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About a month ago, Kaseya CEO
Gerald Blackie tapped out a blog about his company’s commitment to its channel
partners and indirect sales. The motivation behind his post was simple: an
attempt to dispel rumors that Kaseya intended to take more of its business
direct.

“Recently, there has been some concern in forums and other postings about
Kaseya competing against its partners. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Kaseya believes in and supports its MSP partners whole-heartedly,” he wrote.

After listing a litany of reasons and examples of Kaseya’s commitment to its
partners, Blackie closed with this statement: “Kaseya does have designs on
being a major competitor in Enterprise
markets. However, it will never relinquish its commitment to its MSP partner base.
Kaseya values its MSP customers and understands that long-term success can only
be achieved by supporting our MSP partners.”

Where were these blog posts coming from? Blackie wouldn’t name them
specifically, but alluded to a subset of the channel that is exceedingly vocal
but underproductive in terms of the value they deliver to their customers and
their vendor partners.

In an interview shortly after he wrote the blog post, Blackie explained the
situation to me this way: “We live in a world where these people can be
influential with the ones who are trying to get on with their business.”

Kaseya isn’t the only vendor caught in this paradox where smaller, underperforming
and disgruntled partners have a larger share of voice than more-productive
solution providers. And the fuel that feeds their flames is simply the
truth: Vendors are taking more deals direct.

According to the Channel Insider 2010 Market Pulse Report, one out of four
solution providers said they witnessed their vendor partners taking more
business direct in 2009, and about the same ratio expects that trend to
continue through 2010. At the same time, solution providers say the prices
vendors charge for product and their cost of doing business with vendors are
increasing.

Vendors may protest talk about their direct sales increasing at the expense of
the channel, but it is the reality. They will use terms like “market
development” and “customer choice” as thinly veiled covers for their direct
sales efforts. Whenever a vendor like Hewlett-Packard announces a funded
partnership with CDW or Dell enters into a call-center deal with Ingram Micro
and Tech Data, it’s really an effort to get more direct touch on end users.
Should the customer at some point in these sales processes express an interest
in a direct relationship, the vendor will say it has no choice but to honor the
request.

But what’s the root cause behind this trend? Yes, it could be argued that
vendor executive teams are looking at their channel programs’ total cost of
sales and administration and seeing them as too expensive to maintain in a down
economy. Taking more sales direct, in theory, would capture more bottom line
revenue that would ordinarily be surrendered to channel partners who also want
a boatload of expensive pre- and post-sales support.

The truth is that many vendors are supporting their partners and expanding
their relationships with them. IBM, for
instance, is increasing its support and dedication to select partners that have
demonstrated performance capabilities and capacity to assume full ownership of
accounts that will return high dividends to the partner and Big Blue. Dell is
experimenting with ways of returning more managed services business from its
direct sales to its channel partners. And McAfee is pouring more incentives
into partners who are displacing competitors from key accounts.

Now you would think IBM, a stalwart of the
channel, is a prime example of a vendor’s commitment to partners. However, only
about one-third of IBM’s sales goes through
its partners; the balance is through direct account sales and its massive IBM
Global Services division. As for the partners receiving Big Blue’s increasing
support and autonomy over accounts, well their numbers are measured in the
hundreds, not thousands or even tens of thousands.

Again, a vendor going direct is interpretable as an attempt to recapture margin
that ordinarily goes to partners. However, the other side of that equation is
an attempt to make up for a partner ecosystem that consumes expensive support
but doesn’t deliver returns in terms of unit sales, market share and revenue.

It’s a hard pill for many solution providers to swallow, but the reality is
they are a major contributing factor to vendors taking their business direct or
allowing their customers to have “source of choice.”

If you are a solution provider concerned that one of your vendors is taking
more business direct, you should undertake an exercise of introspection. What
are you prepared to do to expand sales and market share? How much are you
willing to invest in your business to keep your vendor from interfering in your
territory? And how are you going to add value to the sales and marketing
equation to help keep your vendor in your corner?

Vendors spend billions of dollars in training, certification, channel
marketing, lead generation, market development programs, pre- and post-sales
support, technical support and field operations. It’s expensive and time
consuming, and it’s often an expense that senior executives would rather live
without if they could. What many solution providers fail to understand is that
their vendor channel executives wage a nearly daily internal battle on their
behalf. They exhaust huge amounts of personal capital and effort to justify the
indirect sales model and keep their direct counterparts from overwhelming their
partners.

Vendors will always have a certain amount of direct touch and sales with
customers. But rather than worrying about vendors expanding their direct sales,
solution providers should look at how they will increase their value to the
vendor and the customer. That is the best way to keep direct sales at bay.

Lawrence M. Walsh is a vice president and member of the Ziff Davis
Enterprise Market Experts team, specializing in channels and security. He also
writes the Secure Channel blog (http://blogs.channelinsider.com/secure_channel/).
Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at lmwalsh2112.