MDF shortcomings

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No matter how many support programs vendors put in place for their partners, solution providers always want more.

MDF Shortcomings

Another area in which solution providers count on support from vendors is marketing, even though only 30 percent of providers in a Ziff Davis Enterprise survey in December considered vendor-sponsored marketing programs "very important." Still, if asked, providers typically say money from vendors in the form of MDF (marketing development funds) isn't enough or has too many strings attached.

"Ten years ago, vendors would give you MDF and say do what you want, but without much oversight," FusionStorm's Tonges said. "Then they started creating rules and regulations saying you can't spend more than this on advertising, no billboards, etc. You had to get a master's degree in how to spend MDF." Besides funds, partners in­­creasingly are looking for help and expertise—hands-on support to create marketing programs. "When it comes to co-marketing, and we do a lot of it, we want not only funds but also new and different ideas on how to go to market," said Rose Harr, president and CEO of BlueWare, an IBM partner that sells electronic health record solutions for the medical industry. "We have a top-notch marketing manager, but that's only one person." Better yet, some solution providers say, vendors should do the marketing for them. "It's much more helpful if you can get the vendor to basically take on the task of doing the marketing and then work with them to [implement the program]," AIS' Cannon said.

Good marketing programs are costly—both in money and time. Getting accurate and useful contact lists, creating marketing plans, creating mailings, and developing seminars make it an unwieldy job for smaller solution providers, Cannon said. With the help of vendor Symantec, AIS has launched an array of marketing efforts, including lunch and evening seminars on products, e-mail campaigns, trade show booths, Webinars, and more.

Vendors, meanwhile, say the marketing resources they provide in their partner portals are not being leveraged effectively, Crimson's Charles said. "It's an interesting opportunity for vendors to step into that gap, but it has to be more than content and money," Charles said. 

The next bastion of marketing may be the Internet, vendors and solution providers agree. "When potential customers discover they have a problem, they turn to the Internet to look it up," said Pam Stanford, director of worldwide channels marketing for IBM Software Group. "We've been talking to partners about doing better at leveraging the Web for marketing." IBM helps partners create search engine terms and identify potential partner affiliates to increase Web traffic. "By having links from other sites to their Web site, they can boost the relevancy rate with search engines," Stanford said.

With strong aid, customer reaction to marketing programs can soar. Workgroup Connections asked IBM for help with a demand generation product involving e-mail archiving. Using direct mail to current customers and IBM-identified potential customers, Workgroup Connections filled the 30 spots in three days. IBM also worked with the company on a presentation. "It was highly successful,"  Schreiber said. "Everyone actually showed up for the 2-hour breakfast."

Strong Technology

In the one-two punch of successful selling, if good marketing is the right fist, then strong technology is the left. Solution providers want vendors to create channel programs to get them up to speed on new technology offerings as quickly as possible. This is an area in which vendors seem to be doing well.

Microsoft has a program that flew TekLinks people to Redmond, Wash., to meet with engineers for intensive training and then go home and bring that knowledge to the whole organization, Rayburn said.

IBM representatives flew to partner BlueWare's headquarters to educate the provider on major changes to IBM's middleware offering. IBM also invites BlueWare to try out prerelease operating system versions and visit its VIC (virtual innovation center) for sales and technical workshops.

Workgroup Connections, meanwhile, points to IBM's SBE (Solution Builder Express) program as a key source for technical information. This portfolio creates a complete offering of software, hardware and services, along with customer scenarios, to help deploy industry-specific solutions to midsize customers. "This program allows us to pick up new products at an accelerated pace with little risk," Schreiber said. 

Room to Grow

When asked what more vendors can do for them, solution providers have many ideas, and their wish lists are as varied as the partners themselves.

Some ask for helpful information on the business landscape. "I would like more competitive information than seems to be available," AIS' Cannon said. "I know vendors spend a lot of time understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the competitor's technologies, but there never seems to be much information like that available to us." Others want global reach. "Today, even smaller customers have some global presence, and solving that has to be on the radar," Calence's Fong said.

Hailey Lynne McKeefry is a freelance writer based in Belmont, Calif. She can be reached at hailey@professionalink.





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