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Dell Doubles Down On Premier Partners, Adds 60 Percent More To 'Elite' Tier

In an exclusive interview with CRN, Dell channel chief Cheryl Cook says the Premier Plus program was started Feb. 1 with 50 of Dell's top partners, who will soon be joined by an additional 30.

Dell is increasing the ranks of its newly created Premier Plus partner class by more than 60 percent to give partners that double down with the vendor the opportunity to realize accelerated end-to-end growth, especially once the acquisition of enterprise powerhouse EMC is complete.

In an exclusive interview with CRN, Cheryl Cook, Dell's vice president of global channels and alliances, said Premier Plus was started Feb. 1 with 50 of Dell's "elite of the elite" partners who will soon be joined by an additional 30.

Among the incentives for which Premier Plus partners are eligible is an aggressive 15 percent incentive for winning new business in storage and networking and an 8 percent new business incentive in servers.

Mark McKeever, principal of Tempe, Ariz.-based Dell Premier partner MicroAge, was only recently informed that MicroAge is one of those 30 new partners. The new Premier Plus designation is a strong example of Dell's willingness to innovate within its channel programs, a characteristic not possessed by every large-scale vendor, he said.

The results of that experimentation have been impressive, McKeever said, and the new addition to the program points to Dell's commitment to the growth of its partners.

"The last few years they've tried some new elements, and we've been experiencing meteoric growth," McKeever said. "We've been clocking 30 percent growth year over year pretty consistently," he said. "If you had told me eight years ago where I'd be now, I'd be impressed. I am impressed. They've really executed incredibly well on the channel side. We did $27.5 million with Dell in 2015, up from $19.9 million [the prior year]."

Perhaps most important to McKeever is that way Dell has handled funding for partner marketing. "They've taken their marketing funding and their rebate program and they've synthesized them together," he said. "I haven't seen it quite so sophisticated. It's a sophisticated plan, but it maintains a sense of simplicity. It has a lot of elements that blend quite elegantly."

That's a significant differentiator for Dell, McKeever said.

"Everybody knows marketing is being profoundly transformed right now. Nobody is unaware of that," he said. "Yet, most [vendors] don't want to stray from a pre-approved playbook that they have. If the mind-set is we have to play it safe, and we don't trust the resellers to spend the dollars, how can they hope to get any innovation at the reseller level?"

McKeever said the level of communication between Dell executives and partners is unprecedented.

"The communication with their executive management, you don't have that anywhere," MicroAge's McKeever said. "When we've wanted to move away from a traditional activity and try something, they've been willing to do that. Dell program people are out talking to partners in a way that I've never seen from any other vendor. They're out visiting our offices. It's more modern."

Terry Buchanan, vice president and general manager at Toronto-based Premier partner Zycom Technology, said the new Premier Plus designation will help partners prove their commitment to Dell and boost revenue.

Buchanan said Dell is Zycom's fastest-growing partnership. Zycom, a professional, cloud and managed services provider, has a strategic alignment with Dell's Enterprise Solutions Group.

The Premier Plus tier, Buchanan said, "allows partners to show their commitment to Dell, and therefore build stronger internal relationships with Dell, which will lend itself to positive partner- and Dell-led joint customer coverage and trust selling the Dell solution stack where it has the most value."

Zycom has already been seeing "huge growth" with Dell before earning the Premier Plus designation, Buchanan said. He said the new designation will allow Zycom to reinvest in more resources and training, which in turn positions the company better to gain more opportunities, sell more solutions and drive revenue.

"Being able to differentiate our company through the Premier Plus designation over our competitors will allow us to stand out in the market and compete for business with Dell that was once perceived as Dell Direct business."

Being an elite Dell partner also sets the stage for growth when the company's $67 billion acquisition of EMC is complete. The deal could close anytime between May and October, according to Dell, and executives have said the company is on track to lock up the nearly $50 million in debt, as well as the shareholder and regulatory approvals necessary.

"Top partners will benefit from Dell investments, and it'll make Zycom, as a top partner, more relevant to our clients, with more to offer in terms of Dell and EMC at the table," Buchanan said.

"With EMC, I'm licking my chops," MicroAge's McKeever said. "I would love to sell more EMC. It's a business that can be a little more difficult to get in there and partner with. I welcome what Dell brings to the table, which is a great attitude, and the ability to make stuff happen. Every [vendor] I know can talk about what they're going to do, but Dell's track record of execution right down to the account level is really good right now."

Dell's Cook explained that the Premier Plus designation is a reflection of where the Round Rock, Texas-based company wants to drive its partner program -- namely, toward loyal, high-achieving partners that win new business. "We want to reserve our highest level of reward for our most highly aligned partners that are really aligned and investing with us. We've got incentives by [business unit] in both client and enterprise and our systems information management, which is software," Cook told CRN.

The dramatic increase in the number of partners being added to the Premier Plus program is a result of Dell organizing the group around business units. Partners can achieve Premier Plus status in PCs or enterprise, for example, without necessarily taking on both lines.

Partners invited into the Premier Plus ranks have demonstrated their loyalty and have proven they can drive revenue growth, Cook said. "We have growth targets, and they have to hit certain growth levels and growth objectives to do it. We've got new business incentives because we'd love to see it come from new business."

"Part of it is competency-based. You have to have achieved that to be a Preferred or Premier partner," Cook said. "It's revenue-based. How much revenue are you driving and achieving? It's growth-oriented. You have growth targets to achieve, and it puts you in an incentive ladder that is more lucrative than the others.

"It's with a group of partners that's already doing well and enjoying growth with us, so it certainly is expanding that top echelon," she said. "We hope they see it also as a target-rich place in which to invest and continue to double down with Dell. We're trying to show that those who are serious with us, we're serious with them."

Here's how Premier Plus breaks down:

Revenue targets are arranged by business group.

Partners selling Dell's Enterprise Solutions Group must achieve server, storage and networking competencies and hit an annual revenue target of $5 million in the U.S. and $4 million in Canada.

Partners selling client solutions must achieve workstation and core client competencies and are encouraged to take on the cloud client computing competency. Minimum revenue targets are $7 million in both the U.S. and Canada.

Partners that want to get to Premier Plus in systems and information management have three competencies to achieve and must take on at least two. They include data protection, endpoint management and Windows management. The revenue target for the group is $500,000 in the U.S. and Canada.

Security partners can work toward Premier Plus status by bringing in minimum annual revenue of $2 million and achieving Dell's network security competency.

Partners in the Premier Plus Strategic Program are eligible for enhanced payouts and benefits above Premier partner, including:

• Base rebates, Growth Accelerator and line-of-business multipliers: Base rebates can go as high as 5 percent for high-end enterprise solutions including storage, networking and high-end servers, and as much as 4 percent to 8 percent more on growth from previous periods with Dell.

• New business incentives include aggressive rewards for finding and driving new customers to Dell. New business incentives for storage and networking are currently at 15 percent and servers are at 8 percent.

• In services, there are rebates to incent the Dell ProSupport suite of services and client peripherals and displays through the channel, with as much as 1 percent more rebates when services are attached.

• There are additional benefits including Sell and Earn, On-Site Vendor Rep Funding, Choose Your Own Device Kits, and Scale to Summit Training. Partners that combine these incentives can earn as much as 25 percent in rebates in storage, networking and other lines of business.

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