Ready, steady,…go channel! Part 1

June 18, 2008

Can you tick all the boxes before jumping into the channel?


In the last 10 years, waning ICT growth in the enterprise segment has forced most actors to re-examine their routes to market in order to make sure their products and services are available where their prospective customers expect to find Preparing to swim the Channel...them and where the real growth is. Without necessarily taking a “bottom-up” approach, the whole ICT industry has come to the conclusion that it would only be able to access certain segments via an indirect channel. This is because average size companies are buying a lot of ICT products and services but they rely on their channel partners to act as an outsourced ICT department. Certain major IT manufacturers have recently made their “coming out”, confirming a strategy they weren’t necessarily admitting to in the recent past.


This short series is built from experience and attempts to list a number of areas you need to have thought about before you jump into the channel.


Part 1: Do you have a strategy?

For a start-up business, this is a founding decision and you will be building your whole business model on your route to market strategy. But if you are already selling direct, you need to make sure this fundamental move is not going to unbalance your whole business, resulting in a potential collapse of your overall sales and often causing frustration within your own organisation and amongst your newfound partners and existing customers.


  • Why are you making this move?
    • Can you give your prospective partners a good reason for the change?
    • Does everyone in the company understand the reasons?
  • What is your vision?
    • Your new partners will be reassured to see that you actually have one
    • Working with partners requires long term investments on both sides
    • If your potential partners don’t trust you they won’t play


Coming soon: What is your plan? 

Will Dell’s channel strategy be successful…who gets the last laugh?

February 13, 2008

laughing-hyena.gifThe industry is all excited about Dell’s announced channel strategy. People are questioning whether its a shrewed move…well I think it is!

The fascinating thing as that people missed the signs two years ago. Check this out the article referred to is only 18 months old and the journalist was saying that the attempt was doomed, that Dell would never formalize a channel strategy  because it “owns the customer“.

I believe Dell are right and they will succeed, simply because they recognise that they can’t own all the customers. This is great news for the ICT Channel since it confirms in no uncertain terms that Vendors cannot access certain categories of customers without partnering with the Reseller community. How many predictions have we seen in the last ten years, announcing the end of the Channel, the end of the Distributor, and so on…in fact, what we are seeing is a real coming of age of our industry.

As technologies converge, the Channel is diverging. Today, channel partners have a much more precise understanding of their own business and are more selective when it comes to deciding what products and services they will provide to their customers. The Vendor is now just a supplier amongst others and if his products don’t meet the channel’s customers’ expectations, they will look for something else.

The added value provided by the channel is becoming increasingly important to certain categories of End Users who see their channel partner as an outsourced IT department and this is where Dell needs the channel. And guess what: that market segment is where all the growth is for the years to come.

I happen to know that Dell have done their homework, making sure there will be no conflict between a nascent channel and their existing sales organization. Agreed, they will be circumventing the Distributor, offering a full financing scheme directly to their channel partners, enabling the partners to absorb the complex payment terms imposed by customers in certain countries such as France, Italy, etc…

Dell have a solid range of products and a solid reputation they have built despite the initial criticism. They also have a solid determination: those of you that have been around long enough will remember…everybody laughed when Dell appeared and said they would sell direct!

As the French say: “Rira bien qui rira le dernier!” (The last one to laugh will really laugh)

Why does the Channel think Vendors don’t care?

February 1, 2008

“Everything is just fine!”I just got back from moderating two interesting workshops at DISTREE XXL 2008 in Barcelona, an event where vendors from around the world get to meet distributors from 80 countries.

One of the workshops I ran was a discussion about how an increasing number of vendors, both manfacturers and software vendors are trying to convince their channel partners to sell Services as a Product. As usual, one of the participants was particularly outspoken and had strong opinions on everything, smothering the group with his views. In particular, he seemed convinced that the software publisher (whose name I will withold) represented by a young lady who had flown all the way from the northwest of the USA (get the clue?…) absolutely didn’t care about the channel.

It so happens the reason a significant number of representatives of this vendor were present was precisely to have discussions with as many channel partners as possible to find out how they should develop new Services sold WITH and THROUGH the Channel.

For having spent many years managing Channel operations with major vendors (and many additional years advising vendors on how they can better work with their partners), I know only too well that vendors don’t hate the channel! On the contrary, they seek their feedback, their partnership (and for once, that word really qualifies) to grow business in a mutually beneficial manner.

Pushing Vendors away results in the vendors having to find new solutions and if your Channel doesn’t want to work with you, there aren’t that many other solutions to sell your products to the end user than to go direct or build a new Channel.

