The importance of support and services

Vendors setting up distribution channels without paying proper attention to building a local support and services infrastructure are making a serious error of judgement.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  February 21, 2004

The channel represents more to a vendor than just a fulfilment mechanism.

Whilst logistics, box shifting and drop shipping remain part and parcel of the channel’s role in ensuring products and software reach the end-user, this is just one aspect of the relationship. As vendors look to expand their market penetration, the role of channel partners in providing high quality support and services becomes vital.

This remains one of the best areas for vendors to differentiate themselves from competitors.

For new vendors entering the region, support and services is all too often an overlooked area of channel development. Some will merely sign up a few distributors, pay scant attention to where the product is going and fail to provide the necessary support and services. Short-term — especially if the vendor is aiming to grab marketshare on price and price alone — this can result in a significant sales stream. But any initial success should not detract from the long-term damage being inflicted on the brand by such a shortsighted business model.

Whilst customers are tempted by cheap prices once, a failure to provide them with the necessary support and services around that product means it is highly unlikely that they will be coming back for more. Once bitten, twice shy is often the case with customers who, when the time comes to seek assistance for a particular vendor’s product, discover that there is no local infrastructure in place to assist them.

The importance of providing an adequate support and services infrastructure through partners applies to all vendors — from enterprise software players right through to those selling peripherals. Retailers in the region report that one of the main attractions to consumers of A-brand vendors in the PC and notebook space is the knowledge that they have a global support infrastructure in place. For those customers located in some of the more isolated countries in the region, where few vendors have a direct presence on the ground, this can be a source of great comfort.

Similarly, enterprise software vendors and those selling complex hardware must have local engineers and skilled services personnel ready and waiting to rapidly reach customers experiencing problems. Nothing destroys the vendor-customer relationship quicker than a long delay in skilled support staff arriving on site and fixing the problems that have taken down a mainframe or corporate ERP package.

Whilst the global vendors, courtesy of the breadth and depth of their existing channel structures, can claim to be on top of the support and services issue, it is new vendors entering the market that need to tread cautiously. In the Middle East, value added distributors with the ability to establish a regional network of sub-distributors, resellers and build proper service and support mechanisms are few and far between. Those that do exist already have a full portfolio of products to juggle and are not necessarily seeking out new vendors to work with.

For some vendors, tempted by strong growth rates in the Middle East, rather than wait for the ‘right’ channel partner to be found, the temptation is to find ‘any’ partner as quickly as possible. This can sometimes mean working directly with a sub-distributor or reseller who knows nothing about building up a support and services network and is only interested in the volume of product it can sell.

Vendors need to take a long-term outlook when it comes to building a Middle East channel and this means not only getting the product out into the market, but also ensuring customers have all the assistance they need. Too many vendors still use short-term sales logic to try and carve a niche in the Middle East market without developing a channel strategy that benefits their long-term goals.

Are some vendors guilty of these mistakes? How easy is it to provide a support and services infrastructure across the Middle East? Make sure you let us know your views on this topic or any other recent eChannel Editorials.

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