At the Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego early last month, global channel chief Wendy Bahr came to the event with a big bag of presents for the networking giant's legions of channel partners, including a simplified rebate program, a suite of new digital transformation marketing services for partners, and new software services and practices.
That last item caught the attention of Brian Ortbals, advanced technology vice president at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner. "As the portfolio shifts to software, it's not about hardware maintenance anymore," he told CRN, given the changes in customer purchasing priorities. The role of solution providers today is "ultimately trying to create more value for our customers," he said.
A couple of weeks later HP Inc. unveiled a plan to leverage its HP.com online store to drive sales leads to commercial partners, a paradigm shift in the use of online stores that traditionally compete with solution providers.
[Related: 2016 Partner Programs Guide]
"This shows HP understands the channel can add real value to the solutions," Skip Tappen, president and COO of solution provider and HP partner NWN, told CRN. "It is not just about the transactions anymore."
Are IT vendors helping solution providers keep pace with the trends and technologies that are reshaping the IT industry?
One way to keep tabs on IT vendors in the channel is the 2016 Partner Program Guide, a listing of more than 225 IT manufacturers, software publishers and service companies. The guide offers solution providers the information they need to evaluate the vendors they already work with or are considering partnering with. It is based on detailed applications vendors submitted outlining all aspects of their partner programs. All applicants are listed in the Partner Programs Guide database, along with the market segment specializations they selected on their applications.
The Channel Company's research team analyzed the applications and designated some programs as 5-Star partner programs. That rating recognizes an elite subset of applicants that offer solution providers key partnering elements in their channel programs. To determine the 5-Star recipients, the research team assessed each vendor's application based on investments in program offerings, partner profitability, partner training and education, marketing programs and resources, sales support and communication. The 5-Star rating is given to programs whose overall rating is exemplary, segmented by company size: large, midsize, small and emerging companies (founded in 2010 or more recently).
The channel is currently in a state of flux. VARs and solution providers are struggling to evolve into strategic service and managed service providers, and are wrestling with new recurring revenue and services-led business models.
"I think partners are being hit with so much right now," said Kimberly King, global partner channels vice president at Progress, in an interview. Solution providers are selling to businesspeople and they need a blueprint to help them, especially in such areas as digital transformation and mobile computing, she said. "Partners are saying to us, ‘I need you to show [customers] that I'm a thought leader in these markets."
Rob Rae, business development vice president at Datto, a developer of backup and recovery products that sells 100 percent through the channel, sees partners asking for assistance that goes beyond technical "speeds and feeds."
Partners, for example, need help with product positioning and pricing. "That's where the major gaps are, on the sales and marketing side," Rae said. Datto has developed positioning documents to help partners sell backup and recovery products as business continuity solutions. Tools to simplify the sales process are also under development, he added.