Take Command of Your Own DestinyBy Lawrence Walsh | Print
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More than half of solution providers regret joining vendor channel programs, mostly because vendors failed to deliver on their promises. But is that really the vendor’s fault? Solution providers need to step up and take more responsibility for their success.
Here’s a statistic that may not come as a surprise to you: More than one-half (52 percent) of solution providers regret joining a vendor’s partner program, according to the Channel Insider/Motorola Partner Recruitment Lifecycle Report.
The chief contributing factor to this discontent: vendors failing to fulfill their promises to partners. Those promises, in large part, are the delivery of technical, sales and marketing support, solution providers say in the report.
While this level of disconnect and discontent may not be a surprise to solution providers, we must ask who’s really at fault? Is it really the vendors?
The evidence in two of the most recent Channel Insider research reports points to solution providers not taking enough responsibility in driving their own destiny. The data indicates that solution providers are not only reliant upon vendors for marketing and tech support, but have an unquenchable expectation that vendors should provide that support at little or no expense to them.
Consider this: solution provider’s most desirable trait for a vendor partner program is high quality pre- and post-sales support. The range of this kind of support spans everything from lead generation to field engagement and deal crafting to post sales implementation and project management. As one vendor told us, "we have more sales engineers than we have sales people." The cost of pre- and post-sales support to vendors is enormous and can never be distributed evenly across a partner base.
In the Channel Insider 2009 Market Pulse Report, solution providers said two of the three things they need most to grow their business is more leads and better leads. The acquisition of new customers is vitally important to a business’ viability, especially in tough economic times. Lead generation is expensive, and vendors spend tens of millions of dollars on lead generation every year, and those leads are often distributed to both enterprise sales and channel partners.
As the Channel Insider reports indicate, solution providers are dissatisfied with both the volume and quality of the leads provided by vendors. At a recent distribution conference where I was speaking about market trends and how they affect solution providers, I asked a room of about 70 resellers how many were doing their own lead generation. Only two hands went up.
Several vendors and distributors have deployed tools on their partner portals to track end user license lifecycles. As the license approaches expiration, the system will report to solution providers the sales opportunity for renewing or upgrading the software. It’s a brilliant, low-touch system that is far more efficient than trying to track customer licensing on a rudimentary spreadsheet. But guess what? Vendors and distributors say solution providers rarely take advantage of the tool and often require prodding to engage with their own customers. You can forgive solution providers of not wanting to take on the expense of lead generation, but there’s no excuse for not engaging with an existing install base.
When asked why they would join a vendor partner program, solution providers said they were looking for new product with higher or sustainable margins. The data from both reports indicate that a great number of solution providers look to add new products and suppliers to replace products that have reached saturation install bases or have commoditized products. Solution providers say they want products that are both best of breed and certified as interoperable. And yet, they complain later that the technology did not work as advertised.
Of course there’s always going to be some misrepresentation and embellishment on the vendor’s part as to the quality of their technology and products. Partner engagement is salesmanship in another form. However, solution providers spend months meeting with vendors to evaluate products and partner programs before signing up. Shouldn’t proof of concepts, product testing and reference checks catch interoperability issues and performance shortcomings?
No doubt vendors must do a better job of framing the argument for adopting, investing and supporting their products. The preponderance of responsibility squarely rests on their shoulders to make the case for Box A over Box B. Vendors need to nurture their channels and end users markets to ensure that there’s both demand and sell through of their products. And vendors must provide the advance technical support and sales guidance to ensure their products are both installed and supported properly.
That said, vendors are not responsible for ensuring the survivability of their partners. Solution providers should and must put more skin in the game when it comes to their own success. The Channel Insider 2009 Market Pulse Report found that solution providers investing in their own futures, expanding their markets, doing their own lead generation and acquiring new customers are more profitable and optimistic about their futures.
Solution providers and vendors have a symbiotic relationship, in which one is dependent upon the other for their survival. The balance of this relationship is skewed in favor of the vendor, since most vendors can survive even if scores of solution providers fail. Vendors know this and are actively looking to cut their channel costs by focusing only on the solution providers that deliver the most benefit for the best investment on their part. If solution providers want success, it’s incumbent upon them to reduce their dependence and expectations of vendors and take command of their own destinies.