Reality check: Vendor Partner Programmes and VARs

There’s an interesting article on the Web by Anthony J. Comazzi that provides advice on how to choose the best vendor partner programmes for your business. In it he recommends you consider the vendor’s technological advantages or superiority, and their target market and competition, and whilst this was published back in 2008, much of what he suggests is good advice for today’s VAR. But as Frank Carson would say ‘come here, there’s more’.

What is important for any VAR to do now is address their existing vendor relationships and how it positively contributes to their overall business performance. After a high-level review of a few hundred UK VARs, it is quite apparent that we appear to be a nation of former boy scouts and girl guides where we strive to overpopulate our websites with badges and accreditations that mean very little to anyone but those who qualified for them. Of course, it’s professional choice as to what you present, but if just for cosmetic purposes, they won’t become drivers for success.

Within every business, there are usually one or two individuals who manage the vendor relationships for their organisation. Small and low-end medium VARs love to be wooed into relationships where even your best friend would tell you ‘he’s just not that into you’. Others dedicate so much time and loyalty to the vendor that they may as well go and work for them. In these cases, you have to question the original business model of these organisations… why on earth would they drop their goals and visions to piggy back on those of another company? When were they last sitting on the vendor’s board to make sure their ideas were heard and implemented?

To further compound the problem, vendors are usually subjected to listen to the most vocal partners regardless of whether their views are shared by the many. Programme managers looking for a quick win rely on the few as a pulse check on their partners, resulting in a skewed evolution of relationships with those who have been just too busy working to pop their head above the parapet. Good vendors are those who can achieve clarity and traction quickly but in a way that is sustainable long after they have moved on.

Vendor partner programmes should only be adopted by VARs if:

  • They compliment the focus of the VAR and is not a last-chance ditch at survival;
  • The relationship between the two organisations is one built on mutual respect;
  • It enhances the communication strategy already implemented by the VAR;
  • There is enough transparency in the relationship to manage both party’s expectations;
  • It offers both organisations the opportunity to develop a healthy and sustainable growth in sales;
  • It is required to help improve the levels of service the VAR’s clients receive;
  • The amount of effort put in by the VAR and vendor alike is proportional to the outcome generated or forecast.

Let’s be honest here, most partner programmes are created for one reason alone. It’s when a vendor realises that they can’t expand in their market on their own; it’s when they have a problem that they need to outsource their efforts to others. And that’s okay, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here, it makes sense to do so. But in many cases, it’s a strategic play that weights the advantages to whoever turns out to be the bigger fish.

VAR websites that host a plethora of badges like a war hero will not have a direct impact on the success or failure of the company unless it make sense to the client. Consider this, if any company puts forward a proposal with more than two lines acknowledging that they are a preferred partner for a company that makes routers, then they have to have a serious talk with themselves.

Vendor relationships have to make sense. Understanding what the metrics and benchmarks of both the VAR and the Vendor have equal importance. At the very least, the VAR is, will always be, independent of the vendor both in terms of any success or failures experienced as a result.

Many vendor partner programmes today are only relevant to the back office functionality of the company. Some, may help point potential leads in your direction, but overall, they help your technical teams grow their Intellectual Property (IP) and give your sales personnel the foresight to aid their selling processes. If you promote a vendor on your boilerplate over anything you can do, then the client may as well deal direct.

In fact…

… that’s already happening, and there are some VARs who appear disgruntled with this situation. As we here at the Cow Shed have said plenty of times before to the Channel, “if you don’t smell quite right, it won’t be long until you’re turning them off” and then they look for viable alternatives. Vendors will continue to use direct and in-direct channel models until they see fit. Vendors love the accountability that dealing direct with end-users allows them to do. Look at Dell’s model and how they can track, trace, communicate, and support, every single one of their customers. It’s such a good model that many, including HP, try to emulate with varying results. Microsoft’s business predominantly grows on the back of software sales, and since much of their partner network still resist to move away from selling OEM, they look for alternative ways to boost revenue and market adoption. Volume and subscription licensing generates recurring income and their hosted applications offers them heightened flexibility, accountability, and the metrics and data needed to justify their operations.

But let’s go back to you, the owner of an organisation that is firmly settled in our ICT industry. What are your goals, metrics, benchmarks, and criteria for success?

You must put these first before those of others because when the chips are down and everything has hit the fan, nobody but your business is going to readily put their hands up to what essentially rests at your feet. Your business is your responsibility and not even the best partner programme is going to offset that on your behalf.

Partner programmes should compliment your business and it is your quality of service and visionary attitude that will enhance and encourage what you achieve. So in your strategic planning for the forthcoming months and years, ensure you review your partner programmes and ensure that it makes sense with what it is you do and will continue to do in the future.

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.


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