I spend much of the week speaking with suppliers about their solutions, and as you can imagine in almost every conversation the subject of the channel comes up. I’m surprised how little manufacturers understand about the channel and how to properly leverage the channel. So the first question is: Are you leverageable? There are two sides to this equation: One side is how suppliers create an environment that allows you to be leveraged. That’ll be the subject of a later entry. Today, let’s focus on the part you can control: your organization. So what does being leverageable mean? It means that the supplier doesn’t have to hire additional sales and engineering people since it can count on you to carry that ball for them.
Being leverageable does not necessarily mean that you will go out and prospect for the supplier. Candidly, I think this is their job; they have the name brand, they have the marketing budget and they have the responsibility to generate the initial interest in the solution. Generating interest doesn’t require a large staff; it requires the properly focused use of marketing dollars. The people-intensive part of the process happens after the initial interest is captured, and that’s where the channel comes in.
Once given the opportunity, it’s your responsibility to drive the project from the initial sales call to implementation and support, updating the supplier as the process progresses. Part of your responsibility is to learn the solution from a sales perspective and of course from an engineering perspective. You need to have the in-house talent to perform these functions. There also may be logistical requirements like a lab to do training and demos.
This will also mean commitment on your part. You will need to select one of your partners as the “go to” vendor in each area that you’re involved in, and you’ll need to define when you will and won’t sell their products. This is especially important when suppliers carry solutions for several product categories. As a result, you may have a situation where customers want product X but you’ve standardized on product Y because you feel it is better technically and you have a business relationship with the vendor. You’ll have to be able to convince the customer that your solution is better — or walk away from the project.
What supplier wants this kind of relationship? Don’t they all want complete control? Ironically, there are hundreds, yes hundreds, of suppliers that need a channel that can perform this exact function but only a very few who use this strategy or even know it potentially exists.
But how do we get more suppliers on board? Do your part. Get better from a sales and engineering perspective and have your executive teams start demanding this kind of engagement model. If they or the suppliers give you a funny look, send them my way.
George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation’s largest storage integrators.