down on the channel, and we doubled down on HP. It's a great relationship. We took Mark Hurd's 'double down' message very seriously and it has paid off in big dividends in both profitability and sales. I am very loyal to the HP brand and their go-to-market strategy. We go to market as a team. We win as a team or lose as a team."

Bob Venero, president and CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, Holbrook, N.Y., says HP has a more "seasoned channel model" than Cisco or IBM because of its broad and deep product line and channel reach and hand-in-hand partner account engagement.

Of the Big Three, Venero said IBM lags behind both HP and Cisco in channel savvy. He said that IBM is the most complex of the three to engage with on a day-to-day basis.

As for HP and Cisco, Venero said HP clearly outshines Cisco with a vigorous embrace of the channel and strong day-to-day account engagement. "There is no question about that," Venero said. But, he said, it would be silly to discount Cisco's channel prowess. The $40 billion networking market leader, in fact, walked away with overall Channel Champion awards in Enterprise Networking and in Unified Communications and six subcategory awards. And Cisco's Enterprise Networking score of 81.2 was the highest overall score in the Channel Champion survey. What's more, Cisco achieved the top score in both the sales gains category, support satisfaction, and product margins, spifs and rebates, besting the entire Channel Champion field.

"Cisco has evolved over time and learned how to embrace the channel," Venero said. "Cisco used to be all about girth. Now they are all about quality in their delivery through the channel."

Venero said, however, that one of HP's biggest channel advantages is that its top executives are more accessible than Cisco's. What's more, he said, HP is also more "open" to channel business development ideas.

"Cisco account engagement is more limited in comparison to HP," said Venero, noting that Cisco should be concerned now that HP is getting aggressive in the networking market. "Is HP going to shut their business down? No. Is HP going to take a piece of that Cisco business? I think so. Just by default, people look for options."

With that said, Venero said both Cisco and HP are staples for the channel. "You need to have all the vendor relationships," he said. "HP is a staple. And Cisco is also a staple. And staples are what keep us eating and alive."

IBM's channel strength came in its overall awards in Middleware and in Midrange Servers (more than $25,000 in price) with a sweep of the technical, support satisfaction and financial subcategories in those businesses. The $96 billion behemoth also had the second highest overall score in the Channel Champion contest.

Joe Mertens, president of Sirius Computer Solutions, a San Antonio-based solution provider that is IBM's largest partner, said IBM's hardware and software product line is deeper than any other vendor's. What's more, he said, IBM's "historic commitment to the channel" is unmatched.

Mertens said on the hardware side IBM has made progress in alleviating channel conflict with a channel-neutral sales compensation model for IBM direct-sales reps and a clear line in the sand between accounts the channel is focusing on vs. the ones the IBM direct-sales force is focusing on. He said he would like to see the computer services giant do the same with its software business.

Sirius, like many IBM hardware partners, is bringing on more IBM software solutions. Sirius earlier this year received a certification to become an authorized seller of all IBM software products.

Anthony Bongiovanni, president of Micro Strategies, a $60 million Denville, N.J.-based IBM premier partner, credited the company with helping him grow his sales and profits considerably over the past decade with a strong channel offering that emphasizes technical training and education.

"We are a very solutions-oriented organization," he said. "We are focused on architecting solutions for customers--not commodity products. IBM gives us everything we need to be successful. The IBM program has helped us become more solutions focused, more consultative and skilled." That IBM solutions focus has allowed Micro Strategies to make big gains in finance, legal and the insurance markets, added Bongiovanni.

"Our IBM profitability has remained strong and allowed us to continue to invest the dollars we need to grow and develop our technical skills," he said. "We reinvest about 75 percent or more of what we make back into the company to support new initiatives." That includes the opening of Micro Strategies' second Business Innovation Center in the next two months, which will enable it to show off more complex Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and virtualization solutions.

Micro Strategies is also seeing sales and profits from its IBM middleware practice including IBM's Tivoli network management software as part of a stepped-up effort to automate data centers, said Bongiovanni. "We're doing a lot more helping customers take out data center costs with more automation," he said.

That ability to take out costs for customers is critical for solution providers to succeed as they partner with any of the Big Three.

MSI Systems Integrators, an Omaha, Neb., solution provider with $350 million in annual sales, for example, has succeeded by partnering closely with HP, IBM and Cisco and sharply focusing on lowering costs, customer risk and reducing cycle time on IT projects, said MSI President and CEO Jim Simpson.

Simpson says the Big Three are all "great companies committed to their partnerships with the channel in a very visible way." MSI Systems Integrators is working with all three now to build out cloud computing solutions.

The key to being successful going forward is to be "innovative and understand where the future lies," Simpson said. "We have to forget how we have done business in the last three or four years. We have to look at what customers are asking for and how we can add value for vendors.

"IBM, Cisco and HP are going to be very different companies in the next three years in terms of what they offer our mutual clients," said Simpson. "Our role is going to change. I've been in the channel for the last 10 years and the velocity of change has never been greater."

That ability to keep up with the fast-changing technology/channel environment will almost certainly be critical for solution providers partnering with Channel Champions in the future.