If you suspect that your vendors are keeping you in the dark about their future strategic development and product plans, then it might mean that you're just paranoid. On the other hand, you might have a point, particularly if you are a smallish Var who is not ordering kit by the lorryload. Logic dictates that vendors involve larger resellers in the loop more than small ones, but there is no excuse for a total cold shoulder. The least you should expect is the same treatment as everybody else, and as a rough guide to whether you are getting it or not, we have talked to a cross section of resellers about how involved they feel in vendor plans. It may not be just you who sometimes feels left out. In general, it seems to be the larger vendors who have the poorest channels of communication. Microsoft seems to be quoted often as a poor communicator. Smaller vendors are keener to please, and often form strategy in conjunction with their partners. If none of the following views represents your own, then feel free to write to us telling of your experiences.
Crispin Coulson, marketing manager of Text Systems
It depends entirely on the vendor. Some are very open about what they are doing, and others tell you absolutely nothing and you only find out what's going on when you read about it in the press. Some vendors have a rather insidious way of indicating what they are up to. They send over a representative from the US - let's face it, most strategy is formed in the US - who says to you: "Suppose we did this, what would you think?" They appear to be dipping their toes in the water, but really they know exactly what they are going to do and simply want to test the reaction in advance.
Compaq is good at sharing information, although of course there are sometimes perfectly legitimate reasons why it can't. Dell is trying to follow Compaq's lead in this respect, but does not manage quite so well, perhaps because they are not quite as experienced. Software companies, especially the major ones, are generally more tight-lipped. Some of the very biggest have the annoying habit of acting as though they are talking to you as one of an exclusive group of insiders, when you know that they are telling everyone everything at the same time. They will generally tell journalists things before they tell resellers.
I understand that vendors need to protect themselves and look at the commercial implications of giving information out. We certainly always abide by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when we are asked to sign them.
This is not out of a virtuous instinct, it's because we would never get told anything again if we broke one.
Harry Thuillier, managing director of Fraser Associates
I feel that all the vendors we deal with are very good at informing us of what's going on. They all fund a product manager who exists solely as an interface between us. Most vendors will make the effort to spend at least one day a month with us, and even Microsoft is better than it used to be in this respect. We are of course a fairly large Var, and it would be impossible for us to do business any other way. We are an important element for all our vendors, since we don't do less than u2.5 million of business with any of them per year.
Very occasionally I find myself reading something in the press before I find out about it. There was a case in the last few months where Microsoft told all its distributors about a change, and the distributors told the press before the information filtered down to the resellers.
Microsoft immediately sent someone down to see us, and I was totally satisfied with the professional way they handled the matter. The mechanism for letting Vars into the inside track of strategy obviously exists for larger players.
The problem of being in the dark obviously lies with the second tier.
Patrick Duffy, managing director of Computer & Control Systems
It sometimes seems to take a long time for information to filter down to reseller level, especially if it goes via distributors. In a way this is only natural, and I really don't have any complaints in general. I feel I have a good relationship with my vendors, and when I need to know something, I can get it. If I need information on something quickly, then I can always look it up on the Net. Only last week, a customer asked me for some information urgently, and I found it on the Net immediately, without having to trouble the supplier in person. We are not a large company, but I would not expect us to be quite as privileged as a large corporate reseller in terms of vendor relations. That is only natural, and generally I do not feel hard done by.
John Dootson, business manager of Computer Applications Limited
Naturally it varies from vendor to vendor. Progress Software, for example, does a very good job. We chat to them regularly on a personal basis. Only last week I visited their site and we talked at length about marketing and technical matters. It is obvious that the company values the Var community.
Probably the most frustrating company is Microsoft. They send out stacks of information to read, but when you want to actually talk to someone, there's never anybody there. They do not organise enough Var events, and when they do they think the whole world is based in London. They could at least do the odd thing in Birmingham to give people in the north a chance for a look in. The irony is that they change so fast as a company, and they are so important, that it really matters if you can't get the information you want. Wading through information on the Internet or on CD-ROM is not my idea of a good night out. Microsoft does not seem to value the Var community. They treat us almost as though we were end users.
DEC and IBM are big companies too, but they are much better.
Vendors definitely prefer to confide in bigger resellers who they are putting a lot of business through. I reckon they miss out on a lot of business this way.
Lawrence Alexander, marketing manager of MicroWorld
Vendors tend to keep resellers at arm's length. We are a small corporate reseller, so our task is to go to potential customers and educate them.
It is slowly filtering through to vendors that they need to work closer with the likes of us so that we can do this better. It is the resellers who hold the accounts, and it is us who can get the manufacturers in front of customers. Some are quite switched on to this, and do share information with us, but I feel that some are missing a trick. I'm always telling them "You need to be working with us more closely." Obviously the Computacenters of this world have a lot of clout with vendors, but they tend to be a bit complacent, and do not always reward vendor attention with extra sales.
Geoff Severn, managing director of Saxon Computer Systems
It's difficult enough keeping up with all the product information that's already around, without knowing about things that are about to be launched.
We like to know about things that are really new and special, but unless they offer us really outstanding benefits, they are unlikely to be of much immediate interest. Brand new products require lots of commitment and support, and if you are going to offer good support, there is only so much technology that you can take on board. Ideally as a reseller, you are looking to standardise on a technology, and once you have, you don't change easily. If you are talking about information on an upgrade to an existing product, then obviously we would want to be involved, if we are selling it. In general, I am not that unhappy with the way things are. We are told about things that are necessary.
Lorraine Fallon, marketing executive with Equanet
We feel very well treated. We get regular contact from most vendors, not to mention training. Information on product changes reaches us very quickly. Obviously some are better than others. At the moment I would say our best vendors for information are Toshiba, Compaq, with which we are developing a better and better relationship, and IBM. We are of course a larger reseller with a good turnover, which helps. Also, we are well established with a good track record, which means that vendors feel they can trust us. It might be different if we were smaller and less well known.
Martin Hellawell, marketing director of ComputaCenter
It varies enormously, even for a player of our size. It has to be said in general that things are a lot better now than they used to be. Manufacturers used to see all resellers as little more than opportunities to shift boxes, but little by little our relationship with customers has become closer and closer, and they are starting to act on our recommendations. As we have moved up the value chain in this way, our significance to manufacturers has increased, and our access to important information and strategic processes has improved in proportion.
There are one or two manufacturers who we are particularly close to.
We sent our guys down to their labs for technology briefings, and sometimes our customers are involved in this process as well. This sort of service is the exception rather than the rule The real problem these days is not getting enough information, but digesting the information we get. Hopefully the Internet will develop into a tool which will allow us and our customers to get easily to the information we want without wasting time. At least it has been a long time since I had the indignity of reading something in the press before we hear about it.
David Ogden, sales director with Esteem
In my view it is quite reasonable of manufacturers not to reveal everything to their resellers. I would not expect Sun Microsystems to come to us and say "We are thinking of launching a new business division to target the legal market, what do you reckon?" If they were to decide on such a course, it would not make good business sense to consult everyone.
In general we do hear the information we want through the proper channels.
In the workflow market we deal with a number of smaller players. We are crucial to their marketing plans so they tell us everything. We have had problems in the past with Digital, but they are much better to deal with now since they have been through a few difficulties. That is another key factor - how confident do they feel. Software companies tend to be more sectrative than hardware ones.
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