Monday, June 29, 2009

The Channel Maven has moved....

Check us out on our new site

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Adding a New Vendor to your Arsenal - A Partners Perspective

Last week I wrote a post on recruitment from a vendor's perspective, today I'll look at it from a Partner's perspective. While the vendors are looking to recruit new partners, the partners are analyzing the cost/benefit of taking on a new vendor's product. There are more considerations than one would think.

  1. Is the vendor's product a good fit for your arsenal? If you focus on virtualization and cloud computing with products like Hyper-V, VMware,, and StarWind then EMC approaches you about selling one of their Back-up and Recovery products you certainly aren't going to change your entire business model to add on additional product.
  2. What is the ROI of introducing a new vendor? To sell a new technology and do it right there are costs incurred by you and your team. You must figure out the value this partnership could bring you (i.e. REVENUE) then subtract out the costs and decide if it is worthwhile. Costs include administrative, certification requirements (both time out of the field and the payment for training), changes to your website and other marketing materials, and marketing programs around the new products and services.
  3. What are the benefits the vendor is offering? If the vendor product sells itself, great, but we know of few that do that (except for maybe Microsoft). Otherwise, you need to look closely at the level of MDF, technical support, training, incentives, and marketing programs this vendor is going to provide. Walking into a relationship saying "Where are my leads" isn't going to work; a) the vendor will see you as not valuable and b) what good are leads they give you if you haven't been trained to sell the product yet anyway?
  4. Are you weakening any of the brands you already sell? I would never suggest that a partner should only have one vendor product per solution, however, you need to take into account that any claims may be weakened by bringing on a competing product. If you have based your company around selling NetApp because their iSCSI SAN technology is the best product for your trusting customers, you can't then take on Dell EqualLogic's iSCSI SAN touting the same thing. You would weaken your own brand as a trusted adviser. You could play on different uses for each (performance versus price), but you'd have to get pretty creative.
  5. Does the vendor value you? This may be part of "the benefits they offer you" but I felt it was important enough to get it's own bullet. Does the vendor truly value you and their other partners? Do they have a reputation for dealing poorly with channel conflict between their direct reps and partners? Are their requirements in-line with the benefits they offer or are they asking too much? If you only do one transaction a quarter will they provide you with the support you need to improve that or treat you like a second class citizen?

Overall, taking on a new vendor is not a decision one should take lightly. It's like hiring a new executive or board member: are they going to add value, do they fit with the culture, and are they willing to learn from you as much as you are from them?

My opinion on channel relationships in general is that it must be one of reciprocation. I do not appreciate when channel partners expect to get leads or other benefits without putting any skin in the game and I do not feel vendors have the right to expect more out of their partners then they are willing to give. I think partners and vendors both have the right to decide if the other is a good addition to the team, and once they have, to treat each with the respect that the mutual relationship deserves. I'd love to hear others feedback, comments, or stories of a channel relationship gone bad!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Recruitment Dilema - Vendor's Perspective

When a vendor channel is in the early stages of development, their requirements for channel partners are usually only that they have a pulse. Fast forward 12 to 18 months and the channel is 5% partners who are actively engaged and 95% who sold once on a customer's request and then disengaged.

As an early stage channel program I'm not suggesting that you turn partners away, but there are a few easy ways to assess the level of involvement they may have in your program. For all the others, set up a referral program. This allows partners following customer instructions to still make the sale but not take up valuable administrative time from the vendor's channel team.

So how does a channel team assess if a partner is recruitment material? Below are some suggestions, I'd love to hear others:

1. Analyze the overall partner fit. A partner application should include a question around their annual revenue. If a partner did $250K last year and your product costs $250K, chances are they are not tapped into the right customers to sell your product or they may not have the resources to provide the support your joint customers may require.

2. Does your product fit the partners business model? If a partner focuses on projectors, laptops and phone systems they most likely aren't familiar with, or capable of, selling a vendor's enterprise storage array. This is probably a one-time request and the vendor would be better served to assist this partner or set them up with another partner who could offer a referral fee. If the partner, on the other hand, sells a competitor (NetApp to Dell EqualLogic) then the partner is very familiar with the product type and is probably looking to expand their offerings.

3. Is the partner willing to put skin in the game? If a partner is willing to attend training or has a lot of questions around how to better sell/market a product they are willing to put as much into the relationship as they hope to get out. If they immediately ask for leads before they know how to sell or market the vendor product chances are good they aren't going to add a lot of value. How can you distinguish between the two? Put requirements in place that easily measure this such as a 30-minute introductory webinar that walks partners through the facets of the partner program and product value proposition with a few (literally no more than 10) questions about what they've learned. If the partner can't attend a 30-minute webinar or podcast you certainly are not going to get them to attend a 2-day training.

