Unravelling the DNA of strategic partnerships

Vendor-partner relationships have the potential to shift the innovation dynamic for the channel.

Close and deep relationships between vendors and resellers are becoming more critical as products become more complex and different

The 2016 Strategic Partner Index Survey produced by the CIO Executive Council and IDC found that buyers, vendors and strategic partners are at a crossroads – now is the time to continue the evolution of their relationships in order to ensure success in the modern marketplace.

Those that have moved from effective to transparent, from traditional to trusted, get the results for both bottom line and sustainable growth. Those that stagnate in the old and traditional are falling behind.

“In today’s new digital age, the vendor needs to work closely with the channel to not only align technology, but also the thinking and strategy behind the technology,” says Ian Jansen van Rensburg, senior systems engineering manager, VMware Sub-Saharan Africa. “Channel partners need to upskill internal resources to deliver on these types of pressures and be the frontrunners to change. Channel partners also need to understand the operational transformation which IT departments need to go through in order to be relevant in the software-defined world.”

Relationships underpin the value on offer by both partner and vendor. The traditional challenges around communication, sales model and structure have to be not so much overcome, as bypassed and left behind alongside the fax machine and telex.

“If you look at all the old partner programmes they include the traditional old checklist with incentives and rebates, which is fine if you’re moving boxes, but not if you’re selling converged systems and complex solutions and the cloud,” says Gary Pickford, sales director, Tarsus Technologies.

“Channel is talking about the cloud and the solutions which surround it, but if you look at the local partner programmes offered by vendors they’re still based on the ‘moving product’ system. This really has to change – there needs to be a way of developing programmes for more complex solutions which allow for financial business cases and digitisation.”

At the Intel Partner Conference held in the United States earlier this year, the overarching theme was how to engage with customers and look after partners so they stay committed and build richer, longer term relationships. It’s a growing trend globally as vendors continue to recognise the value of a relationship which runs two ways, and allows for deeper engagement across customer/vendor and partner.

Safeguarding investments

“It’s very clear that the new dynamic is a two-way street where partners are protected by the vendors and time and effort is put into building a relationship with trust,” says Rob Brown, CEO, DRS.

“There have been too many instances of a partner putting in all this effort with a customer only to have someone else take the opportunity at the last minute. It’s time to change this dynamic and to empower partners who are committed to a vendor and a brand.”

If the vendor can drive a reliable and trustworthy programme that partners believe in, then there will be uptake and commitment across the channel. It will allow for the partner to really add value and for the vendor to build sustainable relationships which can drive innovation and development.

“Many channel partners have the capabilities and skills to deliver full software-defined solutions, but rather take the alternative route to solve immediate challenges such as legacy storage or backups or networking,” says Van Rensburg. “With some guidance and assistance from the vendor, the relationship between partner and customer can become more strategic.”

This now places the focus on the overall IT strategy and how to integrate the traditional silos which separate IT and partner and vendor. The channel can drive innovation to shift the IT department to a more modern, software-defined architecture and approach which will, in turn, allow for more inventive approaches to infrastructure and investment from partner and vendor. “It allows for both vendor and partner to reach a far wider audience through a single view into the channel, and ultimately provide richer and targeted content directly from the vendor into the channel,” adds Uwe Brandkamp, sales director, Westcom-Comstor Southern Africa. “Better alignment between the three tiers of the channel will better integrate product, cloud and services into a hybrid market for vendor and reseller partners.”

Where’s the value?

Of course, finance is not far from any mind in the current economic framework and so, the cost implications of improved relations can’t be ignored. For Pickford, the vendor must provide the reseller with a sound business case as to why they should undergo any transformation. There should be the right levels of finance and the core value proposition should be how the partner makes money, what it takes for them to invest and what they will need over the next five years. “You need to build a financial model which links old-style IT resellers to the route they need to take on how to become technology solutin resellers," add Pickford.

The channel is still the most effective way of getting products to customers, both from a cost-to-customer and effective implementation angle. It's critical for vendors to have mutually beneficial engagements with partners to bring the new and different products to market successfully.

“Innovation is a key word here – in terms of technology as well as the value the product brings,” says Henni Crous, channel sales manager, Epson South Africa. “It’s highly unlikely we will ever get to a stage where the value of partnerships becomes obsolete, because successful vendors are becoming more focused and the channel is the most crucial link in the chain to make it all work successfully. Close and deep relationships between vendors and resellers are becoming more critical as products become more complex and different, and it’s becoming increasingly critical to understand the difference in value between the two.”

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