Rethinking channel partner programs in 2019 and beyond

As IT vendors struggle to modernize their channel partner programs, partner firms of all types should be actively weighing in.

That’s according to speakers at CompTIA Inc.’s ChannelCon conference, held in Las Vegas from Aug. 5 to 7. In a session led by Thom DeVos, vice president of client services at channel strategy consultancy JS Group, and Heather Murray, vice president of security solutions at distributor Tech Data Corp., it was made clear that traditional partner programs can’t cut it anymore. The channel ecosystem has become more complex and sophisticated than ever before, rendering conventional programs defunct. Vendors increasingly realize this, but few know how to modernize their partnering approach.

“What we are seeing is this big evolution where vendors are coming to us saying, ‘We know we need change. … What do we do?’ ” DeVos said.

He said channel partner programs must be flexible enough to accommodate modern buying and selling behaviors. That might mean pivoting from the revenue goals that programs conventionally focus on. “The old programs … are not going to work, because as everything goes to ‘as a service,’ ” conventional revenue goals stop making sense for partners.

Modern partner programs may also have to drop or deemphasize traditional partner incentives, including sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) and rebates. Murray said partners are more interested in resources such as demand generation.

“I hear it all the time from partners: ‘SPIFs are too hard to manage. Don’t give me SPIFs. Let’s figure out a way you can invest in my company, ‘ Murray said.

She encouraged channel firms to tell their vendors what is and isn’t working for them. “The partners are the ones that know what they need, and they should … speak up. … For the small business, the medium[-sized] business, the MSPs [managed service providers], the MSSPs [managed security service providers], there are different models and there are different needs, and without your voice being heard, our vendors aren’t going to make the changes needed.”

Devos agreed, saying that partners should realize that they are in the power position in their vendor relationships. He said partners should take a hard look at their line cards and determine which vendors truly provide “the opportunity to better serve my customers.” Partners should also think long-term about their vendors’ strategies and areas they are investing in for growth. “Take this time to … strengthen or terminate the relationship. … Use that power position, because it is only going to make the ecosystem better as a whole,” he said.

Once vendors take into account the needs of different partner types, they can develop a partner program framework that serves each channel segment uniquely, Murray noted.

“If you are the vendor, you have to build [a partner program] that works for everybody. But you really don’t. You don’t have to. You can build out different types of programs that will work for pockets of partners … and [help] enable them,” she said.

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