Dell Getting Partner Raves for Evolving Channel Program

By Chris Gonsalves  |  Print this article Print

Dell's PartnerDirect channel program may have disappointed resellers with a few missteps in its first nine months, but overall, solution providers and analysts are giving Dell high marks for listening to partners and working the kinks out of their partner relations. From CEO Michael Dell on down, it's clear Dell is serious about leaving behind its direct-only past and succeeding in the channel world.

Determined to show its commitment to the channel with its fledgling partner program, Dell has made several internal and external changes and spun up some radical channel efforts, including taking 600 ongoing small and midsize business deals out of the hands of its direct sales force and turning them completely over to resellers.

While it's only been two weeks—too early to tell if the segregated channel-only engagements will bear much fruit—the pilot program is symbolic of the efforts Dell is making behind the scenes to strengthen its channel relationships. While conceding that the nine-month-old effort to boost indirect sales hasn't been without its false starts and missteps, Dell officials say the PartnerDirect program is meeting all the metrics of success set by senior leadership.

"There's certainly a trust factor, internally and externally, that is developing," says Erik Dithmer, vice president of SMB sales for Dell. Dithmer is overseeing the handling of the 600 deals in the pilot program. "It would be dishonest to say we have completely solved every issue related to resellers. We haven't. But with activity like this, we're taking Dell in the channel to the next level. It makes Dell a better vendor at the end of the day."

Carving out the SMB deals came at the suggestion of a channel advisory board Dell empaneled to advise it in its indirect sales efforts, according to Greg Davis, vice president and general manager of the Americas Channel Group at Dell. The group of 25 hand-picked VARs, which has met with Davis and his team as well as with CEO Michael Dell, has opined on subjects such as how engagements should be handled by Dell sales reps, what solution sets Dell should focus efforts on and how the vendor can best communicate with partners.

"Our relationship with Dell began with some apprehension after the SilverBack [Technologies] acquisition [in July 2007]," says Oscar "Tim" Hebert, CEO of solutions and MSP (managed services provider) Atrion, of Warwick, R.I. "I walked in only knowing their reputation, which was not a good one. They were not a great friend to the channel."

Hebert, who sits on Dell's channel advisory board, says the first board meeting changed his mind about the vendor and made him optimistic that doing business with Dell could improve Atrion's bottom line. Hebert said he was impressed that Dell steered clear of the usual channel advisory board fare of speeches and presentations; Dell officials quickly dispensed with PowerPoint slides and spent the bulk of the initial meeting taking notes, he says.

"There were 25 partners in the room from a variety of places, and there must have been 30 people from Dell there," Hebert says. "They didn't try to make speeches or win us over. They listened and took notes. And I've seen a higher percentage of the feedback they got that day turned into real action in the channel than I've ever seen from any other vendor."