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As VARs and solution providers start the year off with new balance
sheets and improved game plans, many are looking for that extra edge
needed to carry them through a breakaway year. After what shaped up to
be one of the most difficult economic years in many moons, the expected
2010 recovery could provide just the environmental opportunities to do
so.

Channel Insider recently spoke with Symantec’s Randy Cochran, vice
president of channel sales for the Americas, to catch his opinion on
how channel partners can best take advantage of these opportunities in
2010.

Stay Relevant with Your Customers
With such a competitive technology market out there and a flood of
box-pushing, order-taking resellers out there vying for your accounts
on price-points alone, the smart VAR needs to keep their relevance
quotient top-of-mind, Cochran says.

As he puts it, VARs need to be "ready to do battle" and make the
investments necessary to be certified and knowledgeable "go deep on
these technologies" in which they specialize.

Making the effort to put staff through traditional classroom training,
online training and other virtual training  modules is more
important than ever in maintaining relevance "because these
technologies are getting more complex and more integrated as we move
forward," Cochran says.

Prepare to Tackle Your Customers’ Biggest Challenge
Hand in hand with relevance goes the channel partner’s ability to truly
address its customers’ most pressing pain points in a meaningful way.
Within the Symantec ecosystem, the major salient challenges have to do
with storage and security of data, which "according to who you talk to
is growing 30, 40 or 50 percent every year," Cochran says.

"So, how do I protect that, how do I manage that, how do I secure all
of that and do it with technologies that make sense, do it with
solutions that solve real-world problems," he says.

One big example of this type of opportunity is within the data
deduplication market, Cochran says. Many VAR customers, both large and
small, are struggling with the complications caused by duplicate data
files clogging up data stores and slowing down back-up and recovery
processes.

"That one example is not only a real world problem, but it’s a nice
transaction, it’s a nice solution-oriented sale for our partners to
take down," he says. "They could wrap in services and capabilities that
will help grow the sales for the partners themselves."

Focus on Revenue-Generating Programs
No matter which vendors solution providers are partnered with, it is
really critical that they understand the ins and outs of each
applicable channel program.

"Don’t just know the top-line benefits. Really know and understand who
you are working with, because that’s who you are representing," Cochran
says.

As common sense as this advice sounds, Cochran says that many people
would be surprised at how often life sometimes just gets in the way and
pretty soon a VAR realizes a little too late that if they’d only have
registered a certain deal, they could have garnered X more points on an
opportunity.

"And that just costs you as a partner by not knowing those things," he says.

Collaborate with Vendors and Other Solutions Providers
In order to become a trusted advisor that is technically deep and
proficient within a select few areas, it’ll be necessary to resist the
temptation to try to advise customers on all of their technology needs.

"It’s really about getting to know, when you look in the mirror, what you’re really good at," he explains.

That doesn’t mean, though, that VARs need to give up on trying to fully
service their customers and fill all of their needs. Instead, it just
points to the necessity of forging good partnerships with not only
vendors, but also other solution providers.

"When I see two partners collaborating on a particular opportunity,
what I’m seeing is the notion of putting the customer first in action,"
Cochran says.

Symantec tries to encourage this kind of collaboration by running a
partner referral program for partners who may not be certified in a
particular technology that a customer needs. The referring partner gets
a referral fee and stays engaged while the collaborating partner steps
in as a guest to fill the need. It’s a way to get "part of something,
versus all of nothing," Cochran says.

Enhance Your Reputation with Social Media
As social media outlets gain more mainstream legitimacy, channel
partners could do well to increase their activity on this front to
bolster marketing efforts. The trick is to remember that Facebook,
Twitter and LinkedIn will not be your marketing silver bullet in 2010
or any other year.

"I think the lessons we’ve learned is it’s not to be used as the only
communication, but as another way to communicate," Cochran says.

He encourages channel partners to use social media as an additional
layer of engagement with customers. For example, one successful
campaign he saw a partner carry out this year was to host a series of
lunch-and-learn seminars for customers and then use Facebook and
Twitter to follow up with attendees afterwards.