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PartnerPath study: IT channel management strategy comes under scrutiny

Solution providers would like to see three key areas of vendors' channel management strategies improved, according to a PartnerPath survey.

Channel partners have spoken out. In PartnerPath's recently released 7th Annual State of Partnering Study, partners offered some actionable advice for vendors and distributors about dominant trends in three key areas: economics, cloud and enablement.

Some key takeaways from partners: Vendors should re-evaluate the cloud proposition and consider a different engagement model; they should make investments in anything that helps solution providers become better at selling; and should rectify the disconnect between how vendors and partners view the role of distribution.

The 2013 study, conducted in collaboration with PartnerPath's strategic partner, Avnet, garnered 80 vendor responses and 100 solution provider responses, and delved into the following issues related to IT channel management strategy: market development fund (MDF) spending trends, how partner account managers work, attitudes about cloud and, new to this year's study, the return on investment of distribution.

With the goal of shedding light on vendor/distributor/partner alignment in order to bolster successful partnering outcomes for all players, the most recent State of Partnering study uncovered 10 key channel management areas for improvement, according to Diane Krakora, CEO at PartnerPath, a partnership development services company based in Mountain View, Calif.

Three of the 10 areas were pointed out by Krakora as being particularly noteworthy.

The first has to do with the cloud and facilitating partners' transition to a cloud-based model. Despite a growing interest in offering cloud solutions -- with 38% of partner respondents saying they were "very interested" in 2013, compared to 18% in 2012 – there's been no movement to offer a different engagement model for cloud.

"The vendor community is using the exact same programs and linear model that they've been using for the last 10 years," said Krakora. "Cloud requires a different consumption model; it's time to offer something new," she added.

Changing up models for partners is nothing new. Vendors did it in the 1980s with resale and again in the early 2000s with services. "It's something we need to do again in 2013 for cloud," she said.

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The second area of note is re-evaluation of the IT channel value proposition by vendors. When partners consider particular vendor programs, in addition to margins, they look for program features that are of importance to them.

Among all program features, partners are most interested in qualified leads and referrals from vendors, as well as MDF and technical training. "In 2013, partners are asking to be rewarded for selling; they want opportunity registration and offsets for training," Krakora said.

Finally, partners would like to see distributors reassess how distribution dollars are spent. There's a big disconnect between how vendors leverage distributors and how partners leverage distributors.

While both vendors and partners agree that distributors have an important role to play in working with both parties, that's where the agreement ends.

Vendors leverage distributors and expect cash infusions to go toward marketing activities, partner recruitment, communications and credit/finance work; partners look to distributors for help with enrollment into vendor programs, sales training, technical training and technical support.

Can distributors serve two masters?

In a recent webinar held by PartnerPath to discuss some of the study's findings, this question was addressed by Tim Fitzgerald, vice president of cloud solutions at Avnet Technology Solutions, an operating group of Avnet Inc.

Noting that the findings didn't surprise him, he pointed out that as a distributor, Avnet delivers value to both constituent audiences. "We deliver it in different ways and in different measures, both being strategically important." In short, the answer was, "Yes."

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