D-Link: Our Channel Strategy Hasn't Changed

D-Link on Monday confirmed several updates to its channel program as it looks to convince skeptical solution providers that it won't lose channel momentum following a major shakeup in its North America executive ranks.

Several key architects of D-Link's current go-to-market strategy left the company starting in the fall of 2011. The exits included Nick Tidd, former D-Link North America president, and two of his top sales executives, Pat Piwowarczyk, former vice president, U.S. enterprise and channel sales, and Rod St. Michel, D-Link's vice president of consumer sales.

Several more D-Link executives have also departed since then, CRN has learned, including Mark Ciprietti, vice president and general manager, business solutions division, D-Link Canada and also vice president, North American Channel DMR.

Partners have voiced concerns that the loss of so much channel acumen spells doom for D-Link's program, but Steve Ryan, director of North American channel programs for D-Link, says that isn't the case.

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"We haven't heard of any partners saying they'll pull projects or stop selling D-Link product," Ryan said. "They've obviously got one eye raised open watching whether we're going to do what we'll say we'll do. But we maintain our commitment to the channel and we're not making any changes to the program in a negative way."

All of the current updates to D-Link's channel program were developed starting last summer, before the executive departures began, Ryan said. Among the changes are that D-Link's Value In Partnership (VIP) program has been renamed VIP+.

D-Link has a new partner portal that's easier to navigate, Ryan said, as well as an easier claim process for D-Link sales rewards thanks in part to a new back-end supplier D-Link hired to manage administration of the program. D-Link is also providing an e-learning program through which partners can earn rewards for completion, and a new campaigns tool for providing D-Link partners access to customizable marketing material.

The program itself remains constitutionally the same. D-Link's partnership tiers are Gold, Silver and Registered and it provides technology specializations within VIP+ for partners that focus on a particular segment of the D-Link line card: Storage Preferred, IP Surveillance Preferred and Security Preferred.

Work on the latest batch of changes began in the summer 2011, Ryan said, but the current program is the result of about two years' worth of D-Link channel revamp. Some of the important changes during that time were that D-Link began to offer deal registration discounts by deal size rather than by partner level, and also preserved various rewards such as bounties (3 percent off of MSRP for qualified deals lost to competitors) and GovEd discounts (5 percent off of purchase price for sales into government and education customers).

Partner certification will also remain free, Ryan said. D-Link is offering certification in three categories: D-Link Sales Specialist, for sales professionals; D-Link Certified Specialist, designed for pre-sales technical professionals; and D-Link Certified Professional, designed for network engineers. All of the course materials will still be downloadable on-demand, and the courses themselves self-paced.

"One thing I've constantly heard from partners in the past is, why would you charge me for training? Why would you charge me if I'm going to invest the time to learn about your products and solutions?" Ryan said. "Well, at D-Link, we agree with them."

D-Link is continuing to solicit partner feedback, Ryan said. It will communicate VIP+ changes through VAR resources like its quarterly town hall-style meetings with partners.

"I'm asking them to reach out to me as well as getting the feedback from our channel account managers," Ryan said. "Pretty much everything is driven by partner feedback and it'll continue to be that way.

The VIP+ program will also be launching in Europe in February, Ryan said. VIP+ changes will take effect for North America partners on Feb. 7.

Next: D-Link Partners Encouraged, But Not Convinced

D-Link partners contacted by CRN said they're plenty concerned, but that D-Link had taken steps already to calm their fears in the wake of so many executive departures.

Neil Medwed, president and CEO of Preferred Technology, a Richardson, Texas-based solution provider and D-Link Gold partner, said that Albert Ling, D-Link's new channel chief, had reached out to him first via e-mail and then by phone.

Ling listened to Medwed's concerns, he said, and also secured approval for all of the go-to-market activities, including sales and marketing, that Medwed had jointly planned with D-Link last year in preparation for 2012.

"That proved to me not only words, but actions," Medwed said. "Business is a partnership, and a what-can-we do for each other scenario."

Medwed, like other partners, credits the work Tidd, Piwowarczyk and others did with giving D-Link the channel credibility it now enjoys.

"We had built up this momentum with D-Link and I was very concerned that the focus would change, but we seem to be moving forward," Medwed said. "Regime change is difficult. There's always fear of the unknown. But if they continue with the playbook Nick and Pat had, they'll be OK. I'm feeling pretty good. Their eye seems to be on the ball."

Mark Essayian, president of KME Systems, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based solution provider, agreed it's on D-Link to preserve what was good about the channel focus under Tidd and his lieutenants.

"I'm a little of two minds," Essayian said. "I'm waiting to see how they structurally fill the channel holes they've created. I mean, they put people in place, they put programs in place, but then they got rid of people who knew how to run a channel. That spooks me."

Essayian said that Ling, whose title is senior vice president, channel operations, D-Link North America, had also reached out to him, initially via e-mail. Ling did a conference call with the KME team and KME's local D-Link channel sales rep and sought to ensure any planning Essayian did with D-Link last year was on track for this year.

"They're making some good noises, but I don't always trust vendors. That's not a criticism directly of D-Link, but are we getting the whole story here?" he said. "In 90 days if things aren't sorted out I'm going to say no, you guys don't get it, or I need additional things from you. I want to know how committed they're going to be."

Essayian said the biggest impact Tidd's team had was getting VARs excited about the idea of solutions selling around D-Link products and services. D-Link will lose that momentum if its only emphasis is on transactional sales of commodity products through partners, he said.

"I'd continue to sell their commodity products as needed. I'm not going to get hurt selling a 48-port switch or a couple of NAS boxes, you know?" Essayian said. "But if they want me to move upstream selling enterprise products, that's a new game. They need to sell me on that."