A brilliant blog from our past Think Tank guest speaker, Dave Sobel Director of Partner Community at Level Platforms.
The vendor, distributor, and reseller (or solution provider, which I prefer) relationship is intensely complicated. Together, the IT channel is a rich and diverse ecosystem, dependent on one another for growth; many depend on the channel exclusively. However, it’s a difficult, tumultuous relationship, much of which is wasteful and unproductive.
I recently had a very frank discussion at the Cyance Think Tank event when this topic came to the forefront. As many who know me will attest to, while my accent instantly gives me away as an American, my interactions with those in the UK channel are focused on the UK channel’s unique needs. I try very hard not to fall into the cliché of “in America, we do”, as in general that doesn’t take into account the unique nature of each market.
However, as the discussion on the relationship between vendor, distributor and solution provider continued, I felt I had heard many of these complaints before. “Vendors don’t know how to engage.” “Resellers only want leads.” “Distributors add no value.” “My vendors don’t understand me.” As I considered the conversation, I realized not only had I had the conversation before, but in two very similar circumstances.
Prior to my role as Director of Partner Community at Level Platforms, where I am now, I was the CEO of a solution provider in the Washington DC area, serving the SME market. I joined a US based peer group, HTG, in about 2006, looking to expand my knowledge and learn from peers. It was an eye opening experience, as solution providers worked together to solve business problems. The complicated relationship between all three was often discussed, and the gripes I was hearing were core to that conversation.
The most successful solution providers in the room had learned how to navigate this by building deep relationships with their vendor and distributor partners. The solution providers had taken ownership for the relationship, learning how their vendors and distributors were compensated, working more closely to build joint programs, and aligning their organizations in such a way as to leverage the vendor. It proved highly successful, and these solution providers saw considerable growth.
In 2008, HTG expanded into the UK, and I formed and facilitated the first UK group. In that first year, I heard many of the same complaints about engagement, coupled with a new complaint about how UK vendors were simply “different” from US ones, and no matter what we Americans might think, it wasn’t going to change. Undaunted, my American colleagues and I pushed forward, convinced we did know how people worked, and could make this work.
We were proven right. Through a proven technique of engagement, you can build meaningful relationships. It requires commitment and dedication on both sides, but it works. However, it requires changes.
As I listened during the Think Tank, I was brought back to those initial techniques. Let’s start with the basics.
Stop waiting for vendors to come to you. Yes, you’re incredibly important. Yes, they need you. But you do realize you are one of several hundred companies they meet, right? How do they know how much better you are than everyone else.
Learn how your vendors and distributors are compensated. You sell services. They sell product. There’s a clear disconnect. Rather than bemoan it, learn how they sell and what they are compensated on. Generally, selling products comes with services, and thus there is clear alignment. Thus, build programs that work together.
Don’t bring up past sins. That vendor may have offended you / given you a bad support case / had a bad product in the past. Did this rep in front of you have anything to do with that? Did they design the product? No. Past sins don’t get anyone anywhere. Give it up.
Vendors & Distributors:
Stop sitting behind your booth and waiting for providers to come to you. I’m horrified at the number of vendors I find who sit behind a table and work on their laptops while at an exhibition. You spent the day going out to meet resellers – so go do that! If you have that much work, send someone else. Email will wait. You should be in front of your booth, talking to anyone who goes by. (Screen, however – if they aren’t as I describe above, you can move on!)
Understand services. Your resellers have been told – by you, and every other vendor – to sell services. Because of that, you need to understand how they make money as well. Be open with resellers about how you are compensated too (see above!), and find ways to align the two of you.
Learn how you fit in. As much as each vendor wishes they were the only one their reseller works with, each offering fits into a larger whole. Your solution has to fit in – and be willing to work there.
The first step would be setting a realistic set of expectations. For resellers, this means committing to a sales goal. For vendors, this means offering a realistic goal to your resellers and the support they need to get there. Set an initial plan – something you will achieve together. With success, build on success. With failure, reexamine and try again – or cut your losses. Identifying quickly, on both sides, a bad match goes a long way.