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The benefits to tech vendors of marketing products and services through the IT channel are numerous and well-documented: a broader reach in the market, faster access to new geographies and customer bases, and local support for customers. Channel partners as well can benefit when their vendors better understand their businesses and how they can work together toward mutual success.
Yet mastering the channel ecosystem is neither guaranteed nor easy. There are many aspects to consider and steps along the way that can lead to improvements or hinder relationships. Channel partners can help by pointing their vendors toward resources and tools to assist in their planning.
One such resource is the Channel Readiness Assessment tool developed by CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council. The online assessment was designed to help tech vendors better understand where they are relative to successful channel programs, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what actionable steps they can take to improve their partner initiatives.
The council, comprised of industry leaders from all aspects of the supply chain (including tech vendors, distributors and partners), developed the assessment upon consensus that, frankly, it was much needed in the market. Many tech vendors are distant or disengaged from their partners, according to Juan Fernandez, vice president of managed IT services at ImageNet Consulting and council co-chair. "They don't want to focus on what I want to talk about -- customer experience as a service. There needs to be true go-to-market strategies and better interaction between vendors and their channels. It needs to be more of a partnership," Fernandez said. "This allows us to bridge the gap of what's important to partners, and to the channel. It really aligns to what the modern partner is looking for. That's where a lot of vendors and distributors are lacking."
Tech vendors often view partners as a sales engine as opposed to a partner, according to Fernandez. "Too many vendors say, 'Here's what we're looking for, can we settle on what will help us grow our business and if you could go along with that it would be great.' That's not the right way."
Kim Cesena, global director of channel marketing at Intermedia, and council vice chair, said it's a challenge for many large enterprise vendors who consider themselves "channel first" or "partner first" to curb old habits of favoring their direct selling efforts.
"Many different departments are more comfortable and understand direct-to-customer tactics first. And the channel teams within a vendor organization don't provide enough education to the rest of the company for everyone to understand the channel.Hence, product and services are created with the direct customer in mind first, not the channel," she said.
The assessment will help vendors measure where their most pressing channel challenges lie, and offer guidance on how to remedy the problem, including how to instill the value of the channel across the entire organization.
"Many don't understand the time and initial investment, nor the ongoing relationships one must have in the channel. There is a no start/stop. It takes time to build the channel and see results," Cesena said.
The assessment is separated into five sections: strategic planning, strategic alignment, financial and resourcing, enablement and operations. Each is important to determine a vendor's channel readiness and requires full business planning and execution, according to Jason Bystrak, vice president of D&H Distributing's cloud business unit and co-chair of the council.
"These phases should be addressed in any business -- direct or channel. Virtually every vendor can take this advice and best practices to improve channel effectiveness, no matter what their level of channel maturity," Bystrak said.
After completing the assessment, users receive a score for each section but also advice and best practices that can be implemented to improve channel effectiveness.
"This was created by a large group representing vendors, distributors and other various types of channel partners. A great deal of expertise and experience is included in this assessment," Bystrak said. "We hope that tech vendors will consider and implement these ideas. We developed this assessment not as a way to put up barriers. Just opposite -- it really is a bridge to success," Bystrak said.