Gaining channel mileage

In many respects vendor partner programmes have come to gain the same sort of reputation as the bog standard air mile schemes that every half-decent airline offers its customers the moment they make a booking. They are taken for granted by those who belong to them, there's very little to differentiate one from the other and apart from the conventional method of rewarding volume - or miles travelled in the case of the airlines - they usually fall considerably short of delivering any material benefits.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  December 8, 2007

In many respects vendor partner programmes have come to gain the same sort of reputation as the bog standard air mile schemes that every half-decent airline offers its customers the moment they make a booking. They are taken for granted by those who belong to them, there's very little to differentiate one from the other and apart from the conventional method of rewarding volume - or miles travelled in the case of the airlines - they usually fall considerably short of delivering any material benefits.

Yet although routinely lacking in inventiveness, they still represent a significant component in the relationship between what is essentially supplier and customer. However, while air travellers will always need to fly from A to B regardless of what offer the airline has at any given time, resellers are free to pursue a much wider selection of options when it comes to who they align with. Vendor partner programmes consequently wield a lavish degree of influence over what happens in the market even if it may not be immediately obvious.

Channel Middle East has been a fierce critic of the way some vendors have executed channel programmes in the region, largely because the programmes in question have been a complete rip-off of European or US schemes with no local focus. It's acceptable to replicate a framework that may be successfully deployed to manage partners elsewhere, but vendors that fail to make necessary local modifications to the content are missing a trick.

The good news for channel partners in the region is that the tide seems to be turning. If the actions of the vendor community as a whole this year are anything to judge by, then an increasing emphasis continues to be put on the value that these programmes tangibly deliver. Manufacturers that haven't already done so are beginning to pump more resources into equipping business partners with the tools they need to be competitive.

It is quite clear now that the attention has shifted from merely launching a programme in the Middle East to actually coming up with purposeful content with a practical use. It's one thing for vendors to boast that 100 resellers have signed up to their latest initiative, but unless the partners are granted access to resources that enhances their market prospects and makes their life easier then the number of recruits are irrelevant.

The bar continues to be raised as well. Vendors providing downloadable product catalogues, sales promotions and a list of phone numbers to call for support barely stand out as anything more than the norm. Forward-thinking vendors are going way beyond that by developing content-rich programmes and portals that serve as one-stop shops for reseller assistance. Several of the smarter ones are focused on building the brand of these programmes so that, consciously or not, they become seen as a product in their own right in the eyes of the channel.

Such schemes and portals are invariably rich in the product and market information they offer as well the marketing toolkits, training regimes and sales guides they provide. And more often than not they act as an interface for the reseller to communicate directly with the vendors on individual issues such as deal registration and special project discounts.

If you haven't already seen it, make sure you check out the current issue of Channel Middle East, which contains a special handy-sized guide to the channel programmes operated by more than 25 vendors in the infrastructure, business software, components, networking and printing sectors.

What stands out from our research is how advanced and comprehensive these schemes are becoming. They naturally ask more from the resellers in return, but so long as they are delivering the tools that the channel requires to obtain knowledge and win customers then it's only to be expected. Without doubt, the light has gone on at the regional offices of several vendors this year and the result has been the introduction of more dedicated resources for local resellers. AMD, for instance, successfully launched a partner portal tailored specifically to the Middle East just recently.

Not everybody is eager to share the fruits of their labour, however. Notebook and motherboard vendor Asus somewhat bizarrely refused to discuss the contents of its partner programme with us when we called their Dubai office, insisting it was a matter for them and their partners that they were unwilling to publicise.

Quite how they expect prospective partners to get excited about what they have to offer if they don't want to promote it is anyone's guess. Still, it's fair to say that Asus remains very much in the minority - every other vendor that operates a partner programme worth talking about is more than happy to discuss it aloud rather than shroud it in mystery. Heck, even Dell has been commenting publicly on the launch of a channel programme in the US this week and those are words that many industry veterans thought they'd never read!

Channel partner programmes are essential to the development of the regional IT channel and must be structured to ensure resellers aren't restricted from accessing the kind of tailored information that partners based in other markets take for granted. Pardon the air travel reference again, but I have no doubt that vendors which take the local execution of their schemes seriously will soon find they are flying higher than their rivals in the market.

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