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The relationship between vendors and solution provider partners has always been fraught with tension, but in recent weeks it seems both sides have taken to talking past each other, more so than at any time in recent memory.

The reasons for this are manifold, but at the heart of the issue is a tendency for vendors to lecture solution providers on how they should run their business better at a time when many solution providers are wondering how well vendors are in touch with their own operations. Of course, most solution provider executives are too deferential to take vendor executives to task, but some of the regular criticisms you tend to hear repeated from channel conference to channel conference are as follows:

1) Vendors routinely talk about all the assistance they are willing to provide solution provider partners, but when it comes time to back that talk, most solution providers find that all the processes that they have to navigate to actually get the help make it not worth the time and trouble to deal with the vendor.

2) Vendors seem to think that all solution providers really care about is product margins, when in fact what providers focus on most are the downstream opportunities that can arise from building a practice around a set of products. For example, margins on storage products may be a topic of conversation, but the downstream revenue opportunities surrounding data management services is what will get a solution provider excited.

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3) Vendors launch a lot of cross-marketing initiatives with each other, but none of those alliances ever seem to mean anything beyond the press releases they are written on, because there is very rarely any substantive follow-up in the channel.

4) Vendors tout how they have moved to provide compensation incentives to make sure that their salespeople take deals through the channel. Nevertheless, vendor salespeople continue to take deals direct to either meet quarterly sales quotas or increase the percentage of their products in any given proposed solution.

5) Vendors talk about what a great opportunity managed services are for solution providers, but very few of them offer any tangible assistance in terms of actually helping solution providers transform their business. Simultaneously, many of those same vendors are aggressively developing their own managed services offerings that many of them will sell direct in competition with solution providers. Worse yet, very few vendors have changed the terms and conditions they offer solution providers to reflect three-year managed service contracts. They still want to be paid for their products in 90 days.

6) Vendors usually try to justify their efforts to sell direct, online or through direct marketers by saying the SMB (small and midsize business) opportunity is so vast that there is plenty of room for their direct sales efforts alongside their solution provider partners. Obviously, none of them has spent a year or more nursing a deal only to see it go direct to a vendor because of a one-in-a-million chance that the customer is playing the vendor against the solution provider in order to strike a better deal.

7) Vendors say they want to be reliable partners, but nobody has any real faith in the product development plans put forth by most vendors. Any time solution providers put any trust in the new product schedules from a vendor, they inevitably get burned by delays, resulting in revenue shortfalls when the new product isn’t available. And it becomes too hard to move existing products when customers know those products are going to be end-of-life specials in less than 90 days.

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8) Vendors know that the majority of hardware is sold at the time any application is installed, but vendors do precious little to hook up their solution providers with their ISV partners. In fact, a lot of vendors don’t have meaningful ISV programs to speak of.

9) Every vendor thinks business consultants can be a great source of leads for solution providers, but no solution providers can seem to remember when they were actually introduced to a useful business consultant by a vendor. For that matter, not many people can seem to remember when they last got a useful lead from a vendor either.

10) Vendors seem to miraculously know a lot about market conditions, when very few of their executives have actually spent any recent quality time with customers. They churn out a lot of product literature, but very few of them seem to provide useful intelligence about the business conditions and economic climate that solution providers might actually face. In fact, beyond the self-serving SPIF programs, most vendors leave the sales forces of the solution providers to fend for themselves.

Solution providers are a patient bunch, so they tend to humor vendors while they try to create a positive outcome that is beneficial to both them and their customers, and more often than not, in spite of themselves, to the vendors. Alas, a lot of the vendors think that they know more than the solution providers, even though it’s the solution provider that talks to the customer every day.

The end result is that vendors frequently talk down to solution providers, who in turn tend to respond with patronizing words of encouragement that are the business equivalent of a pat on the head. What’s really needed is a constructive dialogue on how to repair what is increasingly becoming a dysfunctional relationship between solution providers and vendors. But before any of that can happen, vendors need to stop spouting a lot of the trite platitudes that get routinely tossed around today.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at