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Channel partner loyalty: You're being watched

Sue Troy

If you've been wondering whether you need to make sure that your website accurately reflects your commitment to your vendor partners, now would be a good time to do so.

A new type of report, called Partner InSite,

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is available to tech vendors from The Spur Group, a revenue-side consulting group based in Redmond, Wash., that analyzes "share of partner voice," or channel partner loyalty as measured through the language used on the partners' websites. The report is able to identify channel partners that are most active around a given technology, as well as whether they've aligned themselves publicly with a particular vendor or product.

The Spur Group has gotten keen interest from vendors for custom work in which an 'early warning system' is set up to identify when a partner 'disinvests' in a vendor.

Ross Brown, senior principal for The Spur Group and former vice president of worldwide partner strategy for Microsoft, explained how Partner InSite works, using the firm's first published report on storage and SSD as an example: "We pull all of the text off [the websites of] 76,000 U.S. partners. … What we're looking to see is how they describe their business to their prospective customers."

The Spur Group analyzes the text to discover, for instance, what type of business model the partner uses, such as transaction-based (using language such as "shopping cart" or "pricing information") or professional services (using services-specific language), Brown said. Among the companies with a professional services model, The Spur Group can analyze, for instance, whether the partner is horizontally focused (using language such as "integration" and "networking") or vertically focused (using language such as "legal accounting" or "document management for medical").

Partner InSite also measures product trade names, because, Brown said, "We have an opinion -- which has been borne out in the research that we've done -- that a branded practice means a more loyal relationship with a partner than an unbranded practice."

In other words, a channel partner that has gone to the trouble of displaying its partner loyalty with a particular vendor on its website is more likely to continue to do business with that vendor.

For vendors, knowing which partners are committed to them -- and not to their competitors -- can of course inform decisions around the level of support they provide and the attention they give to partners.

Brown said that the key constituents at vendors for Partner InSite will be channel managers and sales managers looking to recruit partners. "This is a short hunting list for them in terms of who [they] should be working with and who's really moving the market." In addition, he said, vendor product managers can use the second half of the report (which examines how vendors are gaining traction, how many partners they have in each region, etc.) to see how they're doing competitively in terms of "winning" branded practices among partners.

The real value of the report, Brown said, is the trending information that will be available over time as The Spur Group rolls out more reports drilling down into additional technology markets. The group has identified 26 tech areas to study, with the next report, on cloud/Software as a Service, due out in January.

Going forward, the company hopes to build the report into a subscription business. In addition, Brown said that The Spur Group has gotten keen interest from vendors for custom work in which an "early warning system" is set up to identify when a partner "disinvests" in a vendor. Brown said that, as an example, "We can let them monitor 600 partners globally and see if a particular [competitive] vendor ever shows up on their site." Vendors, he said, could know "the minute any competitive content shows up on their website so that [they] can go in and [make] sure [they're] maintaining loyalty."

For a VAR or systems integrator who has neglected its website in favor of focusing on its core business functions, the prospect of the Partner InSite report in the hands of its vendors could be a scary proposition, but might motivate VAR to revamp its site to accurately reflect its commitment to key vendor partners.

But for those VARs and systems integrators looking to maintain a relationship with a particular established vendor while dabbling in competitive products, the prospect of being called on the carpet for disloyalty could be a downright chilling one.


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