The Pursuit Of Happiness
In the 2007 VARBusiness Annual Report Card survey, Intel scored the highest rating among all vendors in four of the seven criteria used to rate partnership, giving Intel the best weighted average score for partnership among all vendors in the ARC.
Solution providers said the keys to lasting vendor relationships are constant communication between the two parties, through both dynamic partner portals coupled with face-to-face contact, and the ability to head off channel conflict by being fair and honest with partners.
"Intel is by far the best channel partner we have," said Kenny Kremm, president
of Proactive Technologies, an Intel Premier partner in Carrollton, Texas, which specializes in custom-built, high-end printing and graphics systems. "As a Premier partner, I have local representation and get almost weekly visits from my senior Intel sales engineer, and I get quarterly visits from the vice president of sales for the North American OEM Group in my region."
Intel also keeps its channel partners well-informed of future technologies, Kremm added.
"They are really good at giving us road maps," he said. "I get motherboards and processors months before the general public, and that allows me to test my operating systems and applications on the hardware before the new hardware is available or even announced. I get the new products at the same time of the Dells and HPs of the world, which allows me to offer my platforms rocking and ready to go on the same day that they do. You know that when Intel releases the product, Dell is going to have it on their Web site the same day, and I can do the same thing."
Seven different metrics were used to crown partnership champions, including partner portal, solution provider program, communication, manages channel conflict, revenue and profit potential, ROI (return on investment) and ease of doing business. Solution providers rated their satisfaction in each criterion for a given vendor in a given product category with the average rating expressed on a scale of 1 to 100.
Intel scored a 79 for its solution provider program, 75 for communication, 75 for manages channel conflict and 78 for ease of doing business. That compares to the average, respectively, of 63, 64, 62 and 66 among other vendors in those partnering criteria.
Shirley Turner, Intel's director of North American channel marketing, said Intel scores well on its channel partnering programs because of fairness. "Solution providers see that we do business fairly with them," she said. "The resellers have learned by working with our sales reps that we give equitable pricing no matter how much you buy from us, and everyone is treated fairly. You hear about other companies that give special compensation or privileges to big vendors, but you don't hear that about us."
Turner added, too, that consistency is a hallmark of Intel's partnering strategy. "We have a board of advisers that meets twice a year face-to-face and on the phone once a month, and we constantly test not just product but program ideas," she said. "We are not resting on our laurels. But is there any need to do a sweeping change (this year)? No."
Other Intel partners gave the processor vendor high marks for ease of doing business.
Next: Intel's Online Access
"Intel has easy access to online technical support," said Doug Pruett, vice president of Byers Peak, an Intel solution provider in Wheat Ridge, Colo. "The key for them is that they have online access to technical data and troubleshooting data that goes back years. They may discontinue a product, but they don't take it off the Web site. And they have a no-question return policy and a three-year warranty."
Pruett also said that if he needs information beyond what's on Intel's Web site, it's easy to get quick access to a technical support person. "And for a company as big as Intel, they provide personalized service," he added. "We have an account rep that comes to our facility and is present during the online training in the region."
While Intel achieved the highest weighted average score for partnership among all vendors in the ARC, other vendors scored well among VARs for their partnering skills.
Adtran in Network Infrastructure, Sophos in Security Software and Xerox in Workgroup Color Printers tied with Intel for the highest communication rating. Xerox won the top score for its partner portal. And AMD in Client or Server Processors, IBM (System p) in Mainstream Business Servers and EMC in Storage Management Software tied for the highest scores in ROI with 73, 8 points above the average.
Michael Rogers, vice president of North American Alliance Channel and OEM sales at Boston-based Sophos, said complete focus on the channel translates to better communications with solution providers. "As far as communication goes, our new model and more than a 100 percent increase in marketing expenditures, wrapped with 100 percent channel model, are key," he said.
Sophos, a newcomer to the ARC Awards, simplified its partner program soon after Rogers joined the company just over a year ago. Rogers said he pared the "six or seven" different partner levels down to just platinum, silver and gold. For effective communications with solution providers, Rogers said it's essential to maintain constant contact with partners. "Platinum level has a dedicated account management team that's meeting and talking with and developing programs for those solution providers," he said.
Gold solution providers also get face-to-face coverage through regional managers who are responsible for several solution providers. Silver solution providers are managed through electronic ecosystems, including a Web site, e-mails and in-house support staff. "But we are constantly checking in and calling our Silver members and asking them, 'If we are willing to invest more in you, will you invest more with us?' We look at this third tier as kind of our farm league, where we are looking to recruit from within," Rogers said.
One new Sophos partner, DPSciences, Cincinnati, said ease of doing business and a 100 percent channel sales strategy are the strong points in the security software vendor's partnering programs.
"Sophos is very streamlined at bringing on new partners and getting that partner quick to market," said Scott Gierach, a DPS contract services representative. "Sophos has given us a couple of leads because they've migrated to a 100 percent channel program. A lot of other companies out there say they are 100 percent channel, but they keep the high end 10 percent direct, where Sophos truly believes in 100 percent channel."
Xerox, too, said renewed efforts to interact with solution providers resulted in stellar partnership ratings from VARs.
"The thing that was different for us was that, at the onset of the year, we held our first ever partner summit," said Gary Gillam, Xerox's vice president of North America channel operations. "We had things we wanted to communicate to our partners, and we wanted to do that face to face."
At the summit, Xerox began transitioning its solution providers from product to solution sales in order for them to capture more annuity revenues related to consumables and services tied to document management.
As a result, Xerox beefed up its training efforts both online and face to face and hired 18 new channel field support people to interact with its channel partners.
Jamie Lamb, an owner of PrintStream, a solution provider in Dublin, Ohio, said the Xerox partner summit went a long way toward solidifying her company's partnership with the vendor. "It was their vision of where the industry is going in the future and how we as partners can change along with it," she said. "Xerox is exceptional in their training programs and the tools that they give us. I can't say enough about how easy they are to work with."
Intel solution providers, too, say annual partner conferences that give solution providers contact with senior management goes a long way in cementing partner loyalty.
"Intel's annual partner conference is one of the best I've ever been to," Proactive Technologies' Kremm said. "They bring in everybody from the CEO of the company, Paul Otellini, down to my field area sales rep. You'll see the president of the company and senior VPs walking around in their shirtsleeves, and they'll sit down at the table and talk with you one-on-one like they're one of the guys. What impresses me most about Intel is the amount of time senior management spends at the field level visiting companies to find out what the customer really needs. They always want to know how they can get better."