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A recent episode involving Dell, a Long Island VAR and a vocal customer provides a valuable case study in the use of Web communication tools, namely a blog, to get results from vendors.

As reported in our blog last week, Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, was having a meal with Michael Dell while one of Dell’s sales representatives was attempting an end-run around the VAR with an e-mail to one of its customers.

The sales rep proposed an on-site “consultation” to pitch Dell’s storage products, including the EqualLogic line the vendor acquired last year.

The pitch might have worked with another customer, but not this one, who is familiar with the inner workings of the channel and Dell’s former antagonism toward solution providers. In the past year, the vendor made great strides to embrace the channel, launching a formal program with a strong deal-registration component and a sales rep compensation policy that encourages working with partners.

When this customer, who authors a blog under the name “XenoChron,” was contacted by the Dell rep, he did what anybody with a blog would – write about it.

“So much for going through the channel and respecting their resellers territory,” XenoChron wrote. “I already work with a reseller who sells EqualLogic so I guess Dell doesn’t give a rip about that.”

It turns out Dell does give a rip. Within hours, a Dell representative posted to XenoChron’s blog to make peace. But the Dell rep, Marc Farley, immediately made a misstep, trying to frame the sales rep’s e-mail to the customer thusly:

“I’m pretty sure the visit described in your letter is to support the efforts of the channel partner and IS NOT a move to make a direct sale.”

XenoChron wasn’t buying it, and told him so: “Would it have been too much trouble to spell out that Dell is working with the channel partners in this e-mail?”

Farley then responded that upon further checking, he concluded the e-mail had come from a sales rep “trying to make something happen” and did not reflect Dell’s overall policy.

Later, Amie Paxton, Dell’s channel community manager, reinforced Dell’s commitment to the channel with her own post to XenoChron’s blog. She encouraged people to e-mail her if they knew of other similar incidents.

Even later, Greg Davis, vice president and general manager of Dell’s Americas Channel Group, posted on the Channel Insider blog that he was aware of about a half-dozen such incidents in the six months since Dell launched its PartnerDirect program.

“We take these actions very seriously and I do follow up on every instance to understand what happened in our process and to resolve them to the satisfaction of everyone involved,” Davis wrote.

Davis’ response was typical. Over the past year, he has proven himself accessible, open to criticism and willing to resolve these types of conflict. As a channel chief, he understands the importance of addressing these issues head-on and quickly.

As a company, Dell has deserved criticism for various practices over the years. As an example, just last week the New York State Supreme Court found the vendor guilty of fraud for bait-and-switch practices that promised customers 0 percent financing but ended up charging them double-digit rates.

But in XenoChron’s case, it’s hard to find fault with Dell’s reaction, aside from Farley’s early misstep. With its immediate response, Dell demonstrated it is serious about working with partners and righting the occasional wrongs caused by over-eager sales reps.

This incident likely won’t be the last because there will always be aggressive sales people trying to make their numbers.

How Dell, or any vendor, handles a situation like this is what matters. Denying a problem or trying to cover it up simply won’t work in the age of Web 2.0, as anything you write can end up in a blog or someone’s social networking site. So the best way to handle something like that is to acknowledge the problem and take steps to keep it from repeating itself.

This time, Dell passed with flying colors.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWeek Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He is at