Support lines

The Middle East channel for mobile devices can be a daunting arena given the ferocity of competition and increasing commoditisation of the hardware. So do retailers feel afloat in the turbulent seas unaccompanied or are vendors providing enough of a supporting life raft to help partners stay above water? Channel Middle East investigates.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  September 13, 2008

These individuals are tasked with participating in an HTC product sale, to provide feedback, offer technical training and refreshers where needed. In the event that a salesman is under-skilled in any way, they will be plucked - in conjunction with the shop management - and given comprehensive personal spot training.

The company reveals that to date it has conducted close to 12 general training programmes with partners across the region and also regularly invites distributors and retailers to its office for product refreshers or general sales overhauls.

Nokia, one of the brands responsible for driving the rapid growth of the mobile devices sector in emerging markets such as the Middle East and Africa, is adamant that transparency in its dealings with the retail channel is the most important element of its partner strategy.

The money has to come from somewhere. If distributors have funding they will do it independently, but they will certainly tell us because we don’t want price variation or market duplication.

"Our product roadmaps are shared on a constant and regular basis," explained Nokia MEA's head of channels for the Lower Gulf, Hayssam Yassine. Nokia also claims that one of the most important investments it has made into the retail theatre is the development of "experiential zones", which introduce the end-user to the company's products in a tactile fashion.

Microsoft, which develops the Windows Mobile operating system for PDA and smart phones, says it is reliant on OEM partners such as HTC and Samsung to carry out a strong proportion of the support and training for the retail channel.

Tolga Altinordu, OEM director at Microsoft Gulf, says the strongest input that the software vendor has with regards to driving sales and aiding the retail channel is the promotion of the product in the Middle East end-user base.

"Our role is more to create the demand and the awareness by working with our partners and their channel," asserted Altinordu. "Our value is to evangelise the connected Windows experience."

Microsoft admits that business buyers represent the largest contingent of consumers and the retail channel should approach them accordingly. "The larger proportion of sales are in the business market, but this is still bought through the consumer business. It is not a case of businesses buying in bulk," said Altinordu.

Although vendors believe they are doing a good job of transferring their messages through the channel, some commentators believe retailers are more concerned with volume - regardless of how much vendors protest that one precipitates the other.

"There is a very shallow aspect of retailer and vendor relations," said Jonathan Ans, director of sales MEA and CIS at mobile devices distribution giant Brightpoint. "When you look at Windows Mobile, or even just Microsoft, less than 5% of customers actually know or understand the functionality of MS Windows or Office."

Ans feels that although vendors are focused on brand promotion, their attempts to educate the end-user through the channel is only happening with varying levels of success.

The work of the distribution channel and the extent to which vendors rely on them to facilitate almost all of their promotions and retail partner initiatives must not be overlooked.

"Effectively we are the value chain for them," said Ans. "And if they don't get that right then no matter how good the product is your brand equity will suffer if it is not on the shelf and you are not getting logistics right."

HTC acknowledges the role that the distribution channel has to play in the development of retail incentives and initiatives. Vardhan admits that a great deal of the funding for sales initiatives comes out of the distributor's pocket.

"The money has to come from somewhere. If distributors have funding they will do it independently, but they will certainly tell us because we don't want price variation or market duplication."

Even though he is uncertain about whether the Middle East market is fully appreciative of the level of sophistication of some of the more advance feature-heavy mobile devices, Ans at Brightpoint believes the way forward for the future of the business is to drive understanding.

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