Dell partner program makes strides but problems remain, partners say

Six months into the Dell channel era, partners say the once direct-only giant is opening up to the channel, despite some bumps in the road.

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Half a year into the Dell partner program era, solution providers say the vendor is fixing many of the problems that existed when its focus was solely on direct sales -- but bumps in the road still remain.

Dell announced PartnerDirect, the first formal Dell partner program, in December. Since then, the company says more than 10,000 value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators (SIs) and managed service providers (MSPs) have signed up in the United States and Canada. B Resource, an MSP in The Woodlands, Texas, had worked with Dell for six years before becoming a certified partner last month. The benefits are already coming to fruition, founder and president Hal Brumfield said.

"In the past, Dell has had a reputation of more or less competing with the VARs, but that has changed a little," he said. "I feel confident that we're not going to have to compete with Dell."

Price undercutting by Dell's direct sales team was Brumfield's biggest problem. When an existing customer would call Dell, a representative would ask for the account reference number, look up B Resource's quoted price and then make a lower offer, Brumfield said.

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"I had some very heated conversations with my rep about that," he said. "I felt they were trying to steal the business."

Things got so bad that Brumfield said he considered dumping Dell. But since about a year and a half ago, when planning began for the Dell partner program, those tactics have stopped, he said.

At Redapt Systems, a Dell reseller in Redmond, Wash., Dell's direct staff even helps the partner close deals and vice versa, vice president David Cantu said -- a strategy that many solution providers would have been uncomfortable with not long ago.

"We feel very confident that our relationship is solid enough that we can do that," he said.

This does not mean that all is well in the Dell partner program, however. The PartnerDirect forum and PartnerStorm wiki, for example, feature many complaints from partners about channel conflict and poor service.

Brumfield's biggest complaint was about the online training and testing that Dell required of partners looking to join PartnerDirect. It wasn't overly difficult, but it was laborious, he said.

"That's one thing that could be improved," he said. "You have to sit and go through 30 minutes of material to get to one specific point. … In most organizations like ours, you don't have that time. It's not like you can take a group of people and say, 'Don't work for three weeks.'"

Alpheon, an MSP in Morrisville, N.C., did not have to go through that training, because the company was grandfathered into PartnerDirect thanks to its long relationship with Dell, president and CEO Greg Donovan said. That relationship has always been good, but issues still spring up from time to time, he said.

One problem has been turnover in Dell's partner support teams. Dell recently assigned an all-new partner support team to Alpheon -- the 10th such change in the past six years, Donovan said.

"That's been a little bit of a growing pain," he said. "We had a really good working relationship with the previous team. Every time there's change, the new person wants to come in and establish how they do business with partners."

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