At this year’s Channel Awards, 33 vendors and 26 distributors will contest the 12 awards that are available to suppliers. And it is reseller votes – with some discernment from the judges – that will decide who wins.
The short lists are more competitive than ever, with major vendors such as Cisco and Nortel going head-to-head in the Networking Vendor of the Year category and Microsoft competing with CA and Oracle for the Software Award.
In the distribution categories, the big-name firms are much less prominent than they have been in previous years, so smaller companies should feel that they stand a real chance of winning this year.
Receiving votes is important, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Contenders with a smaller customer base will always find it hard to beat larger competitors on that count. This is why the judges will assess the voting and decide which of the short-listed companies are the most deserving.
However, every vote will make an impression. The competition for both the Vendor and Distributor awards can be expected to be very intense.
While it will certainly be a challenge to repeat last year’s successes, Ian Newall, director of SME and channel sales at Fujitsu Siemens Computers (FSC), thinks that being in the final five once more is an achievement in its own right. But he remains hopeful that the company will challenge to win again.
“We’ve continued to be creative with our channel programmes and tried to deliver more value and support to our reseller partners,” he said. “If there is a systems vendor that is doing a better job of supporting the channel than we are, I don’t know who it is. I believe we have a good chance of coming out on top again.”
FSC faces stiff competition in the Systems and Components category from Kingston, which is always well supported by resellers and from companies whose inclusion on this short list may surprise some observers. However, Belkin won the Specialist award last year and Samsung is a popular company in the channel.
Neil Berville, director at Samsung Electronics IT products division, said: “We’re planning to promote the Awards in general and specifically our sponsorship of the SME Reseller award as a sign of our commitment to the channel.
“From September, this [promotional activity] will include email announcements, news stories in our channel newsletter and promotion of the awards on our web site.”
Berville added that industry competition is always tough, so no vendor can afford to be complacent.
“Resellers will vote for those vendors that are making the most significant contributions to their business growth and for those that are are completely committed to fulfillment through the channel,” he said.
However, Berville added that even if they don’t win, just preparing the entry will have been useful. “The discipline of completing the award entry and soliciting feedback from our resellers has reiterated to us that the channel really does appreciate the hard work we have put in,” he said.
One of the most keenly contested vendor awards is likely to be the Networking category. There are some real heavyweight contenders pitted against companies such as Netgear and D-Link that are very popular with resellers and have claimed the award on previous occasions.
Tony Bailey, head of channels for the UK at Nortel, said: “Competition gets tougher every year. On the other hand, we have done our homework and put in place some good programmes and incentives to support our resellers. We’ve really focused on how we can best work with them, making it simpler for our channel to sell at the right price point and taking away complexity, which is something that our resellers have already noticed.”
The Software award might be deemed to be less of a contest. But this year, for the first time, a good case was put before the judges from both Microsoft and Oracle. It could be a nail-biting race, but the other contenders should not be ruled out. All of them are popular, and the rank outsider, HoundDog, submitted an outstanding entry.
Commenting on the prospects for clinching an award, Karl Noakes, director for partner development and marketing at Microsoft UK, claimed: “I think we are up to the challenge. Microsoft recognises the importance of adding value for resellers, and making it easier for them to service their customers’ needs effectively.
“We hope the improvements we have made to the partner programme and the range of resellers and partners that sit as part of it will be among the award winners on the night.”
But Noakes knows that neither Microsoft, nor anyone else, should take winning for granted.
“I’m sure the best candidate will take the award home on the night,” he said. “And if that isn’t Microsoft, I still believe the awards will have given us the opportunity to highlight the significant improvements we have made to our partner programme over the past year.”
The Distributor awards are going to be just as keenly contested. While we have some of the usual suspects in the line-up this year, Computer 2000, Bell Microproducts and Ingram Micro are not as prominent as they have been in previous years. Frankly, it has been a difficult year for them all, which will make winning more valuable than ever for distributors.
Steve Lockie, managing director of Computer 2000, which is listed in the Systems and Software awards – as well as its Azlan arm in various other awards – said he expects the competition for awards to be strong.
“I really think every vote will count,” he added. “Hopefully, if customers think we have done a good job for them, they will come out and vote again. We have talented new leaders in each of these businesses this year, and I know how hard they have all worked to drive their businesses forward in a tough distribution market.”
Bell Microproducts is also listed in the Systems, Components and Software categories. In addition, it is making a challenge for the Storage Award.
Alex Tatham, director of commercial products at Bell Micro, said that to win this year, distributors will probably need to work harder to canvas resellers to give them their vote. The fact that there is more competition than ever is good, he said.
“I am delighted that so many businesses have entered, because this endorses the Channel Awards as the most important in our industry,” he said.
“I also think it will mean more if Bell Micro does win an award. I want to be able to remind our partners of all the good things we have done this year and to encourage them to vote. The more endorsement the awards get, the stronger the channel will be, because it drives companies such as ours to improve constantly.”
One of the strongest challengers for the big guns will be Westcoast. Andy Dow, marketing director at the company, said: “Both 2005 and 2006 have been good for Westcoast, and we have continued to grow both in revenue and in the breadth of trading VARs.
“We believe that this growth is a measure of the value we are bringing to the channel. Our personal approach and high levels of knowledge on the sales floor are being recognised by the channel. There will be no cheap tricks: we are too busy supporting resellers and selling products to worry about the games that some people play. Buy from us. If you like the service, then vote for us.”
Enta Technologies might be regarded as an outsider for a win, but is listed in three separate categories this year, so must be in with a shout. Vice-president Jon Atherton is hopeful of picking up at least one accolade this year and will be looking for support.
“Our nominations last year were a reflection of the progress we had made as a company,” he said. “This year we have reached the same level and would like to think we have done enough to win at least one. We’ll be urging our reseller customers to vote for us, as long as they feel we deserve it.”
There will also be strong competition in the more specialist categories. In Storage, Bell Micro is up against a very strong set of contenders, including CMS Peripherals and Hammer.
James Ward, managing director of Hammer, said that being short-listed again is an achievement. “We are still as thrilled as we were the first time round,” he said. “Every year we strive to improve in terms of customer satisfaction, market success and overall dedication to storage.”
He added that Hammer appreciates the continued recognition of being short listed and the winning of an award would be fantastic.
“Every year is tough, particularly for smaller companies that don’t have the customer breadth to command domination in the voting process,” he said. “Yet, success is always possible, so may the best company win.”
Security is also a very strong line-up, with the likes of Computerlinks (formerly Unipalm) and equIP being the obvious favourites. In the Specialist category, last year’s winner Midwich knows it has a fight on its hands to retain the title, particularly with the likes of Steljes and other strong contenders chasing.
Darren Lewitt, divisional director at Midwich, said: “We expect some stiff competition but this is why the Channel Awards have such a high profile. It will be tough to retain our title but we are confident that we have put forward an even stronger submission than last year.”
For others in the category, just making it this far feels like a triumph. “There is not a specific category that we fit into and by making it onto the Specialist short list we feel as if we have already won, in a sense,” said John Carter, managing director of DMSL.
But it would be great to claim the actual title, he added.
“We stay close to our partners and we know that they are happy with what we are doing for them,” he said. “We’re in the last six, so we must have a chance. We’re thrilled to be there. It’s a great encouragement for the team: they work hard and they deserve the recognition.”
Who wins in the end depends on resellers to a large degree. While the judges will meet again in October to consider the voting, balance out the larger comp anies against the smaller players and decide on the final winners, the reseller vote is absolutely crucial for the Vendor and the Distributor awards. If you believe someone deserves to win, you must cast your vote. If you do not, you can have no complaints.
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