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It may be an oversimplification, but the channel is really just about three things; products, services and relationships. Successful solution providers have mastered those elements to build revenue and ongoing business. It seems so simple, yet a lot of vendors just don’t grasp the concept.

Let’s take look at how most security vendors address their partners. The companies build up impressive channel programs that offer training, good margins and support for their partners, all of which seems to work out well in the beginning.

But there is a dirty little secret, one that is often revealed several months down the road; a secret that damages customer relationships and can cut solution providers out of the ongoing revenue equation. What is it? Direct sales of contracts and license renewals.

When a solution provider sells a software security product, security appliance or service, it is implied that there must be some sort of regular updates. The product usually comes with a year or so of automated updates and support. The real question here is: “What happens when the year is up”?

Many of the vendors have no problem directly contacting the customer for service renewals or upgrades and most often do just that. That simple act undermines a solution provider’s relationship with their customer because the vendor usurps the solution provider’s role as the trusted advisor, which takes revenue opportunities right out of the solution provider’s pocket.

The irony here is that the solution provider usually registers security products for customers as part of their service, and that registration information is what fuels the vendor’s renewal business.

So what is the lesson here? Solution providers need to carefully examine their partner relationships with their security vendors and make sure they are not cut out of the process. Ideally, a security vendor will go through their solution provider when it comes to renewals and not directly contact the customer. Of course, that is a little harder when it comes to products that are sold both through the channel and through retail.

In that case, vendors should make sure that the solution provider that registers the product has a spot on the registration form that identifies them as the seller of the product. Vendors can then use that code to pay out commissions on upgrades to the solution provider if a customer goes direct, or at the very least recommend that the customer work with their solution provider on the upgrade or renewal process.

Strangely enough, Vendors have the power here. By working with their partners, vendors can turn the renewal process into something that can drive more business for both themselves and their partners. Vendors need to give their channel partners every opportunity to communicate with their customers to build more business. After all, something as simple as an antivirus product renewal could turn into a sale of additional security products.

For solution providers, put your vendors to the task! Ask not what you can do for them, but what they can do for you.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is executive technology editor of The Channel Insider. He can be reached at