Channel power

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Ralph Donohue (pictured right) celebrates the leverage brought by partnerships.

Well, its all go, isnt it? As Bordeaux beckons, I can hardly wait to be back at work for the adrenaline rush that is the last four months of the year. Having said that, I have to acknowledge the ugly truth that the sales team always seems to perform a whole lot better when Im not around. In fact, I can sense a case building for me to take a couple of weeks off every month.

This month I want to address the subject of the channel. Before the habitual reader of this column jumps up and down with cries of repetition, I must stress that this is intended to be a variation on the theme, so I would be grateful if you can indulge me for a little longer.

This has been a year in which the two-tier channel to market has demonstrated its potency. I have never before witnessed such harmony in which vendor, distributor and reseller all pull together to secure orders and deliver solutions.

Jealously guarded
There was a time not so long ago when many resellers jealously guarded the identity of their customers and the details of their solutions, fearful that any breach of these defences would have vendors, distributors and other resellers stamping all over their carefully cultivated relationships. And it has to be said that in some cases their cynicism was understandable.

When Symbol first introduced its PartnerSelect programme to the UK channel, support for it among resellers wasnt exactly unanimous. From the somewhat daunting online application, to the concept of providing sales-out information, the process was outside the comfort zone of many of our customers. However, in practice, having the vendor involved in the pre-sales process can add hugely to the resellers clout.

The resellers who have benefited most are those who have fully exploited the partner relationship.

First, involve the vendor at the outset of any potential project to ring-fence it against predatory resellers that might enter the scene at a later date. Its naive to assume that the end-user wont seek a second opinion on the price of hardware, and if you havent got the vendor onside sufficiently early, the chances are that a competitor willif youve done a large amount of preparatory work, thats going to hurt.

Marketing funds
Secondly, if the prospect needs a demonstration unit to evaluate, and you dont have one, get your distributor to provide it. If you need technical sales support, again call the distributor who will know the best person to deploy.

Finally, think about how else the vendor and distributor can help you. For instance, there are always marketing funds available to support new business development; if you are exhibiting at a trade show for a market in which the vendor isnt represented, apply for a contribution towards your costs. We have secured marketing funds for a number of our resellers this year.

Although so far I have only mentioned Symbol, Zebra has its PartnersFirst programme, which operates along very similar lines. Datalogic is another vendor that undertakes to ring-fence projects with its EaseOfBiz channel scheme for accredited resellers. All of these programmes can enhance the resellers lead generation and sales power.

Another way to promote your business as a serious player in the solutions arena is to enter industry award schemes. By the time you read this, entries will have been closed for this years Symbol Enterprise Mobility Solutions Awards (sorry, but we did give our resellers plenty of notice), which celebrate innovative implementations of Symbol products. Winning one of these gives resellers massive exposure both within the industry at large and within Symbol, an important source of sales leads. I wish the best of luck to those customers who have entered.

Massive improvements
Our industry continues to evolve. By and large, theres a greater degree of professionalism, which is evident within vendor organisations, certainly within the reseller community, and possibly within the end-users too. I know that we have achieved massive improvements at Paradigm, and Im sure that the same is true of most of our competitors.

One thing is very clear: the vendors know a great deal more than they used to about how their products are used and how deals are made. The bigger the project, the more they want to be involved in the whole process, as a key member of the supplying team. Many resellers will continue to work alone, and many of those will continue to be successful. However, they may at some point run the risk of being outgunned by a vendor/distributor-supported competitor.

On the evidence of the quotes flying out of our office, there are plenty of resellers out there having a very busy year indeed. If youre not one of them, take a look at how vendor and distributor partners can help you develop and exploit new opportunities. Thats it, I can feel another holiday coming on.

Ralph Donohue is managing director of Paradigm Distribution, one of the UK's longest established trade-only suppliers of mobile data and Auto ID products to systems integrators and resellers. He is a regular contributor to IT Reseller magazine.

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