How to choose a vendor partner program

VAR-vendor partnerships can be fraught with tension -- but they don't have to be. You can have healthy, mutually beneficial relationships by choosing the right partners in the first place. Consider these seven criteria when evaluating potential vendor partners and their reseller partner programs.

There's no question that in the best of circumstances, a tension exists between value-added resellers (VARs) and their vendor partners. That doesn't mean, however, that the VAR-vendor relationship has to be an adversarial one. But for it to work, both parties have to understand one another's motivations, and how to work in harmony to their mutual benefit and profit. From the reseller perspective, it all starts with choosing the right vendor partner. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for analyzing vendor partners and their reseller partner programs. A lot of it boils down to trust, gut feelings and, oh yes, a healthy amount of due diligence.

The following are the most important factors you should weigh in the decision process when choosing a vendor partner and considering reseller partner programs. Try these out and use what works for you, but keep in mind that these criteria are a moving target. Your own circumstances, the market conditions and a host of other factors will cause your criteria to evolve. Nothing is static for long in the reseller business.

When evaluating vendors and their reseller partner programs, consider whether the vendor has:

  • An identifiable and verifiable technological advantage or superiority. In other words, they have something new and innovative (a technological breakthrough) that translates into overall product performance and results and the end-user experience -- the "wow" factor!
  • Three to five easily articulated, demonstrable and believable competitive advantages that translate into compelling customer benefits. These have to set the vendor solution apart from the competition in a way that immediately resonates with customers to such an extent that they want a demonstration or trial evaluation because they cannot imagine existing any longer without this solution or simply because they will be a hero to their higher-ups. That's a factor never to be overlooked!
  • A product/solution that addresses a timely need, solves a nagging problem or satisfies a pent-up demand. The product should make life easier for someone, improve productivity and generate an acceptable -- no, irresistible -- ROI.
  • An understanding of the value of the channel and the need to scale resources and expertise the vendor may lack at the moment. This means that the vendor understands the concept of scaling (really "gets it"), and needs you to be where it cannot be (feet on the street) to accelerate growth.
  • A well-thought-out, written and equitable program for the channel that demonstrates an understanding of the needs of the channel. This should include a description of how the vendor is organized and operates to most effectively motivate and reward reseller partners. Vendor corporate policies, stated channel goals and quotas, and field rep as well as management compensation plans, should all be consistent with the channel recruiting "story." The vendor should have its field reps and its partners joined at the hip with a goal of closing more business faster through the channel than could be done directly, regardless of where the leads come from. Translation: They are channel-friendly … really!
  • An understanding of its target market(s) and the competition. The vendor should have developed a comprehensive sales and marketing plan to gain visibility, brand recognition, credibility and mind share within the targeted sectors, and to generate qualified leads with which to develop a pipeline. There should also be a team of experienced marketing personnel that implement and manage the marketing program, and sufficient funds to execute to the fullest extent.
  • A cohesive program for sufficient and ongoing sales, product and technical training, as well as regular contact with the VAR team. Knowledge is power and enables you to competently, confidently and aggressively represent the vendor's products in a professional, credible manner. Reseller resources should be treated as an extension of the vendor's sales and technical staff. What the vendor does for its direct sales and support personnel, it should do for reseller personnel. In reality, many do not, which only results in the resellers not being able to put forth the best possible effort, and worse, it hampers their ability to maintain a strong value proposition with prospects, customers and, most importantly, their vendor partners.

Partner program checklists and know-how

Peruse our collection of partner program checklists and compare reseller partner programs against a standard list of benefits. And try a quiz  to see if you're up to speed on channel partner programs, trends and developments

In summary, if individual resellers establish some vendor evaluation guidelines and do their homework, there will be more mutually beneficial and therefore successful VAR-vendor relationships.

About the author
Anthony J. Comazzi has been employed since 2002 with The Newman Group, a VAR headquartered in Dexter, Mich., where he launched and manages the company's first and most successful applications sales team and a number of vendor partnerships. His prior experience involved positions with a number of software vendors, where his responsibilities included worldwide sales, marketing and channel development. The Newman Group's areas of focus include WAN acceleration, networking, disaster recovery, virtualization, email delivery, security and archiving, and network problem identification.

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