4. Set a probation period for inactive partners. Maybe they've already been recruited and did a deal here or a deal there but for the past 12-months nothing is really happening. It's time to clean house. Set up a renewal certification, business plan requirement, or sales certification update and be clear that if this requirement is not completed in 3-6 months their partnership will not be renewed. This is not to say that partners who aren't currently selling your products are not worth working with, but they need to ensure you that they are still engaged.

These are just a few thoughts for getting the right partners with the right customers into a channel program. I'd love to hear what other tactics vendors are using to improve their recruitment accuracy.

Tune in later this week for the recruitment suggestions from a partner's perspective.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Channel Tools: Portals, syndication, and demand generation

There are a ton of tools out there that boast they could make your lives easier and bring you closer to your partners. I've spoken to several companies that do so and reviewed the ones I liked here.

In the past PRM has had a bad rap but some interesting options have come along. Recently I had a demo from TreeHouse Interactive, an enterprise class SaaS solution with ALL the bells and whistles. TreeHouse allows vendors to keep track of leads and opportunities along side their partners but also provides information to partners on their requirements and benefits, deal registration, and links to marketing automation.

TreeHouse allows different navigation for different tiers of partners so your top tier partners are able to see the appropriate information for them but it is blocked to your lower tier partners. MDF and Co-op can be uploaded to the system from distribution partners and channel partners can then apply for MDF and get approved. Partners can also link to marketing automation tools provided to them by the vendor and all information is available in text so it can be read via blackberry or iPhone. TreeHouse also fully integrates with SFDC and Oracle's CRM which TreeHouse claims they can integrate in 5 weeks.

Overall I was very impressed with TreeHouse having looked at a bunch of similar vendors and even managed the development of something similar while I was at EMC. The interface is very intuitive and the ability to assign leads to partners is slick! I didn't catch myself once thinking, "it's too bad they don't do this". Of course with such a robust tool comes a robust price and TreeHouse wouldn't be worthwhile if a vendor doesn't have hundreds of partners. CEO Erich Flynn assured me that they can cater the solution to the vendors needs and possibly the price somewhat. Lastly I was also impressed by how TreeHouse, or I should say Chris Frank of TreeHouse, found me via twitter. I tweeted I was looking for something like this and had a tweet back within a few hours.

In the syndication arena I spoke with Josh Gibbs of SharedVue who I should mention also found me on twitter. Syndication allows relevant content to be pulled from a vendor's website and displayed on the channel partners' websites. There is usually a container page with the partners' look and feel around the top and along the left side and the content is updated on a regular basis. Vendors get their product and value prop information relayed accurately up-to-date in hundreds of other sites and the Channel Partners are able to inform customers on their own sites without having to send them elsewhere. How many times has a partner's site shown the old model or the current model with the wrong image or information!?

When I was at EMC I worked with a company called WebCollage to make this happen. I don't know if they've changed their process at all but it was incredibly manual to the point where we had requests from partners in email and would then fax or email them to our client manager to initiate the service. SharedVue's tool Syndic8 is completely automated. Partners can even login and change their current view of products or services shown on their website.

SharedVue also provides some lead generation and tracking tools (don't think PRM but every little bit helps right?). Using their tool Communic8 vendors can provide traditional and new media tools so partners can launch campaigns and track them all on the SharedVue tools. Partners of course get worried if vendors can see their leads (more so with some vendors then with others) so SharedVue offers a way to turn the visibility on or off.

Very impressed with SharedVue as well. There are more bells and whistles that I didn't go into here including their specific new media features (webinars, SEM, and Google AdWords). I haven't used WebCollage in 2 years but SharedVue is certainly more user friendly and robust than WC was back then.

I hope this information is helpful and always remember, if it's not stupid simple for your partners, they won't adopt it and you will waste a lot of money! Before implementing anything like this it is important to survey a broad slice of all of your partners, not just the advisory council.

Are their other systems people have seen and liked? I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Social media; fad or here to stay?

Last week I wrote a post about vendor activities in social media that praised the vendors who do it well and criticized those that could use a little help. I would be lying if I said I wasn't pushing the envelope to see who monitors their social media and who, again, could use some help. Within 36 hours of posting I received a comment from Cisco, a call from EMC, a question from Dell, and a call from Symantec. Well done!

So what are they up to? Quite a lot.

Cisco ran a partner event in Second Life, allowed The VAR Guy to blog during the Cisco annual Partner Summit, and launched Partner Space, a partner community quite awhile ago. Cisco was doing this back in 2007 when most companies thought social media was a new reality show with media professionals trapped on a desert island (Fox don't get any ideas). Cisco also has several channel executives on twitter including @CSCOChannelNews and Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels, Keith Goodwin @keitheg. Excellent use of social media!

