When 200 resellers were asked to give both barrels to their vendor partners for the latest CRN Vendor Report, they certainly didn't fire any blanks.
Some 38 IT manufacturers were rated by respondents on four key service categories, namely product quality, after-sales & technical support, channel management, and lead generation. Check out our teaser video to find out more. Respondents were also invited to give frank, confidential background comments on what they love, and what they loathe, about their core vendor partners, and the results were a mix of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.
Comments were often honest and blunt. One vendor's channel management was branded an "unmitigated mess", while another was shot down for being "disorganised and rude". Some were savaged for having products that were "glitchy", or prone to breaking. Meanwhile, one household name was described as being "lazy" and "difficult to deal with".
In contrast, other vendors drew high praise for their knowledgeable channel staff, ability to generate leads for partners and well-built, trustworthy technology.
Channel satisfaction - the new customer satisfaction?
Technology vendors are obsessed with customer satisfaction these days, and rightly so.
In the digital era, any vendor who isn't attuned to what their end customers think of them - and their competitors - is at a serious disadvantage.
But what good is a loyal customer base if the influencers who sell and service the vast majority of technology don't like dealing with you?
The report aims to address this by shedding light on an important - and sometimes overlooked - aspect of brand strength and loyalty, in the form of how vendors are perceived by their channel partners. Gaining the trust of the resellers, MSPs and consultancies who often determine where IT budgets are directed remains vital.
Vendors, of course, will regularly conduct their own partner satisfaction audits. But such proprietary surveys risks generating warped results, and certainly lack a comparative aspect.
Respondents - who were a mix of technical, sales and managerial staff at resellers, MSPs, solutions integrators and other firms in the channel ecosystem - were asked to grade any vendor they had worked with in the last year from A to D on each of the four categories. These marks were then converted into points and averaged to arrive at the rankings.
This year's report looked at vendors through the prism of two distinct markets: communications and infrastructure; and security. Of the 38 vendors featured, 13 were ranked for their performance in the security market, 13 more for their performance as communications and infrastructure vendors, and 12 were ranked in both areas.
This year, respondents were also invited to grade their vendors' MSP programmes, although this did not count towards the overall services score.
So who emerged from the hail of bullets intact, and who was shot full of holes?
Who placed where has to remain a closely-guarded secret - for now, at least, although we have summarised below how Microsoft, Cisco and Apple fared. But one surprising feature of the research we can share is that many of the table toppers from the last time we conducted this research three years ago crashed and burned this time around, and vice versa.
One security vendor that was savaged in 2014 placed in the top half of the pack this time around. Three years ago, it was found to have interfering and inefficient staff, and a product range weakened by confused management interfaces and flaky updates. Today, in contrast, it is generally engaged and responsive, and has a straightforward, easy-to-manage product that is equal to the modern threat environment, the report found.
Having ranked 46th out of 50 vendors in 2014, another security vendor - known for its heritage in web filtering - finished in the top-ten players this time around. Three years ago it was slammed for its low-quality products and shambolic tech support, but this year earned above-average scores on channel management an lead generation.
Meanwhile, a storage vendor that ranked 22nd out of 50 in 2014 topped this year's rankings in the communications & infrastructure category, thanks to its first-class products, tech support, account management and training.
Such turnaround stories are a testament to the work some vendors have evidently put into their channel strategy in the intervening three years.
Others - including a couple of big names - have moved quite dramatically down the pecking order, which only goes to show that reseller allegiances are fluid. Vendors who have coasted have been duly punished.
Achieving excellent customer satisfaction is one thing, but if that's not matched by the experiences of those who sell and services the technology, vendors could soon find they are run out of town in a shower of bullets.
The channel's biggest and most influential vendor came out relatively well in the research. Although it ranked mid-table in most categories, the Microsoft Surface range, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 all had an excellent reputation and it seems to have a far better relationship with the channel than it did three years ago, the report concluded.
"Under chief executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft has become a broader, more cohesive, more service-oriented and more intelligent business - and in so doing, has assured its future," the report stated.
The networking giant has built its reputation on having the best technology and highest margins for partners. And it fared reasonably well in this year's Vendor report, ranking just inside the top ten as both a security vendor and a communications & infrastructure vendor. Its products had an excellent reputation for design and durability, and after-sales and technical support was almost equally good. Channel management was found to be more variable.
The fruity vendor finished well down the pecking order in the report, although its products were lauded for remaining well-engineered, desirable and owner-friendly. In the minus column, its tech had becoming noticeably more expensive for anyone paying in British pounds, with most resellers also still finding Apple indifferent to their needs and interests and its hardware an unprofitable sale. Some felt the next Apple wonder-device was a year or two overdue.
Match the comment to the vendor
"They are always happy to immerse us in their tech and strategic roadmaps"
"They have excellently built, value for money systems, at an unbeatable price"
"They are proactive with customers, though their range of products is a bit limited"
"Their notebooks stand out negatively due to their physical build. They break easily and have to be repaired frequently"
"[They] don't seem to have moved with the times with regard to antivirus offerings"
"In terms of their interest in our organisation, we have seen diddly"
"Lazy, and difficult to deal with"
"[Their channel management] is an unmitigated mess and I refuse to sell their products because of sharp practice"
"Disorganised and sometimes rude"
Which vendors were included?
Amazon Web Services, Apple, AVG Technologies, Barracuda Networks, Brocade Communications Systems, Check Point, Cisco Systems, Citrix Systems, D-Link, Dell, Dell EMC, F5 Networks, Forcepoint, Fujitsu, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc, Huawei, IBM, Juniper Networks, Kaspersky Lab, Lenovo, LogRhythm, McAfee, Microsoft, Mimecast, NetApp, Oracle, Pure Storage, Salesforce, Samsung, SolarWinds, Sophos, Symantec, Trend Micro, Veeam Software, VMware, Webroot
Automation firms UiPath and Automation Anywhere close out their funding rounds with $265m and $300m respectively
View photos of last night's awards ceremony in London
View photos of all the winners from the 2018 Channel Awards
After a glittering awards evening in Battersea celebrating 25 years of the Awards, we are pleased to share the list of winners and judges' commended winners