Concerns have been raised by some resellers that the last decade has seen the IT vendor community move from a high- to a low-touch channel model.
The majority of resellers we spoke to believed they are seeing increasingly less of their vendor partners as economic pressures, the rise of the web and changing fashions prompts them to cut back on their dedicated channel resources.
Not all agreed, but Kevin Drew, director of IBM partner DU360, was typical in his view that the "arms-around" relationships that characterised vendor-reseller partnerships five or ten years back are not as common as they were.
"It used to be high touch, but now it's low, or even, no touch," Drew said.
"I no longer even know who owns me at the vendor. I just get someone phoning me to ask what I want to buy. Unless you are a big boy doing north of £50m or £100m, you no longer have a personal relationship with them. This is not a criticism - it is just the way the industry has gone. They have to do more with less as they can't afford to have channel coverage."
"Today, it's all web-based and impersonal," Drew added, claiming that the picture holds for all the big vendors, not just IBM.
Those sentiments were echoed by Barry Dodhia, marketing manager at London-based VAR Hemini.
"I would concur with that," Dodhia said. "It is now us that's having to engage with the vendor, not the other way around. Vendors are cutting their overheads wherever possible."
Shaune Parsons, managing director of IBM partner Computerworld Wales, also agreed: "The vendors have cut their [staff] numbers so much that no-one comes to see you anymore. You're lucky if you get a phone call. We have become the sales teams of the vendors.
"IBM is not the only one. I can't remember the last time someone from HP came to our office. I screamed at Lenovo in December as we're a Gold partner, and I felt like we were a plastic partner."
Drew conceded that patterns in vendor-reseller relationships have been influenced by the rise of the web as a channel for sales and communication but maintained the channel could yet move back to a high-touch model.
"The parallel for me is the car industry, which was the first to have a channel," he said. "It's interesting that over the last 10-15 years the car industry has gone back to the showrooms almost being owned by the manufacturers. There are now fewer independents and the quality of what they sell and how they represent themselves has improved. It was high touch, it went to no touch, and now it's gone back to high touch.
"I believe over time, like the car industry, the IT manufacturers will have to revisit this, as they are putting all their eggs into big-boy [big resellers] basket, when the big boys are all multi-vendor. They're not like BMW showrooms - they sell every manufacturers' car. In the car industry, it's gone from independent resellers 10-15 years ago to them being significantly owned and managed by the manufacturers - will IT follow a similar route?"
David Hobson, security practice director of systems integrator MTI, claimed that resellers operating in the security arena face an even bigger challenge in the form of vendors that have increased the size of their direct or direct touch sales teams. This has been accompanied by a desire to control the deals - including the margin the reseller earns - themselves.
"You have a conflict where the vendor is seeing our clients directly and not telling us," he said. "They have their own targets and as a result they lose some of that connection with the VAR."
IBM, HP and Dell are among the big vendors that are cutting internal headcount but Hobson said the fact many security vendors are doing the opposite can be a curse rather than a blessing for the channel.
"In my opinion, vendors overpay their staff, which pushes up the price of staff for VARs," he said. "We [resellers] train them up and they leave us for vendors who are paying more."
Jonathan Lassman, managing director of security VAR NTS, pointed out that attention from vendor account managers is not always welcome.
"There is a direct correlation between your top-performing vendors and the amount of times they come to see you," he said. "We have regular visits from our top four or five vendors. But it's a two-way street. I want them to come and see me but I don't want them to waste my time by just chatting over a cup of coffee. It has to be something like a call-out day."
If the bonds between vendors and resellers have weakened in recent years, this isn't something Andrew Henderson (pictured), managing director of VAR Lanway, said he had noticed in general.
"We are seeing more and more commitment and more face-to-face visits from staff from our vendors but I think that's because we are growing," he said. "All our vendor lines are up and our sales are up 20 per cent, and vendors move to where the sales are. Our top ones - like Samsung, Toshiba, Lenovo and Dell - are in here, if not once a week, then once every two weeks.
"HP and IBM are trimming their salesforces and they're going to focus on the 20 per cent of partners that give them 80 per cent of sales. We used to see HP weekly and we had one account manager for servers, one for PPS and one for switches; now we only have one."
Neil Roberts, managing director of VAR Concorde, agreed with Henderson
"It's absolutely the opposite for us," he said. "Over the last 6-12 months we have been really engaged with the likes of Cisco and Lenovo. What seems to have changed is the people they have in the business. A lot of the more mature account managers that have spent many years working in health or public sector seem to have been replaced by young, go-get-‘em account managers that are keen to work side-by-side with you in as many deals as they can."
But Roberts' view appears to be exceptional, with most of the VARs we spoke to flagging up a pointed decline in face-to-face interaction with their vendors over the last few years. One consequence of this could be that resellers respond in kind by becoming more independent from the vendors, Parsons said.
"It's probably why we have fewer alliegances now," Parsons said. "If someone comes to us asking for HP servers, we wouldn't now sell them IBM, we'd just crack on."
Highlander MD Steve Brown tells CRN about the skills he learned on the pitch and brought to the boardroom
Reports suggest Dell is pursuing a straightforward IPO, contradicting existing plans to buy out tracking stock holders
Analysts predict upturn in PC market next year, but 2017 to remain plagued by components shortages
Neil Sawyer claims he has 'never seen so many conversations about a new method of investing in workplace technology'