At a time when large companies are looking at the financial world melt away like an iceberg (remember…90% is not visible), when emerging markets and countries are going to need to bail us out as we start sinking, vendor survival is becoming increasingly dependant on the Small and Medium Businesses of the world. SME and “Mid Market” businesses rely on their IT Partners, namely the Channel who are in this case their outsourced IT department. Vendors know this only too well and when they tell the Channel they want to work with them, the Channel should listen and not push them away.

Of course, there are clumsy vendors, of course there are stupid territory account managers, but it is too easy and too dangerous to blame a vendor with trying to cheat the channel. Exactly like with the world economy, we are all in the same boat and the channel should not ignore the vendors just because they are big…we all need each other, its called a symbiosis.

Should Carlsberg get a prize for innovative marketing?

December 3, 2007


Carlsberg seem to be specializing in alternative marketing. Last August, they littered the streets of London with £5,000 worth of £10 and £20 banknotes with a sticker on them saying “Carlsberg don’t do litter. But if they did it would probably be the best litter in the world“. Click here to check it out!

  • Cost: 400 green stickers, someone to chuck bank notes on the pavement and £5,000 worth of banknotes.
  • Result: certainly hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) talking about Carlsberg.

The other day, I received a “Gift” from a Facebook pal: it was a picture of a bottle of Carlsberg. Of course, it was posted to my Funwall, and everyone found it great fun and the bottle certainly started circulating at hyper-speed round the Facebook-world.

  • Cost: you name it! one photo, 10 minutes on Photoshop to turn it into just the bottle, AND THAT’S ALL. We all did the rest!
  • Result: …how many people have a Facebook account these days?

Clever!…sounds like beer makes you smarter!

USB Wine…a revolutionary wine distribution system ;-D)

November 30, 2007

usb-wine.jpgJust found this on the web: USB Wine

USB Wine, download wine straight from the vineyards !
Uploaded by zs2creative

The concept is brilliant, not sure it will work on my laptop because of the limited volume, but I might still be able to download half bottles. I wonder whether this concept could be applied to other products such as paint, toner, maybe even diesel oil or gas?

Try it, you’ll like it, sorry the video is in French, but then, who else could have designed a USB Wine tap! in fact, the story behind the video is real: if you ask to test a download, you will be taken to the Web site of n Internet Wine Boutique…

Smart eh…!

Is the I.T. channel suffering from the E.T. syndrome?

November 29, 2007

human-touch.jpg For many years (ever since I saw the film E.T.) I have believed that distance makes people more aware of what is going on back “home”.

As a Reseller (some say Partner), when you are exposed to the daily difficulties and dangers of life in the “Field”, trying to sell the right solution to your customer, you quickly become painfully aware of what your favorite Vendors should be doing to make you want to sell more of their products.

The frustrating part is that although you have often spent time and energy explaining these simple things to the Vendor’s Channel management team, you are either faced with empathy (and therefore frustration because your contacts cannot help you due to the bureaucratic nature of today’s global channel programmes) or a clear lack of understanding of what seems so simple to you.

As Channel Consultants, we then get hired to tell our Clients what they have already been told by their Partners:

  • Channel Partners don’t all want Leads if they’re not qualified – but some do
  • They don’t all want rebates (as opposed to upfront discount) but some do
  • They don’t all want the Vendor to get involved with their customers – but some do
  • They don’t all want to be able to service the Vendor’s products – but some do
  • They don’t all want online sales training that takes their sales people off the road for 15 hours per month – but some do
  • …etc…
  • …etc…

Do you get the picture? Abraham Maslow, a famous motivational theorist once commented: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.” We’ve all heard that one before…

So where did I get this E.T. thing from? Very simple: Vendor’s “Partners” often feel like E.T.: they feel they have been abandoned out in the field, they have been trying to phone home but just can’t get through to someone who will hear them out.

These days, any FMCG Marketing company is capable of sending a personalized direct mail piece to each one of 25,000 households in a database but our Channel Marketing organizations still seem to be trying to cram square channel pegs into round channel program holes, relentlessly applying Henry Ford’s famous “…you can have the Ford T in any color as long as its black…”

Instead of using the phenomenal power and flexibility provided by the hardware and software designed by our own industry, we are regressing, taking people out of the field to reduce costs, thus eliminating the only flexible stage of our relationship with our Channel Partners.

So is everybody doing it wrong? Thankfully not, but when you start probing your partners about who does it right, the same names always come up. And what they are doing is pretty basic: the empower the people who listen to what the Channel wants and they design sufficiently flexible programs and processes to delight more Channel Partners who can pick and choose what they like.


