Over the last 20 years I've worked for a number of vendors, VARs and distributors and I think there a number cultural and political issues with the way the whole process operates. Not least, there is often an inherent lack of trust and respect between many vendors and partners. In some situations, I'd even go so far as to say they view each other as a necessary evil. There is often a level of arrogance and perhaps even attitude of superiority with some vendors – almost like they feel they are doing their partners a favour by allowing them to sell their wares, cutting discounts and margins at any available opportunity. Almost a 'god complex' if you will. How can any relationship prosper with such a fundamental disconnect?
Clearly this is not the case with all vendors, though I have seen many instances of vendors who hire partners, give them the price list along with a 30-minute training session and then complain when the partner doesn't close enough business. What do you expect from such a lack of investment in the partner?
Sometimes it's because the vendors have not been selective enough in choosing the right partner but often it's down to a clear lack of investment in the relationship, often on the part of the vendor. Secondly, if you go into the channel expecting quick, linear growth, you are not being realistic. It takes time to build trust; just as in any relationship, you have to get to know each other before jumping into bed. You need to prove to each other that you understand and can meet each other's needs.
Issues often stem from those vendors who have historically sold direct or perhaps where the HQ resides in less channel-friendly regions. Moving or embracing the channel to make it productive requires a real leap of faith. It requires time and patience, but most of all it requires investment in your partners in exactly the same way any successful marriage works. And talking about faith and time and other such fuzzy concepts are often challenging for some vendors to grasp. Yet this is the reality in trying to get a channel to really work effectively.
So here's the thing: a good channel, treated in the right way will allow you to create a network of trust that you are frankly never going to be able to really achieve without them. While it's completely true to say it takes time to start, once it does, the results are potentially significant.
And another thing: for those that are selling SaaS or any types of cloud services: if you think you don't need a channel, remember – people buy from people and referrals matter. While selling direct may work in some regions, the channel has a critical role in the whole process irrespective of what you're selling.
Ultimately, in our business we select our partners carefully, work closely with them and care about their ability to win, their profits and their general wellbeing – just as any good friend or partner would in any other context. This is the only way any channel programme will work in the competitive sales landscape we are currently in.
Aidan Simister is global SVP for IT auditing, security and compliance at Lepide Software
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