I also had a great discussion today with @SymantecNews around their social media initiatives and plans for the channel. Their Symantec Connect platform allows communication among employees, partners and customers. Amazing! Customers are starting discussions, asking questions, and telling stories and partners get to engage them in conversation and provide value...genius! I was most impressed with the shear volume of activity. There are almost 80,000 discussions on the forum with over 200,000 comments, blogs about everything from technical support to channel programs, and RSS feeds on every single page. Admittedly, they have yet to begin their external social media efforts for the channel, but keep your eyes open over the next few months.

It also turns out, while I was writing my post, EMC was planning the launch of their internal social media platform for partners that went live this past Monday. Velocity Partner Xchange has the discussion and sharing capabilities you would expect but at this point, is in its infancy. Lets hope it meets with the same success Symantec has had in its first months with Symantec Connect. Some promotion through social media outlets might help ramp their participation levels, but we'll check back soon to see how they're doing.

Kudos to these vendors for jumping in on the conversation! Now lets not treat it like a fad on it's way out. We need the conversation to continue, not amongst ourselves, but out where it adds value for customers and partners. As Seth Godin would say, people are tired of being "interrupted" by traditional marketing. Interrupted by your e-mails, your phone calls, and even your television ads. We need to find a way to let them get the information they need, when and where they want it. All sound like a lot of work? It is, but it's better than being this guy:

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be a seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." - Western Union internal memo, 1876

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vendors get their Social Media Score Card

There's this new trend called social media out there...maybe you've heard of it? Blogs, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn...what's that? Oh! It's been around for a while? You're kidding! To look at IT vendor's partner program involvement in it you'd think it didn't exist until last week.

Don't get me wrong, some vendors have been very involved in social media. Dell has had the Dell Channel Blog since May of 2008 and DellChannel on Twitter has over 500 followers.

While others are well behind. Cisco, a few short years ago was the partner program other vendors were trying to emulate yet they just launched their channel blog this week. Mazel Tov! It's a boy. Cisco does have a CiscoChannels account on Twitter with one, you heard me, one update. That's the equivalent of a "ding-dong-ditch" you get the person's attention, leave them with nothing, and make them annoyed they gave you the satisfaction of opening the door in the first place.**PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW

Don't even get me started on Symantec! No LinkedIn groups, their only Facebook groups are run by customers (one is called 'Symantec Sucks'), their blog is up, it hasn't been updated since October of 2008 which in Social Media time is like a decade. Better to have nothing, than to say "I'm putting this blog thing up because you wanted it but I think it's stupid so I'm not paying attention to it".

Others haven't yet jumped into the game. EMC Channel has no blog, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, nothing. Like I said, it's better to have nothing than to have something and not maintain it but maybe it's time to get their feet wet.

Microsoft gets a B+. Yes they're a massive ship that takes awhile to turn but at least they are making an effort. They have MSUSPartner on Twitter where they could do more meaningful updates but at least they're listening, they have a great fan page on Facebook with 914 fans, and their blog was updated in the past 2 weeks. Not frequently enough for my taste, but they've lapped Symantec many times over in this respect.

Why is any of this important? If your partners and customers are using social media how can you not? Companies need to at least be monitoring what's being said about them or they could be missing an opportunity to engage partners and customers. Here's an example of Motrin really pissing off some customers and recovering well. Think it's not for you because you're in're wrong. Your customers/partners/end-users have even bigger mouths and bigger wallets to get the word out. If you're not involved in social media or at least monitoring it you're missing a huge opportunity and, dare I say, damaging the brand you've spent years and millions of dollars to build up.

Update: I stand corrected and what a perfect example of a company monitoring social media! Here is what Lang Tibbils, Public Relations and Communications Manager at Cisco had to say about their involvement in social media. As you can see Cisco has been highly involved in social media including early involvement in The Var Guy, internal social media, virtual partner conferences, and numerous executives on Twitter. An apology to Cisco. Perhaps it's worth another blog post - how can partners and press find these resourcse more easily as social media proliferates so quickly?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Keeping your Channel Programs Straight

How do solution providers wade through the numerous channel programs they are a part of? While at a channel event I met with upwards of 30 solution providers that sold for the same set of vendors. When asked about things like incentives, tiers, communications, and training I did not get a single consistent answer.

My first inclination is that with so many different vendors it is hard for the solution providers to keep the programs straight but I realized that many of these solution providers only sell 3 or 4 solutions. The programs have so many different elements with so many changes per year, per quarter, per month, at any given time channel partners have no idea where they stand.

What would help you as a solution provider? Vendors, what are you doing to help already?