Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The break-neck speed of technology innovation today is far too fast for any single company to manage. The U.S. Patent Office awards tens of thousands of patents to IT companies each year. In 2002, more than 16,000 patents were awarded to the top ten IT companies alone. At this pace, one IT company can no longer be all things to all customers.

Enter the IT channel and the critical role solution providers, systems integrators and independent software vendors (ISVs) play in driving vendor solutions to market, specifically in the small and medium business (SMB) space. As buying patterns continue to shift from point IT products to comprehensive business solutions that encompass hardware, software, and services, our own business models are constantly evolving to meet new customer needs. Traditional hardware resellers are moving into systems integration. Systems integrators are delving more into custom application development. And ISVs are being asked to pick between two roads that will ultimately determine the fate of their business – proprietary vs. open standards.

In an industry driven by innovation, where change is a constant, there’s one inevitable truth for the channel: How we choose vendor partnerships is the roadmap to success, or failure. What vendor partners are right to increase your competitiveness? Profitability? And who should you turn to on hotbed issues such as Linux vs. Windows? Here are five traits to look for in building long-term, successful vendor relationships:

Executive Commitment: Make the strategic decision to partner at the highest executive level, and secure buy-in from all levels of employees, especially the folks who interact directly with customers.

Technology Innovation: Technology innovation is a standard of excellence with customers. A solution provider’s reputation is inherently tied to vendor products and services. The marketplace approach between vendors can differ greatly. It can lay the groundwork for what you can expect from a portfolio in the future. One vendor may take a proprietary approach, while another will drive open standards and interoperability. Some may rely heavily on direct sales while others adhere to a more channel friendly model.

Aligned Business Strategy: To determine if a potential partnership is the right match, share your business strategy, understand each other’s core competencies, check synergy in goals, technology, and target markets.

Go-to-market Support: How a vendor goes to market with you is just as important as the products and services sold. The most profitable vendor relationships will drive leads in existing and new market segments, provide technical and sales training, offer sales incentives and pricing discounts and generate demand through marketing events, co-funding and collateral.

Co-opetition as a Fact of Life: Be clear that you may still compete with a partner in some areas, while you are collaborating in other areas. Haverstick, for example, is a proponent of open standards and interoperability, particularly with our medium-sized customers. However, we’re also a dedicated Microsoft partner and do a lot of integration work to ensure products from IBM and other vendor’s work on the Windows platform. Today you may be competing with someone you could partner with tomorrow. Your business strategy will determine when you partner and when you compete.

Terri Kershner is channel manager at Haverstick Consulting. Prior to joining Haverstick Consulting, she worked as the Director of Partner Relations at Eviciti Corp., a mid-west based Internet consultancy and Web integrator.