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>> CHECK OUT “Dell Grows Certified Partner Ranks”

Again, sounds impressive. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Despite the channel conversion, Dell continues to wrestle with the hydra of partner apprehension, corporate direct legacy and inconsistent channel performance.

Dell isn’t lying about its channel success. And the numbers don’t lie – an increasing amount of its revenue is coming through indirect channels. The shift to indirect sales is so significant that financial analysts have even criticized the company for surrendering business to its channel and cited it as one of the reasons in its declining profitability.

In my travels over the past month, Dell’s name has come up frequently in conversations with solution providers – many of whom either are or did partner with the company. The comments haven’t been complementary, and the criticism is sharp. If it’s not a trust issue, partners are complaining about slow responsiveness and difficulty of doing business with Dell’s inside teams.

If Dell wants to capitalize on the channel and earn better relations with its existing and potential partners, it should consider the following steps in the coming year.

1. Establish a Hard Deck The lack of any delineation between direct sales and indirect channel sales is one of the legacy issues that continue to hamper Dell’s relations with partners. Solution providers have said that they don’t trust Dell because Dell wants a relationship with the end customer and considers every account – from the Fortune 100 to a Main Street shop – a named account. Dell defends this policy as “customer choice”: giving the customer the right to chose how they source their products. While more established, channel-centric vendors do a lot of direct business, they don’t suffer the reputational rap the Dell does because they have a hard deck that establishes account barriers between inside sales and channel partners

2. Responsive Quoting Several partners have relayed to me that getting product pricing out of Dell is a nightmare. A couple of partners have said that they have waited for up to a week to get pricing on servers. Dell still deals with the periodic conflict of customers finding better pricing through the Dell Website or through inside sales reps, but the issue here is simply speed – Dell partners need information to respond to customers or run the risk of losing deals to competitors.

3. More Discriminate Partnering Dell is proud of the 1,500 certified partners it has in its specialty programs. Such partners demonstrate engagement and commitment to advancing the Dell brand. However, having 50,000-plus registered partners is almost a disservice to the Dell channel community. Several solution providers I’ve spoken with said they’ve registered and are counted among the Dell legion, but they’ll lead with competing products because there’s less perceived competition. How true is this over-distribution in the Dell channel? I, Larry Walsh, am a registered Dell partner. All it took was completion of the Web application and within 12 hours I had access to the portal and entry-level partner pricing. With so many solution providers swimming in the same pool, it’s hard to figure out who’s who. A little more gatekeeping would go a long way with dedicated partners.

To be fair, numerous solution providers are finding success as a Dell partner. As Dell channel chief Greg Davis told Channel Insider, the 1,500 or so solution providers in the Dell certified programs are performing above baseline compared to the registered community. If Dell wants continued success with its channel, it should establish some boundaries and ensure performance to the partners who have made the commitment to it. Otherwise, missteps and miscommunications will continue to hamper the vendor’s channel efforts and continue to laden the vendor with channel feelings of mistrust.