If your processes suck, blame the customer…or how to upset a loyal customer…before finally addressing the situation in a very professional way (amended 19th July 2007)

June 29, 2007

badday.jpgIn the last three years, I have probably rented 40 cars per year from Hertz and therefore belong to the Gold “President’s Circle” (it did make a difference when I got called by one of their their European Customer Services Team Leaders).

A few months ago, upon returning a rental car, I was blamed by the Hertz employee for having tried to hide damage to the front bumper by painting it over with a blue (remember this colour, it comes back later) felt pen. I was allowed nastly looks, cynical mumblings and was absolutely outraged since not only would I never have envisaged doing something like that but I also had no responsibility in the said damage. I got stung for 148.15 Pounds Sterling to repair and repaint a scratch I had absolutely nothing to do with.

This week like many others, I picked up a car from Hertz at an airport station. I got the keys, was told the car had been checked and had no damage and scrambled to where it was parked. The globally-warmed Euro-tropical rain was pouring as usual and I tried to inspect the car for scratches but how do you see anything on a black car when it is raining!

After driving 180 miles I parked the car (still raining) and checked into my hotel. The morning weather was no better and I drove to my appointment. Somehow, the sun came out during the morning and when I got back to the car at 2.00 PM, I noticed what looked like a smudge above one of the headlights. It was tacky and seemed to partly cover some very fine scratches (did somebody use a ScotchBrite on the coachwork?). I immediately called the Hertz station to report the problem and was given the “Party Line”: “Sir, you have until 12 noon to report damage…it is now 2pm, you are too late, I cannot record this damage; you will have to work it out when you return the car”. I explained the whole weather story but it simply felt like hitting a brick wall. The lady finally asked me whether I actually wanted to report something and although I told her I thought Hertz might then use that information to blame me, I did report the scratch

When I returned the car, the guy asked me a lot of questions: was it a long term rental, did I have a SatNav, etc…I realised afterwards that this was because he had a note on his handheld terminal but didn’t know what the note was about. He checked the car, didn’t see the smear and scratches and asked me to go to the station to get my receipt. At the counter, I was told that there was a note that I had reported a scratch but that since the car had just been checked it seemed OK.

That car was made available to me with an unreported scratch and has probably already been rented again by a new unsuspecting customer who is at risk of being blamed for something he has nothing to do with. Ultimately, some poor guy will get caught and will pay for the repairs. Hertz won’t…now to my point about weak processes and policies:

At Heathrow, Hertz’s main competitor (they try harder) has a floodlit and sheltered area at the car park exit, where a person inspects the car with you, signs the manifest with you and only then opens the barrier. There can be no argument. I suggested this in my first letter but probably wasted the ink, paper and stamp.

Another suggestion I made was to impact the employees when a customer reports damage they missed. There could be a bonus for the guy who never misses a dent or a scratch.

But that would be too simple, it would mean they couldn’t blame the customer and get him to pay for the repair. How many times do you think it will take someone before they move to the people who try harder?

Great Customer Service is the ONLY differentiator when you are in the services business. That means you should at least try not to question the good faith of your most loyal customers. They are your evangelists, your influencers…don’t screw with them, or they’ll vote with their feet and tell the world about it.

19th July 2007:

hearts.jpgWell…a few days ago, Hertz Europe contacted me because they had seen this Blog. I had a very constructive conversation with the lady who called me and I explained that I didn’t hate Hertz (I really do find they generally offer great service at a good price) but since my day job is about enhancing customer experience and relationships through better processes, it was evident to me that there was definitely something rotten in the Kingdom of Hertz (by the way, Hertz means Heart in German and I felt rather like Alice in Wonderland saying the roses weren’t red-or was it blue– when they were being painted to please the Queen of Hertz…sorry…Hearts!!!).

To cut a long story short, I provided the lady with as much information as I could and we found that the situation was even more complex than I had assumed. She called me today to say that she had requested a refund and apologized profusely for the way things had been handled.

monkey-looks-up.jpgI promised I would amend the above post to reflect the full story and wished her good luck in improving what is (was?) clearly a weak link in Hertz’s generally outstanding organisation.

I can only say that I am impatient to see the changes Hertz will make to the whole damage assessment process and I know they will find that whatever investments they make will result in a strongly improved customer experience and more profitable business.

Janice, Hertz Europe can thank you for handling this situation extremely well. Lets both hope that your findings result in the necessary improvements.