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COLUMN: Vendor Talk Of Partner Engagement Needs To Be Flipped

Robert Faletra, Executive Chairman of The Channel Company, says when the channel matters to a vendor’s CEO, it matters to everyone inside the organization.

For years, as I’ve traveled around meeting with vendors to talk about their channel strategies, the discussion has often turned to channel partner engagement.

Of course, engagement means different things to different vendors, but it always comes down to transactions. What percentage of partners sell something in a measurable timely basis. Or perhaps which partners have an average deal size of X.

These discussions tend to lead into a conversation around the 80/20 rule—which is anything but a rule.

Partners in the top tier of a vendor’s program are highly engaged, according to the vendor community, because they are transacting the most. But the engagement argument is best had when we talk about the other side of the equation as well— what’s in it for the partner and how does the vendor approach the “partnership.”

I’ve been watching and chronicling the channel since the early 1980s, and I’ve seen a lot of vendors come and go. I’ve also seen a lot of vendors that are still around that are heavily engaged and then some that are not so engaged with their channel.

To me, engagement is communication with partners, and that takes many forms. If the company is large enough, then a yearly major partner conference is warranted. But communication is more than a one-and-done. It takes regular meetings with the press, and CRN is the dominant force there. It takes small meetings with top partners. It takes marketing and PR targeted to solution providers. It also means attendance at independent partner events.

Microsoft was the best at this at one point but now sits at the bottom of the engagement stack, in my opinion. Its communication with the channel is sporadic at best. The company seems to believe that it’s so important that partners must deal with it, so why bother too much? Its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, renamed Inspire, looks more like a money-making event than a real attempt to touch base in a personal way with its channel.

It’s too big, anything but intimate, and, in fact, the press isn’t even invited.

If you notice, Microsoft doesn’t speak regularly with CRN because it’s unwilling to answer the detailed questions we would ask around programs and opportunities. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in five years has yet to sit down for an interview with us, which says a lot about how important he thinks the channel is. Microsoft is an extreme example, and there are others that have faded in their commitment that fall in the middle.

At the other end of the spectrum are HPE and Dell Technologies.

Both are fully engaged and always looking to be more so. Sometimes I’m amazed at how engaged HPE President and CEO Antonio Neri and Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell are. Both sit down quarterly with CRN to talk about partner initiatives and answer questions. Both have a very deep understanding of what is happening in their channel and push their teams to be better. The result is there are strong teams underneath them and, because they are so engaged, so too are their organizations. When the channel matters to the CEO, it matters to everyone inside the organization.

Solution providers looking at which vendors to bet their future on should pay attention to the engagement indices.

When companies are as engaged as Dell and HPE, it translates to things like ease of doing business. The ability to get someone on the phone that can solve a bid problem with a customer is a priority. Better communication and, frankly, advance understanding of product improvements and introductions just happen.

All sorts of things are better when dealing with a fully engaged vendor, and it’s worth picking one that does just that and avoiding those that are not.

Make something happen. Robert Faletra is Executive Chairman of The Channel Company. You can contact him via email at rfaletra@thechannelcompany.com

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