D-Link's Tidd: We're Way More Than 'The Guys With The $99 Router'

"People are sometimes shocked at both the depth and breadth of the product portfolio," said Tidd, who last week was named president of D-Link North America after eight months as its channel chief. "D-Link globally, for example, is the No. 2 provider of Gigabit Ethernet ports shipped worldwide, second only to Cisco. But people still see D-Link as 'those guys that do the $99 router.' "

In an interview with ChannelWeb.com, Tidd said his aim is to grow D-Link's presence with the help of a loyal channel and a revamped partner program and finally establish D-Link as a force to be reckoned with

If D-Link's channel is to grow, Tidd said, it has to fix both the way it markets and brands its portfolio and how it rewards loyal channel partners. Channel messaging has been a big issue for D-Link in the past, as has direct-indirect sales force conflict.

Tidd, a practiced hand in the segment thanks to his long stint at 3Com, moved into the channel chief role at D-Link in May 2009. He first came to D-Link the previous August to run Canadian operations, following his exit from 3Com, then in turmoil, in March 2008.

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According to Tidd, he's spent much of the past year trying to determine why D-Link couldn't gain a better foothold in the contentious networking market.

The products are there, he believes, as is the value.

"My challenge is to translate that value proposition to the enterprise," he said. "The feedback from the partners has been a lack of consistency in our channel strategy, vis-a-vis that value prop. We're coming out with a new partner program in the springtime that's going to resonate well with partners. My philosophy for channel architecture is that if you don't seek the guidance of your partners, you're a dead channel walking. The nice thing about D-Link is that the products are already there. It's a great place to be as opposed to a tarnished brand or a brand with no visibility."

As he continued to engage with more D-Link partners, Tidd said he found more that needed to be done with the D-Link partner program. That's why it has been delayed until spring 2010, even though Tidd had previously told ChannelWeb.com and D-Link's channel to expect an unveiling in the fourth quarter of 2009.

"There's absolutely a reason [for the delay]," he said. "Partner feedback was to 'make it intuitive. Make it tailored to me, and the information tailored to me.' We could have gone to market with our existing portal, but to me, that did not meet the requirements or the flexibility we needed. 'Partner portal' is an overused word. We took the opportunity to do a major IT overhaul."

The partner portal and much of D-Link's channel outreach will be on a Salesforce.com platform, he said. Among other resources, he's also spent time hiring new channel managers. The new partner program will have tiered levels of partnership with specified rebates, rewards and benefits for more business done with D-Link.

"Partners want us to solidify our message to the market," Tidd said. "They're still going in and having customers say, what's the difference between what I can get from you vs. what I can buy at OfficeMax?"

Along with better branding and marketing, Tidd is also promising focused partner programs that help VARs take a consultative approach to vertical markets -- designing solution bundles specific to hot markets like health care, for example.

"I need delivery partners that are segmented," Tidd said. "My message is: Let me help you sell the technology before you sell the brand."

The time is right for a full-court channel press, Tidd said, based on ongoing consolidation in the industry and disruption among other partner communities.

"The market right now has me tickled. This is a perfect storm for us," he said. "It's clear why HP bought 3Com, for example: They wanted China and they wanted H3C. That's going to take a while to process and they're going to sit and spin internally for a while. Their partner community is a target. I see the Avaya road map laid out with little traditional emphasis on the Nortel enterprise base. Their partner community is a target. And Cisco? You see the contraction of margins and the arrogance of their channel organization putting a sour taste on some partners. Their partner community is a target."

Partners also see confusing messages from some of the bigger titans, Tidd said.

"HP, Cisco and Juniper are all duking it out in the data center," he said. "But there's more than just the data center out there. You have aging infrastructure, the demands of wireless pushing bandwidth upgrades ... again, this is a perfect storm for upgrading beyond just a core data center." For D-Link channel partners, Tidd's messages are beginning to resonate, even with the total D-Link channel revamp still to come.

Richard Harber, president of Decision Digital, an Atlanta-based solution provider, said he's seen more interaction with his D-Link channel reps in the past six months than he had in the previous five years.

"They started to listen more to companies like mine about what they need to do beyond be a low-price leader," Harber said. "We said, 'You need to have a good enterprise-class product line, you need to be feature-rich but easy to use, and you need to realize my responsibility is to build value without having to babysit the product all the time. I think they started to get that message within the last 12 months."

Harber said he'd seen a lot of positive impact from both Tidd and Michael Fox, who will succeed Tidd as U.S. channel chief -- officially, vice president of U.S. solutions channel sales.

"I think they understand the necessity of protecting your partners," Harber said. "[Tidd] has to empower his people in the field to encourage business around the brand. People like me drive business toward the brand, so they need to help to bring deals to the partners. That's the piece that separates a channel guy from a non-channel guy. When you have a non-channel guy running channels, they look at the sheet and say, 'These guys do this much volume and these guys not as much volume, so let's give the guys who do do that much volume all the leads because they're clearly driving the most business.' That's not necessarily true. And remember: The little guy turns into a big guy when he gets business."

Other partners remain skeptical.

"Their branding is kind of a mess, except for the low-end products, and the feeling we get from their channel sometimes is that they don't really know what partners are doing good things for them and which are there for discounts," said one D-Link solution provider, who asked not to be named. "It'll take a while before we see changes, but that they've identified these things puts them ahead of other guys who keep claiming to get the channel and never do."

The solution provider said that D-Link had contacted him about an upcoming visit with D-Link's channel managers.

Harber said D-Link had said the same to Decision Digital, and both partners agreed it was a good sign that D-Link was looking to clean house in its channel.

"Most of what they've been telling me is that they're taking out the trash," Harber said. "Any time anyone messes with these [channel] programs, it says to me that it's meant to shore up relationships with good partners and flush out of their channel the bad ones. They have channel pollution. I tell them something I tell everybody: I don't want all the business in this part of the country, but I want to be in the top three you think about when someone needs help."

If the channel feels cared for, then the product evangelism will come, partners say.

"Truthfully, it's stuff that can compete with Juniper and Cisco, and they need to get more people to drink the Kool-Aid," Harber said. "I'll tell you that I've never had to pull any D-Link business gear out of a client and issue a refund. The client also appreciates not having to bleed money every year to [Cisco technical services program] SmartNet."