23 Jan 2012, Caroline Donnelly , CRN
“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is a phrase that could be used to describe the approach hardware giant Dell is taking with its storage partners, as it pushes them to embrace the full gamut of its data management portfolio.
At the vendor’s inaugural European Storage Forum in London earlier this month, partners that joined the Dell fold through its acquisitions of SAN vendor Compellent or EqualLogic were warned against limiting themselves to one brand within its burgeoning storage portfolio.
Partners that resist will reduce their chances of winning new business, Ahmed Mouldaia, solutions director for the EMEA channel at Dell, told ChannelWeb.
“As a partner, you get great strength from having access to the full portfolio and you look far more credible in front of a customer,” he said.
To encourage cross-selling, the vendor recently decreed that VARs must sell both EqualLogic and Compellent products to be classified as Storage Certified partners.
“Being an EqualLogic partner and ignoring Compellent can work, but it will not get you the certification,” he explained.
The move could result in some Storage Certified partners losing their stripes if they are not able to sell, or interested in selling, both product lines, he admitted.
“We might go from having 400 Storage Certified partners to 300, but if that is the scope of the partners that want to sell the full storage and data management portfolio, that is fine,” he said. “We do not want to maximise. We want to optimise.”
Kathy Schneider, executive director of channel marketing and programmes for Europe at Dell, added that it is not just long-standing Compellent and EqualLogic partners that have to meet these requirements.
“All our current [storage] partners were told that they need to take on the Compellent training, for example. It is not just a requirement for ones that have joined Dell through acquisitions. It is a very level playing field,” she explained.
Schneider was also keen to stress that, while the changes might lead to some partners losing their Storage Certification badge, this was not the main reason the requirement was introduced.
“We do not want anyone to see this as deliberately trying to move people out [of the programme]. It is a matter-of-fact business requirement,” she said.
“Otherwise, partners will go out to a customer who thinks they are going to talk about a Dell solution, not just a single product, and that can result in a disappointing experience for that customer.”
Once partners achieve Storage Certification, they often turn their attention to gaining similar accreditations in Dell’s server and networking products.
The latter certification is now being refreshed, following Dell’s acquisition of 10Gb Ethernet vendor Force10 Networks last July.
“The strong combination is server and storage, but we are having a stronger push on networking,” said Schneider. “I think we are going to see even more demand [for these certifications] as a result of the convergence that is already happening in the marketplace.”
Freedom of choice
Despite this push for partners to sell a wider range of Dell products, VARs will not be penalised for selling a Dell server and combining it with a competitor’s networking kit or storage device, claimed Mouldaia.
“Some vendors tell resellers: ‘You need to sell my server, my storage, my networking and services, and if you do not sell one, you cannot have access to the other.’ And partners are complaining about it,” he said
“Obviously, we would prefer them to sell everything from Dell, but we are open to partners selling other products because it makes sense to in certain customer situations.”
Speaking to ChannelWeb, Bob Skelley, executive director of the global certified programme at Dell, added that it is not just product access that VARs lose in these situations.
“Partners have told me other vendors say: ‘Invest with us and not with them, or we are going to pull resources or move you to a different level in our programme’,” he said.
“[My response] is that I do not own your business and it would be arrogant of me to tell you how to run it, [and] I am not going to give you different benefits based on whether or not you decide to go all in with Dell.”
Lee Ganly, chief technology officer at Dell partner Acora, played down suggestions that rival vendors are pulling rank to get VARs selling their products.
“There are not restrictions, as such, and I do not think anyone implies there are restrictions, but you do sometimes get a few comments [from competitors],” he told ChannelWeb at the event.
In contrast to the heavy-handed approach of its rivals, Skelley claimed that Dell is focusing on becoming the “easiest” vendor for partners to deal with, hoping this will result in more of them leading with its products.
“I want to bring partners the best programme, I want to make it easier for them to do business with us, and I want to make them more profitable,” continued Skelley.
“I want to do all the things that will make them want to invest in Dell, rather than telling them that they have to and there will be consequences if they do not. I think that is a very different attitude, [compared] with what you see other companies in this industry doing.”
As part of this, the vendor used the Storage Forum to unveil several new additions to its StorageSmart partner enablement programme. These included a new online product configuration tool and an education resource-based application to guide VARs through each stage of the sales cycle.
The vendor will also be placing much greater emphasis on the accountability of its staff and is in the throes of piloting a new “concierge-style” partner support service in EMEA.
The latter is called Partner Resource Desk and will provide partners with troubleshooting support, as well as guidance on how to become certified.
“For partners - with all the different vendor relationships they have to juggle - it can be very difficult to keep track of the different things you need to do,” explained Skelley.
“So we decided to introduce a concierge-type resource, where partners can call one person and say, ‘I want to expand into servers,’ and will be walked through all the training they need to take, and then be pointed in the direction of the resources that can help them achieve that.”
A softer sell
Ganly said his firm, which specialises in outsourcing and managed services, has benefited from Dell’s “no pressure” sales approach.
“It has given us some flexibility, because we are vendor-agnostic and we often do not know what [vendor’s technology] we are going to get when we turn up at a customer site,” he explained.
“[Dell] understands that there are other technologies that we have to sell because it is part of somebody’s enterprise architecture.”
All Dell asks is that his firm “considers” leading with its products when it finds itself in a position where it can “influence” a customer’s server, storage or networking purchases.
“There is no pressure. Dell is not going to fall out with you because you happen to sell someone else’s kit,” added Ganly.
Barry Coombs, senior technical consultant at Dell Premier Partner Computerworld, backs this view.
“I am a Cisco guy when it comes to switching, but I am keen to find out a bit more about the Force10 Networks products, because they have been doing some really interesting things with 10Gb Ethernet,” he told ChannelWeb.
“But when I am dealing with the Dell channel team, I have not found them saying: ‘You must only use our products.’ The attitude from them is, ‘Cisco is the best product to go with at the moment, but keep an eye on Force10’.”
Ease of use
Computerworld and Acora joined the Dell channel through the 2007 EqualLogic acquisition, and Coombs and Ganly claim the vendor has become easier to deal with since then.
Coombs said it was not uncommon to be competing for business against Dell Direct in the early days of the programme, which made it difficult to interact with the vendor.
“We were used to coming up against other EqualLogic partners, but we started to come up against a new competitor in the form of Dell Direct,” explained Coombs.
“There have been big improvements since then, and much more openness and interaction, whereas previously we would not dare to mention to Dell what we were working on.”
Ganly claimed that his team now works much more closely with Dell Direct as a result, which is having a positive impact on his business.
“They had some massive challenges to overcome because when they started the channel business [in 2007], Dell had a massive behemoth of a direct business and that was the elephant in the room. That is not the case anymore,” he said.
“My sales guys do joint marketing activities with the direct team now, who are inviting along their clients to Acora-hosted events. This is great because it helps build a pipeline for both of us.”