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COLUMN: The Black Hand Of The Channel Doesn’t Work

The Channel Company’s Executive Chairman Robert Faletra says the strategy of vendors telling partners not to talk to reporters is a losing one.

We don’t talk about it much, but we all know it happens and thankfully we have a work-around. I’m talking about vendors that twist arms in the channel community and tell partners not to talk to I reporters.

It’s been going on for decades. And, frankly, we know it really doesn’t work. It may slow us down, but it doesn’t stop us from getting the real story. Heck, we like the challenge and the thrill of victory from exposing that hidden gem.

There are certain vendors that are far more aggressive in this tactic, and I could name them right now but I won’t for fear of retribution. I say that jokingly but when partners often talk to us they need to go on background or off the record, as we call it, which means I’ll give you the dirt but don’t rat me out.

Vendors have two means of controlling the information that gets out. Try to get ahead of it and position it as positively as possible via proactive public relations, which is really marketing. Or try to stop the flow of information by telling everyone not to talk.

The first one works. The second one does not.

We have a large solid team of aggressive reporters here at CRN. It’s the largest team in high-tech focused on producing content for strategic service providers. So it’s no secret we are publishing stories almost daily with lines like “sources said” or “according to a partner who asked not to be identified.”

Frankly, we would rather everyone talk on the record but unfortunately some vendors will take action against a partner that “sings like a canary.” That, by the way is a line out of the movie “On The Waterfront.”

In the end, none of these hard-ass tactics ever work for too long and ultimately make for a bigger story that throws a more harsh spotlight on the vendors that act in this manner.

Think about it. When our reporters can’t get anyone to talk on the record, the story becomes laden with sources asking not to be identified for fear of retribution.

That never looks like anything more than what it is. Partners who know what’s happening are not happy and are concerned there are some folks inside that organization who might cause further problems if they know they are the source.

This entire situation is impossible to control for every vendor, so why do it?

Here are some thoughts on what should be happening.

First and foremost, come clean with the I team. Explain what is happening and why. The reason for this is it’s the best, fastest and cleanest way to get this information out to the entire channel. And because it’s moving through CRN, our editors are asking the uncomfortable questions that need to be answered but won’t be addressed if it’s a marketing-only announcement.

Let’s face it, it’s often not what people tell you that matters— it’s what they don’t tell you. When delivering news that partners may not agree with via a public relations/ marketing message, there is bound to be information left out that ultimately looks like the vendor is trying to hide it. Nothing stays hidden for too long, however. So that approach often backfires.

More importantly, being up front as to why the changes causing the channel conflict are being rolled out clarifies what is really going on. Partners appreciate it and can deal with a business decision. They have to make them as well, and we all know the right decision isn’t always the easy decision.

If you’re not up front and honest, it ultimately gets exposed and then partners lose trust. So ask yourself this. Do you do more or less business with someone you don’t trust? That answer explains it all.

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