Partners: Dell program is improving

One year after the Dell PartnerDirect program launched, partners say Dell is getting the hang of this channel thing -- although some problems remain.

Since the Dell partner program launched a year ago, solution providers have seen improvements in Dell Inc.'s attitude toward the channel. But some say those improvements aren't always reflected in Dell's business practices.

CEO Michael Dell declared Dell's channel intentions in May 2007, and Dell PartnerDirect launched in December of that year. It was a drastic shift for the company, which had used a direct sales model to become a leader in the personal computer and server markets. That history led to much skepticism about Dell's channel-friendliness, some of which has subsided over the course of the year.

Greg Donovan, president and CEO of Alpheon Corp., a Dell managed service provider in Morrisville, N.C., gave Dell an 8 out of 10 for its first year in the channel. Alpheon has seen a 400% increase in Dell revenue, but channel conflict and other concerns remain.

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Dell's direct sales reps tried to move in on a deal that Alpheon was working, and they only backed down after Donovan threatened to alert the media, he said. Issues like that have kept Alpheon's relationship with Dell a tentative one.

"As an MSP, I can unplug Dell and put in another one quickly, and we keep that contingency open," Donovan said.

Still, Donovan said he thinks Dell's corporate philosophy is in the right place; it's just a matter of putting it into action. For example, a lot of channel conflict would go away if Dell clearly defined which deals go direct and which go through the channel, he said.

Dell now has 35,000 registered partners worldwide, including 13,500 in the United States. Through the year, the company had some channel successes (its innovative use of social media to reach partners) along with some failures (ignoring partners in several major announcements). The company declined to comment for this story.

Bob Guilbert, managing director for Eze Castle Integration, a Dell partner in Boston, said his company hasn't run into any channel conflict with Dell this year. Eze Castle was one of 30,000 solution providers that were already reselling Dell products before PartnerDirect launched, and the formal program has made it easier to do business with the company, Guilbert said.

"Their attitude has changed in terms of how they look to treat their partners," he said.

Eze Castle also benefited from an improved return system and a new demo program. Before, it wasn't easy to return products for credit, but Dell streamlined that process this year, Guilbert said. And the demo program has allowed Eze Castle to build three labs, at discounted prices, to show prospective customers exactly how new Dell products work -- which has helped make sales.

Alpheon earned Dell's enterprise architecture and EqualLogic certifications this year. The certifications were the best way to earn discounts from Dell, Donovan said. "The program has got some real meat under it," he said. "There [are] back-end rewards now."

Dell has also addressed one of the biggest complaints by partners: inconsistent pricing. Discounts are the same no matter where partners obtain the price list from, Donovan said.

"That's typical for every other vendor in the world," he said.

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