Addressing Dell's Channel Difficulties

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.

The third prong of the Dell partner attack is to push to increase business in the channel faster than the rest of the Dell organization, Davis says. Part of doing that requires the company to open itself up to criticism, often in public, through blog and forum posts on Dell's many Web 2.0 interfaces with customers, according to officials.

One area of recurring complaint involves pricing from the Web portal partners use to buy from Dell. The company has faced myriad complaints that end users can get better prices by accessing Dell's consumer site or by contacting Dell's direct sales force by phone. Davis says he's aware the problem crops up, but says the company is committed to making sure partners always get the best price.

"Issues are always going to occur," Davis says. "We try hard to both make sure the e-commerce site is always giving registered partners [the] best price and to avoid any confusion. But we make mistakes. There has been confusion. We're working on that."

Davis and his team recently hosted a conference call with Canadian solution providers to iron out discrepancies VARs there had found with online pricing. "We're adjusting and learning along the way as we hear from channel customers," he says. 

Such efforts are paying dividends, experts contend. 

"Dell has continued to be very vocal about their efforts in the channel even when the news is mixed," says channel expert Tiffani Bova, a research vice president at Gartner who has followed Dell's channel activities closely. "The changes they have underway touch every aspect of the organization which means the process of reinventing their go-to-market strategy will take time. As long as executive sponsorship, program investments and alignment of direct and  indirect sales activities continue, they will continue to chip away at the channel's distrust."

Davis concedes working with Dell can be very different from working with other vendors, "but if I can show you how different is better and will improve your business, it will work for all of us," he says.

Hebert says he'd like to see the Dell program mature and for the vendor to show a bit more channel savvy. "They need to learn our world. To understand it," Hebert says. "They seem in some ways still a bit naïve. Their program still feels fragmented, with people coming in from so many directions.

"It's one thing to say you want to get some business from the channel. Any vendor that size can get money even with a bad channel program, simply based on volume," Hebert says. "I need to hear how to grow my business. I'm driving the strategic direction of my relationship with Dell right now. I need to see them driving that part more."

Hebert says he's looking forward to the next Dell advisory council meeting in October. At that point, he says he wants to challenge Dell to "find the real influencers, those top 400 to 500 partners who are really driving Dell in the data center, for example, and start to craft the channel program to support those folks. If they can do that, you'll really see [Hewlett Packard] and IBM sit up and take notice."


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