Channel chokers

Lack of partner development outside of the UAE is choking the channel.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  November 12, 2007

We're slowly edging towards that time of year when vendors are giving consideration to the next twelve months and finalising their budget proposals for 2008.

I'm sure the usual priorities have already been accounted for. Strengthening the workforce, beefing up marketing activities and setting aside incentives for the channel usually occupy a pretty high place on the list of categories that take precedent.

But it would be interesting to know how many brands are allocating funds for the sole purpose of ensuring business partners in each individual market receive suitable training.

Vendors might laud the Middle East as a region that warrants their undivided attention, but if there is one area where a high proportion fall persistently short then it's getting resources into markets outside of the UAE. When I say resources, I'm not calling for manufacturers to establish scaled-down offices in each country, but to take the bull by the horns and engage with partners on a personal level.

The only way that resellers can truly develop their breadth of skills and technological understanding is if a vendor has solid policies and procedures in place for transferring knowledge. When it comes to constructing a qualified and efficient channel in the Middle East, the smart vendors are investing heavily in training, education and knowledge transfer. And the even smarter ones are making sure that partners in markets such as Kuwait and Qatar are receiving as much guidance as anyone else.

One large UAE reseller summed up the situation perfectly this week, when he admitted: "To some degree we are blessed in the UAE. We are given more than our fair share of care because almost every vendor has headquarters in Dubai and tends to be on the ground and ready to be with you at any time."

In other words, resellers in surrounding markets are being starved of the information that could perhaps improve their performance by 10% or 20%, maybe more. All it takes is proper commitment from vendors to visit partners in smaller markets and educate them on the topics that can add value to what they already offer. Whether it's delivering a comprehensive insight into how a partner programme can improve a reseller's post-sales strategy or instructions on how to exploit a specific tool to enhance their competitiveness, the point is that vendors can't ever expect their partners to reach their potential if they fail to put in the groundwork.

Vendors don't even have to do it themselves. Providing the relationship is strong enough and the financial rewards are reasonable, what's to stop them recruiting their closest distribution partners to carry out that function for them?

Certain vendors will undoubtedly dispute what I'm saying, arguing that the smaller markets - especially in the Gulf - simply take care of themselves. I disagree. The ‘supply them with product and the numbers will grow' mentality might work for a fast-moving volume product that sells on price alone, but any vendor owning technology that is even vaguely complex will get caught out in the future if they choose to scrimp on adequate knowledge transfer.

The subject of channel development couldn't be more appropriate at the moment given the level of personnel change that continues to occur in the region. I'm positive that as the market develops further, the vendors best placed for growth will be those who can demonstrate consistency and stability, rather than having to start from scratch every six months.

One vendor that will be looking to plug a hole in its channel team is Acer, which is set to lose the services of Saudi commercial channels boss Karim Hammad. He is jumping ship to rival vendor Fujitsu Siemens as the battle for market share in the Kingdom's burgeoning notebook PC market continues to escalate.

Seagate, meanwhile, appears to have taken its first steps towards rebuilding its depleted Middle East team by appointing ex-Dell product manager Diane El Hachem as its channel marketing representative for the MEA region. Christian Assaf has single-handedly held up Seagate's channel business since the vendor dramatically parted ways with former Middle East executives Gulfem Cakmakci and Ziad Abou Rahal earlier this year.

Incidentally, Seagate's senior EMEA communication executives are in town this week to meet with press. We'd be more than happy to sit down with them and discuss which markets are driving their growth in the region and how they are mitigating against those perilous challenges unique to US-based components vendors.

Elsewhere, the balance of power looks as though it has shifted at the Middle East operation of APC-MGE. With ex-APC chief Philip Hughes recently leaving to set up his own business, the company's management team now retains a distinctly MGE-flavour. Both Thierry Bale and Christian Bertrand boast long tenures with MGE parent Schneider and will need to draw on all their experience of the Middle East market as the company strives to ensure both APC and MGE channel partners are kept happy.

Another face closely associated with a vendor - this time US Robotics - is also on the move. Peter Blampied, who had a big say in the networking vendor's Middle East business as VP of international sales and operations, is believed to be on the look-out for new opportunities after leaving the company last month. And finally, ex-Tech Data credit services manager George Khalil's tenure at the Dubai arm of credit insurer Euler Hermes has proved short-lived following his departure less than three months after taking on the role of head of commercial for the Gulf.

Rumours have also been circulating this week that a certain Dubai distributor with plenty of influence in the regional market could soon be looking for a new boss. The present incumbent is whispered to have had his resignation rejected twice already, but sources reckon it is only a matter of time before the marriage comes to an end. We'll keep you posted!

As always, you can contact me on +971 4 391 0889 or andrew.seymour@itp.com with all your news, views and tip-offs on the market.

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