The three better-known names in the SME Distributor category - Computer 2000 (C2000), Ingram Micro and Ideal - are set to be given a real run for their money this year by Midwich, Hammer and Interchange.
But regardless of who you are backing, with only a few days to go before voting closes, resellers that want to see the best supplier win will need to move quickly.
During 2003, C2000 has been trying as hard as ever to make its business stand out from the crowd. The company has continued to drive SME business through its Business Class scheme and run more of its popular training weekends.
The company has a 44-strong team of account managers (six in the field) dedicated to its top SME accounts, and also provides fast-growing SME resellers with dedicated support for up to six months to aid business development.
In addition, the company claims to have written over £350m worth of credit in the channel this year through its assessment programme.
Resellers appear to be very supportive of the company's efforts. Roger Whittle, managing director of Jigsaw Systems, said: "C2000 always delivers reliably and on time and invariably has the desired product in stock. Its proactive approach to licensing has helped us this year."
This year C2000 ran a scheme to help resellers identify users who were nearing the end of their software licences.
Susanne Dansey, business development manager at Readycrest, was in no doubt about C2000's ability to meet its needs. "C2000 is more in touch with the SME market and understands the needs of the reseller," she said.
"Account managers listen to our problems and use this to improve their level of service. Its ability to listen and respond means it can understand any market changes and react positively."
Julian Klein, managing director of C2000, hopes to win the SME award once again. "The SME market remains a key focus for us at C2000," he said.
"Its importance is reflected in the increased number of sales people we have dedicated to resellers that sell into this space.
"In addition, we have a number of initiatives aimed at helping resellers with solutions that meet the needs of SME organisations. We are pleased to be nominated in a category that will be keenly contested."
But to win, C2000 will have to overcome the efforts of some very capable competitors, not least storage specialist Hammer, which has been working hard to earn its place on the shortlist.
While it does not label itself as an 'SME' distributor, Hammer explained in its submission that it is meeting the needs of resellers in this market through its dedicated approach to storage solutions.
"We fully understand the dynamics of an SME's business, additionally treating each and every customer as an individual entity with its own set of requirements, which we strive to exceed all of the time," it said.
Hammer has launched a number of initiatives this year, including restructuring its sales model into three distinct groups, focusing on enterprise solutions, storage management software and volume products.
Hammer has also expanded its demonstration facilities and run several customised marketing programmes with resellers, including dedicated training days.
The company concluded in its entry for this year's awards: "Our mission is to be the storage supplier of choice and to win business on merit and not on price.
"We feel the loyalty demonstrated by both vendors and customers shows we have gone a long way to creating what we believe are true, strong and valued partnerships."
Like Hammer, Ideal specialises in storage and, as part of Bell Microproducts, is one of the so-called 'big three' in UK distribution. It has made a determined effort over the past 12 months to ensure that it is in real contention for this year's awards.
Ideal has run a series of events covering issues such as storage, security, mobility and networking, and focused on how these technologies deliver benefits to smaller businesses.
Ideal has also supported the Microsoft Transaction Service Programme (TSP), which enables resellers or agents to sell software licences without making any financial or logistical commitments.
Ideal said the TSP model is of particular benefit to many smaller, SME-focused resellers as it reduces costs and helps them to keep control over the customer's software assets.
Ideal's online tool, Boris, has been simplified to ensure that all data is identical to the information given over the telephone.
It also offers the Hewlett-Packard (HP) Top Config service, which enables resellers to use an online configuration tool to input product specifications. Machines are built to order and delivered to end-users or resellers within 10 days.
Alex Tatham, vice president of software at Bell Europe, thinks Ideal has a great chance in the SME category.
"We have provided products and services to more SMEs than ever this year. While we don't necessarily have the product range of our broadline competitors, we know that we are good at storage, licensing and systems from HP and Fujitsu Siemens," he said.
"I would urge resellers to vote for us if they feel we have contributed to their business this year."
Ingram Micro has also been making strenuous efforts to improve its service to SME resellers.
Last year it commissioned an NOP survey which found that the provision of a trouble-free service and access to relevant information are the key needs of smaller customers. Ingram subsequently revised its approach to the SME space.
The company has re-segmented SME resellers, excluding the direct marketing channel from this definition and concentrating on businesses with primarily a service or geographic focus.
A head of SME sales has been appointed and Ingram has expanded its sales teams, stepped up its training programme and put specialist teams in place to provide support in key technology areas.
Further investments have been made in web tools and CRM systems, with the aim of streamlining the supply chain and improving customer satisfaction.
Ingram also launched the Select Source scheme, which gives resellers the option of passing the responsibility of end-user billing to the company.
It has since plugged the Microsoft TSP programme into this initiative as well and run the Storage Knowledge Centre Programme, an alliance with HP and Computer Associates aimed at building storage knowledge and incremental business opportunities.
Interchange has always been firmly focused on the SME market, and its experience and expertise here are beginning to pay dividends, according to sales director Amanda Jones.
"Our historical focus on the SME sector has really paid off and, in the past nine months, Interchange has averaged double-digit sales growth month-on-month against the previous year," she said.
This year the company has expanded its vendor portfolio, adding Acer and NEC/Mitsubishi. It already works closely with HP, Citrix, IBM, Toshiba and others.
Interchange said its entire structure has been developed to meet the needs of the SME, with every reseller having its own account manager and credit and customer service contact, regardless of size and spend.
Interchange has been actively involved in CompTIA's drive to agree a common data set for e-business transactions, and as part of SCH is able to call on a range of professional and consultancy services.
Midwich is also very focused on the SME market and on building relationships. The company has a well-established customer base and has continued to grow its turnover and headcount year-on-year.
It runs an on-site survey and installation service as well as bespoke marketing and promotions, including branded emails and online catalogues.
It also has online services and a Ticker service that updates resellers on promotions and news. The company's MFinance programme was launched earlier this year with the objective of making it easier for smaller resellers to do bigger deals.
Product marketing director Nick Culley said: "We believe that we are different and can offer real value as a distribution partner to our reseller customers.
"In such a demanding and competitive market we know that we have to provide and deliver the best possible service to our customers."
All distributors aim to deliver the best possible service to SME resellers, but only one can win this year's award. It is up to the readers of CRN to decide which of the contenders that will be.
CAST YOUR VOTE
You can cast your vote for this year's Channel Awards by going to crn.vnunet.com/CRN/Awards/index.jsp. The deadline is 24 October and the event takes place on Wednesday 19 November.
For further details on the Channel Awards, including table bookings and sponsorship opportunities, contact Mark Lloyd on (01923) 330 220, email [email protected] or visit crn.vnunet.com/CRN/Awards/index.jsp.
Voting is verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Channel Awards voting short list 2003
Corporate Vendor Partner
SME Vendor Partner
BT Indirect Channels
Specialist Vendor Partner
Parity ICT IT Partnerships
Corporate Distribution Partner
SME Distribution Partner
Specialist Distribution Partner
Outstanding Product of the Year
AMD Opteron 64bit processor
Intel Centrino processor
Microsoft Windows Server 2003
Acer TravelMate 800 series
D-Link DSL-604+ wireless modem router
Smart Board SB-560
HP/Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
Bluesocket WG-2100 wireless gateway
Computer 2000 (0870) 060 3344
Hammer (01256) 841 000
Ideal (020) 8286 5999
Ingram Micro (0870) 166 0422
Interchange (08700) 716 716
Midwich (01379) 649 200
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