Vendor Programs: Do Resellers Really Give a Damn Anymore?

In my last post, we talked about the difference between evangelists and missionaries, and how the more innovative your product or solution, the more you need missionaries. The idea here is that missionaries do their job not for glory or riches, or even notoriety, but for the belief in the value of the mission itself to those being “converted.” As I said before, the missionary is fearless – he burns with “missionary zeal”. To bring something to market that potential customers (the unconverted) don’t even know can help them, takes that kind of fearlessness – and not just from the sales team, but from everyone in the company. In Startupland, everyone is in sales, every day.

One major challenge young companies have is how to get your channel partners to buy-in to the mission. After all, your resellers are going to represent you to the customer and if they don’t believe, you may never even have a chance to convert that prospect.

Scale Computing’s HC3 is this kind of innovation – a product purpose-built to be the fully virtualized “data center-in-a-box” for small and midsized companies. All the server, storage and virtualization infrastructure they will need is integrated. Designed and built by a team that has “been there and done that,” all of our founders have come from IT shops of small or midsized companies.

So, what does it take to build faith with those reseller partners to take such a product to their customers?

I recently went on a road tour to our top partners in North America and in the UK. Before we built our new program to support partners selling HC3, I wanted to know exactly what they cared about from their vendors – and if they cared at all.

TODAY’S RESELLER

The VAR or System Integrator of today is the polar opposite of what we had in the industry just a business generation ago. Those resellers back in the day were extensions of the manufacturer’s sales force. They took complex systems, usually from only one major hardware vendor, and sold them together with some specialized software, usually in one particular vertical market. Wow – heaven for the vendor, ‘eh?

Times have changed. Today’s reseller MUST be the advocate of the customer first. His job is to bring innovative technical solutions and services to the guy that has a business problem. He really can’t be the extension of the vendor if he is to be there for the end-user first. And, we as vendors should not want him to be there for us first – its counter-intuitive. We need to earn our place with the reseller and end-user EVERY day.

SO WHAT DO RESELLERS CARE ABOUT?

I asked about the usual: MDF, co-op funds, joint programs (like “lunch-and-learns”), etc. I was surprised that soft dollars were not on the list for ANY of our top partners.

Based on our discussions, here are the top 3 things that resellers care about, period:

1. Make great products: products that are solving fundamental problems with innovative technology.
2. Knowledge transfer: make me smarter, give me the tips and tricks that the vendor support and SE teams know, give me the technical “deep dive” stuff.
3. Bring me opportunities: not crappy bingo leads or unqualified raw names, but stuff the vendor has qualified. That takes an investment by the vendor and an inside sales team that can take prospects from curiosity to interest to demand. Resellers will do a lot of the lifting here, but vendors have to offer the quid pro quo.

It goes without saying that vendors have to uphold the reseller’s margin structure and provide an opportunity for the reseller to offer services. These are table stakes. And, a lot of resellers want to do joint marketing such as regional shows, technical lunches, email campaigns, etc. Vendors need to offer these, as well.

But in building a program that will provide the reseller and vendor with the basis for “shared faith” in the success of bringing new, innovative products to market, the top three items above stand. So vendors, make great stuff, be open with your “inside knowledge,” and invest in demand generation – your reseller partners will return your investment with the same fearlessness you need to have to get your products launched successfully.

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