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Opinion

The evolution of the channel partner ecosystem

And how vendors can help partners get to grips with solution selling

Kid sat at desk coding

Cloud is growing very fast – IDC estimates it’ll be worth $70bn globally by the end of the year.

This is a great opportunity for resellers, but they can’t simply say “buy some cloud, how many do you want?” Most midmarket enterprise customers today are in the market for workload-specific solutions and the process is no longer simply transactional. It’s not just about technically savvy DevOps people building their own clouds, its various departments needing solutions without necessarily knowing all the technical things about a cloud solution. This knowledge gap has caused a challenge for many sellers in the channel.

Enabling partners to work closely with vendor sales teams seems like a common sense approach, but does it go far enough?

Many partners are now living on the same platform as the vendor. This includes system integrator (SI) partners, white-label resellers (that may brand as their own cloud) and ecosystem partners (third-party vendors already offering web-services to developer and other companies that integrate with the platform). This could also include software vendors across three levels: those that simply wish to sell to customers, those that provide more management services and, at the top level, those that partner specifically on dedicated managed services.

If we look at the varying partners, channels and associated goals of an ecosystem, we need to recognise that each type has radically varying needs for training, support and involvement in order to form truly beneficial relationships.

Into this mix comes new technology and billing models, and suddenly we’re seeing the need for tailored channel programmes that match the partner’s requirements and enable them to deliver real value to their customers.

Take partners that are primarily focused on application development. They do not necessarily deeply understand what vendors do at the infrastructure level because their job is to sell the value of the end-to-end solution. Therefore, there is a need to educate them on the sometimes subtle, but fundamental, aspects of what vendors do, and ultimately, how the end-to-end solution will be better off because of it. This necessitates on-going engagement to help the partners drive the opportunity right from the very beginning. It requires solution engineering, sales, bids, pricing and commercial resources. Many large partners are never going to need anything less than this level of support.

There are also resellers that want to set themselves up as cloud vendors. The education element is then about ensuring they have true, hands-on, technical knowledge of the product and are confident to go out on their own. To get resellers to this stage involves thorough on-boarding and ensuring that the partners know exactly what they’re talking about in order to truly convey the value.

Some vendors have the view that partner channels are there simply to reduce the cost of sale, which is a very short-term view that’s likely to result in disaster. The reality is very different. Vendors have to be willing and able to commit resources to educating and training channel partners in order to make sure that they know how and when to sell and deliver solutions that meet or exceed their clients’ objectives.

Ralph Varcoe is regional sales director for channels and alliances in EMEA at CenturyLink

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