Dell Direct collaborates with Dell channel partner to unseat EMC

After uncovering a possible storage deal, Dell Direct decided working with a Dell channel partner would be the best route to take.

Last year, IOMax USA, an EMC customer for about four years, was up for a refresh of its EMC storage technology. Based in Mooresville, N.C., the company provides signal intelligence and airborne system products to the U.S. government, and it was in the final stages of a new deal arranged through EMC's direct sale team. Dell Direct, however, caught wind of the storage opportunity, pitched Dell Compellent to IOMax, and, instead of trying to tackle the opportunity on its own, turned to a Dell channel partner.

Dell Direct approached Davenport Group as a potential collaborator. Besides specializing in data center technology, Davenport Group has a team in Charlotte, N.C., about forty minutes south of IOMax.

"The Dell team had suggested we try to unseat EMC," said Paul Clifford, president and founder of Davenport Group.

Clifford wasn't wholly confident that IOMax would switch to Dell, though. Once a customer has settled on a vendor for its storage infrastructure it's highly unlikely the customer will change course unless it's experienced "tremendous problems" with that vendor, he said. "While [IOMax] was not completely enamored [with EMC], changing their infrastructure was not something they were looking forward to. And EMC stuff works. There's no question about it. It's good stuff."

But IOMax told Davenport Group it was open to a meeting despite its intentions with EMC, Clifford said. "They were in the final stages of purchasing EMC when we came in. It was basically a done deal. This is where they were going," he said.

Dell Direct's collaboration with Davenport Group, which unfolded in 2014, provides a window into Dell's changing channel relations. In a SearchITChannel article published in April 2014, partners discussed a history of channel conflict with Dell and cited the vendor as exceptionally difficult to work with, alleging Dell Direct, the vendor's direct sales force, had a tendency of pushing partners out of opportunities. The tense vendor/partner relationship seemed to improve, as partners at November 2014's PartnerDirect Summit said Dell had made progress aligning its direct and indirect sales forces. This month, Dell reported an uptick in channel growth and deal registration activity, a development that suggests the company has advanced its channel-oriented sales strategy even further.

The first meeting

For its first meeting with IOMax, the primary objective for the Davenport Group team was to demonstrate Compellent SC800 and convince IOMax that Dell was a better storage foundation for its future. The team also aimed to demonstrate Davenport Group's technical expertise. Davenport Group sent Brandon Cole, its senior account manager, with senior systems engineer, BJ Bradley, to meet with IOMax on site.

Cole acknowledged that Dell Direct had already paved the way for Davenport Group before they met with the customer. "Dell had done a lot of the heavy lifting for us in regards to pitching [Compellent] and in also pitching Davenport Group as the go-to partner in the region, the one they try to leverage specifically when it comes to Dell data center solutions," he said.

Bradley was responsible for the Compellent demonstration. "We owned Compellent equipment in our demo lab, and BJ was basically going to remote into our Compellent system and show them the demo of the interface, how it worked and how it was so different from the EMC they were used to -- more importantly how much easier it was to manage than the EMC they were used to," Cole said.

It's not about the product; it's about who's got your back. ... And in the world of IT, that's such a critical element.
Paul Cliffordpresident and founder, Davenport Group

According to Cole, the Compellent demonstration went well. "[IOMax was] very impressed. Everything that the Dell reps, prior to us meeting [IOMax], had said that Compellent could do, we demonstrated in the demo," he explained.

During the demonstration, the IOMax team said it was evaluating VMware Site Recovery Manager for backup software, which the Davenport Group team identified as a second opportunity. "While we were doing the [Compellent] demo, they mentioned they were looking at doing VMware Site Recovery Manager, and I asked a couple of questions and dove a little deeper into it to see exactly what they were trying to accomplish," he said.

Cole and Bradley were prepared to demonstrate a comparable Dell product, Dell AppAssure backup software, Cole said.

"Right there on the spot, BJ dialed into our AppAssure system and showed them a demo of that." Apart from AppAssure's functionality, IOMax liked the software's interface and how closely it resembled the interface of Compellent Enterprise Manager, according to Cole. "It wasn't going to be a very big learning curve for them to understand how to navigate the management interface," he said.

Brian Bennett, network manager at IOMax, was present at the meeting and said he was pleased with the Dell channel partner's technical expertise. "They had an answer to every question," he said.

Competition with EMC's direct sales force

After Cole and Bradley's first meeting with IOMax, Clifford said EMC received word that it had competition. According to Cole and Clifford, EMC ramped up its sales presence, trying to sidetrack IOMax's conversations with Davenport Group and assert that Dell wasn't comparable with EMC's technology.

"When EMC then found out that we were in the gig, they got exceedingly aggressive," Clifford said. "It's their nature, it's in their DNA, this is how they operate, and they're not about to lose an existing customer."

During IOMax's negotiations with EMC, Bennett said his team met with EMC's sales reps. They were left dissatisfied with the vendor's approach. "EMC just came in and gave the 'plain Jane' pitch," Bennett said. Furthermore, the EMC sales person failed to swiftly answer his many technical questions.

SearchITChannel reached out to EMC to find out why the vendor chose to handle IOMax directly rather than through a channel partner, but EMC said it was unprepared to comment.

Clifford said Davenport Group wouldn't let EMC's sales team wedge them out of the deal and stayed close to IOMax. After about two weeks of discussions, IOMax made its decision.

Direct and channel sales teams collaborating

In the end, it was support that swayed IOMax's decision. Although the products and pricing did play an important role in IOMax's decision-making process, Dell's technology combined with a Dell channel partner's level of support led IOMax to uproot its storage infrastructure and start fresh, Bennet said.

"We made up our minds on the first meeting [with Davenport Group]," he revealed.

Clifford said the level of support his company could provide was critical to winning the deal. "It's not about the product; it's about who's got your back," he said. "And in the world of IT, that's such a critical element."

From the initial meeting to the end of the implementation, the process in its entirety took about 60 days, Cole said. While 60 days is a relatively short timeframe for a sale like this to occur, he explained that the deal moved so quickly because IOMax was "ready to execute."

"[IOMax] was keenly focused on [the technology purchase], which is why it moved as quickly as it did. Sometimes these things can be protracted out of six months or so, but this one was done just about in two months," Cole said.

"This was a great scenario as far as a big-brand joint collaboration between Davenport Group … and Dell Direct," he added. "Dell had an existing relationship with this customer prior to me ever having knowledge of them whatsoever."

Since putting Compellent and AppAssure in place, Davenport Group has continued to work with IOMax on additional projects.

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