CRN Exclusive: Dell Wants To Be At Least 35% Of Partners' Business

Partners doing less than one-third of their business with Dell are being pushed to do more as the company focuses on the channel to take market share from its biggest competitors.

In an exclusive interview, Frank Vitagliano, vice president of North American channels, said Dell has many partners whose business with the Round Rock, Texas, company accounts for a relatively small portion of their overall sales. Dell is working to persuade them to increase those totals by turning to Dell where they may now rely on competitors.

About 40 percent of Dell's annual revenue comes through the channel, according to the company. Since Dell established its PartnerDirect channel partner program in 2008, the number of partners to complete training courses has more than doubled, and over the past year, Dell has increased the amount of partner rewards paid out by more than 35 percent, the company said.

[Related: Dell On Its Networking Play: It's All About Converged Infrastructure]

Still, the number of partners that do only a small amount of business with Dell is too high for Vitagliano's liking.

"I have a ton of partner relationships where I'm a relatively small piece of the business, 10 to 15 percent," Vitagliano told CRN. "Unless I'm 35 to 40 percent of the partner's business, I'm an afterthought, a fill-in-the-gaps kind of thing. Our goal is to become more significant with more people. It's not about more partners, per se. For us, the most relevant part is share of wallet."

To boost share of wallet, Dell can't wait around for partners to increase their business with Dell on their own. Dell has to go on the offensive, Vitagliano said, probing partners for information about which vendors they do the most business with and where there might be opportunity for Dell to displace them, becoming a primary vendor for partners that may now use Dell only to fill gaps.

"What I really need is an audience," Vitagliano said. "Partners say, 'We do a little business with you, but not much,' and I can ask, 'How much do you do with our competitors?' We should do more. So it's a matter of how do we show the partners the love in getting them trained, getting them enabled. We're finding partners are extraordinarily receptive to talking to us, and there's not a lot of holes in the story, in products, programs and processes for engaging in the field."

Partners reached by CRN said Vitagliano's goal of claiming 35 percent to 40 percent of partners' business for Dell is well within reach, especially for larger partners, once the company's $67 billion acquisition of EMC is complete sometime between May and October of next year.

Large national solution provider FusionStorm does about 20 percent of its business with Dell, and is one of Dell's top 10 partners. Its president, Dan Serpico, said it won't be difficult for companies like his to ramp up their Dell business after the EMC deal closes and amid the broader solution provider consolidation trend.

"With the consolidation taking place, there's not a lot of major partners that are multi-brand resellers, like FusionStorm or Presidio, that would have problems reaching that goal," Serpico said.

Still, there are challenges, Serpico said, and chief among them is customers' desire for diversity.

"For partners like us, the strength of our value to customers is having the ability to work through any technology," Serpico said. "Customers are looking for diversified environments, and there's a lot of different tech in there for a variety of reasons. It's hard to be all in on one brand. The market is changing all the time. You have a responsibility to have a diversified portfolio.

"The reality is that customers want a solution provider partner that can support their entire environment. Dell, Cisco have tremendous capabilities, and the truth is, customers find specialized solutions very attractive. It's important for me to carry a diversified portfolio. A third is not an unreasonable number. A third Cisco is not an unreasonable number. Ask this question five years ago, and it probably would've been hard to answer."

As a partner whose business is about 80 percent Dell, Paul Neyman, president of Houston-based Dell partner Waypoint Solutions, said the biggest challenge for partners' ramping up their Dell business can be Dell's direct sales team.

"I think the problem you run into is the overlap with the Dell direct model," Neyman said. "If Dell is already offering a Dell solution, then the partner really is put in a position to have to offer another solution to compete. Dell’s sales force is pretty pervasive. We have to be very persistent to capture Dell opportunities ahead of Dell in order to secure our position."

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