The Inside Story Of How APC Lost A Channel Champions Crown And Regained Its Channel Mojo

As APC by Schneider Electric officially rolls out a massive revamp of its channel program, it can look back at one turning point that became the driving force for change.

Data center power and cooling vendor APC had won the coveted title of CRN Channel Champion in the Power Protection and Management category, as determined by an annual survey of solution providers by CRN, for the first 20 years of the award. However, in 2014, archrival Eaton beat the company to take home top honors in the category.

That loss spurred APC to rethink its approach to the channel with the goal of not only taking back the Channel Champions crown, but ensuring that the West Kingston, R.I.-based company continued to grow its channel presence, said Rob McKernan, senior vice president of global IT channels for the vendor.

[Related: APC Sets Sights On Managed Services Channel Transformation]

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McKernan told CRN that he has always taken a channel-focused approach at APC and was extremely disappointed when the company didn't get the top score in the 2014 Channel Champions survey.

The loss helped McKernan realize that APC needed to improve how it worked with the channel.

"It allowed me to look at what we were doing in North America and look at what we were doing globally," he said. "While we relied so much on channel partners, I felt we were just slightly missing the mark on things that we used to do very well that we had to get back to doing better."

McKernan said the loss in 2014 was no reflection on how the APC team worked with partners, but on how quickly the channel was changing.

"We needed to be listening even better, even closer, and taking that learning from our partners and be able to turn quicker as an organization," he said. "In a geographic organization, we just weren't evolving our model as fast [as we could] and listening to partners and helping them become more successful."

That listening seemed to have worked, as APC received the Channel Champions award in 2015.

"So now going forward, I love it," he said. "I'm very, very excited to go back and do the things that I know can work and I know will help these partners grow their business."

Channel partners have noticed the difference in how APC has interacted with them over the past year or so.

Ashley Garrison, inside sales manager at Howard Technology, an Ellisville, Miss.-based solution provider and APC channel partner, said she quickly became aware of the ease of doing business with APC when it came to a particularly large deal last year that required APC's help.

Garrison, who at the time was an inside sales rep for Howard Technology, reached out to her sales rep, Ashley Garcia, and was surprised at the company's new capabilities.

"She was great," Garrison said. "I passed her information on what the customer had in every room. She did the specs and proposed the services, and did joint calls with me. She made it easy for me to sell the solution."

Garcia eventually moved into a new role at APC, but not before she personally introduced her replacement to Howard Technology and its clients, Garrison said.

Paul Cronin, senior vice president and partner at Atrion, a Warwick, R.I.-based solution provider and APC channel partner, said he has seen a more humbling approach from the company toward services for and collaboration with the channel in the past year.

"APC is listening more and investing in better understanding my business," Cronin told CRN. "There has been a genuine effort to not rest on their success."

Cronin said he has never found APC to be arrogant. "But sometimes the company seemed like it was running 100 miles a minute," he said. "Now it's slowing down to run besides us. We are going to the same place. Why not run together?"

APC in the channel has always run like a well-oiled machine, said Dan Beeler, director of the data center division of CompuNet, a Meridian, Idaho-based solution provider and APC channel partner.

"But recently we've seen new things for the channel from them," Beeler told CRN. "They're talking partner profitability, increasing support, and introducing an MSP program. That's piqued my interest. There was nothing bad before. But we didn't see a lot of innovation. Just working pretty well."

McKernan said that partner satisfaction is the No. 1 key performance indicator for vendors such as APC. "I know that every time satisfaction in partners is strong, that's equating to strong performance for my business," he said.

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.