Five Turning Points In Dell's Channel Evolution

Dell's Indirect Move

Dell wasn't always a channel player. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that the computer maker was the archrival of solution providers.

However, a slow but determined evolution has turned Dell into a bona fide channel player. And now Dell is looking to capitalize on the uncertainty surrounding HP's Personal Systems Group. Here's a look at how Dell became "the x86 partner of choice" for the channel, as founder and CEO Michael Dell likes to say.

August, 2002: Dell Introduces White Box Program

Dell was the bane of VARs across North America and was at the height of its powers when the company dipped its first toe into the waters of the channel. Dell's white box effort, dubbed Solution Provider Direct Program, was quietly introduced to VARS. The computer maker shipped unbranded $500 PCs to solution providers; some VARs flocked to Solution Provider Direct, eager to sell Dell's powerful brand, while other VARs didn't trust Dell's white box program.

While Dell discontinued the white box program after less than two years, it was the computer maker's first foray into working directly with solution providers and showed that Dell and the channel had mutual interests.

March, 2003: Dell And ASCII Group Form Alliance

After introducing its Solution Provider Direct program, Dell formed an alliance with national reseller organization ASCII Group and made another big splash in the channel. The partnership allowed ASCII members to resell branded Dell systems rather than just unbranded white boxes.

While solution providers still viewed Dell as a threat, the alliance was proof that many VARs saw the potential to make money with Dell's powerful PC brand. And while Dell kept news of the ASCII alliance quiet, the move showed Dell's interest in the reseller channel was growing.

August, 2007: Dell Names Greg Davis Channel Chief

You can't have a channel strategy without a channel chief. And in the summer of 2007, longtime Dell executive Greg Davis was tapped as head of Dell's North American channel.

Davis, who joined Dell in 1999, had served as president of Dell Canada before taking on the new position of vice president of commercial channels at the computer maker. He faced the daunting task of convincing skeptical solution providers that Dell was serious about the channel. His efforts paid off – less than two years later, Davis was promoted to vice president and general manager of Dell's global channels. And while channel chiefs at major vendors tend to change year to year, Davis has stayed put and given Dell's channel strategy the stability it needs.

November, 2007: Dell Acquires EqualLogic

When Dell acquired storage upstart EqualLogic for $1.4 billion, it was seen as a bold move by Dell to strengthen its storage offering and expand its data center portfolio. And it was.

But the move was also a major step in Dell's channel evolution, thanks to EqualLogic's exemplary partner program and strong indirect sales strategy. The computer make used the acquisition to broaden its engagement with solution providers. "This is a catalyst for our channel partner program," Michael Dell told CRN in a 2007 interview. "We're going to build on what EqualLogic has started."

And build they did.

December, 2007: Dell Launches PartnerDirect Program

Hot on the heels of its acquisition of EqualLogic, Dell introduced its first bona fide partner program with PartnerDirect.

Right out of the gate, PartnerDirect offered members registered partner status, certifications, and a deal registration system. Dell even hosted a virtual town hall meeting for hundreds of solution providers to promote the program. And while many VARs were still unwilling to trust Dell with their business, PartnerDirect started to show results quickly. Within nine months, Dell had more than 11,000 registered partners in the program generating billions of dollars for the computer maker. And even some of the most skeptical solution providers had allied themselves with their former foe.