The Best IT Channel Partners for Your BusinessBy Howard M. Cohen | Print
There is no shortage of quality IT channel partners. Here's how to find the best one for you.
A great channel partner is in the eye of the beholder. It really does depend on whom you ask.
Many industry publications, software developers, industry groups, distributors, master agents and others publish annual lists of what they consider to be the “top” channel partners. Some of those listed are managed service providers (MSPs), others are system integrators and yet others are telecom sub-agents. There are still some “resellers” kicking around, as well as value-added resellers (VARs), even though margins for them have been too small to allow free services for a long, long time.
Even the diversity of categories makes it difficult to identify the top players.
Channel surveys and criteria
Just about all these lists are based on the results of surveys. In some cases, vendors are surveyed about their channel partners. In others, members of a specific community are surveyed.
The criteria presented in the surveys also vary widely. For many, the decision is based in part on annual revenue. This favors the largest companies, which explains the many that appear at the top of most of these lists.
However, some are now balancing revenue volume against profit margin, which often favors the smaller, more focused, more service-oriented “boutique” players whose own service offerings generate superior margins.
It would seem those who survey opinions regarding quality of service and other related qualitative, more subjective characteristics have all but disappeared. In reality, these would be difficult to survey; customers seldom engage more than a few channel partners, and vendors would be concerned about showing favoritism.
Our survey of the surveys
Looking at a representative sample of the many surveys available, only a few channel partners showed up on more than one list, with none showing up on more than three. These include:
Several of these started as large consulting firms. Several are large, national or global integrators. Some have channel partners of their own, creating a sort of subchannel. What all have in common is that none of them is small.
How to find a great SMB channel partner
They say you can tell the quality by the company they keep, which is definitely true for channel partners.
There are several organizations supporting small-to-medium business (SMB) channel partners, and it's no surprise they don’t feature lists of top performers.
Perhaps the best place to seek a great channel partner is in the Partners list of the provider of the primary technology you want deployed.
For example, if you’re seeking deployment of networking equipment, such as routers and switches, begin with the manufacturer of the networking equipment you prefer. If you haven’t yet determined which you prefer, look at the lists for the best-known networking makers. Most IT manufacturers that sell through the channel have tiered programs. While these do recognize the more capable partners, they also identify those that are making the greatest investments in training, support and preparedness.
To help narrow your search, most vendor partner lists feature filters that can limit your list to specific geography, specific specializations and other factors.
The most important criterion
Once you’ve narrowed your list, the website for each channel partner can provide significant insight, and you can search for reviews and other articles involving your choices.
When you do winnow your list down to a few finalists, it's time to explore the most important of all criteria: Do you like them?
At first glance, this may seem like an odd criterion for choosing a channel partner. But technology has become far more than just the equipment you have installed and connected. Remember, most of the top players on the top lists started out as business consultants. Technology has become a key weapon in the quest for strategic advantage, so it becomes part of your business decision-making effort.
Today’s channel partner is truly a business partner to its customers. Any interview with a finalist should focus on how well the candidate will perform as a strategic business partner. How well can they advise on the best technology strategies to support specific business initiatives? Their certifications may attest to their technical acumen, but only a customer can determine strategic value.