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Determined to show its commitment to the channel
with its fledgling partner program, Dell has made several internal and external
changes and spun up some radical channel efforts, including taking 600 ongoing
small and midsize business deals out of the hands of its direct sales force and
turning them completely over to resellers.

While it’s only been two weeks—too early to tell if the segregated channel-only
engagements will bear much fruit—the pilot program is symbolic of the efforts
Dell is making behind the scenes to strengthen its channel relationships. While
conceding that the nine-month-old effort to boost indirect sales hasn’t been
without its false starts and missteps, Dell officials say the PartnerDirect
program is meeting all the metrics of success set by senior leadership.

"There’s certainly a trust factor, internally and externally, that is
developing," says Erik Dithmer, vice president of SMB sales for Dell.
Dithmer is overseeing the handling of the 600 deals in the pilot program.
"It would be dishonest to say we have completely solved every issue
related to resellers. We haven’t. But with activity like this, we’re taking
Dell in the channel to the next level. It makes Dell a better vendor at the end
of the day."

Carving out the SMB deals came at the suggestion of a channel advisory board
Dell empaneled to advise it in its indirect sales efforts, according to Greg
Davis, vice president and general manager of the Americas Channel Group at
Dell. The group of 25 hand-picked VARs, which has met with Davis and his team
as well as with CEO Michael Dell, has opined on subjects such as how
engagements should be handled by Dell sales reps, what solution sets Dell
should focus efforts on and how the vendor can best communicate with partners.

"Our relationship with Dell began with some apprehension after the
SilverBack [Technologies] acquisition [in July 2007]," says Oscar
"Tim" Hebert, CEO of solutions and MSP (managed services provider)
Atrion, of Warwick, R.I. "I walked in only knowing their reputation,
which was not a good one. They were not a great friend to the channel."

Hebert, who sits on Dell’s channel advisory board, says the first board meeting
changed his mind about the vendor and made him optimistic that doing business
with Dell could improve Atrion’s bottom line. Hebert said he was impressed that
Dell steered clear of the usual channel advisory board fare of speeches and
presentations; Dell officials quickly dispensed with PowerPoint slides and
spent the bulk of the initial meeting taking notes, he says.

"There were 25 partners in the room from a variety of places, and there
must have been 30 people from Dell there," Hebert says. "They didn’t
try to make speeches or win us over. They listened and took notes. And I’ve
seen a higher percentage of the feedback they got that day turned into real
action in the channel than I’ve ever seen from any other vendor."