What's in a name?
It may be time to reconsider some channel terminology
Blogs | 18 Jul 2012 :
Who are you? No, really, I'm interested. See, if we'd been having this conversation around 20 years ago or so, I think you might describe yourself as a "dealer". A few years after that, you'd probably call yourself a "reseller". Today, well who knows? Maybe you're still a reseller but the odds are you're more likely to be an IT consultant, or a value added reseller (VAR), or a solution provider. Maybe you're a managed services provider? Possibly you're all of them.
The reason I ask is that according to a recent survey by MicroScope magazine in the UK only 5% of respondents were happy to still call themselves "resellers". Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wow, that many!" According to the survey, a quarter were happier describing themselves with the term IT consultant, followed by VARs/total solution providers and managed services providers.
I can understand why people in the channel might be happier to give themselves a new name. Reseller is getting a bit long in the tooth after all and probably doesn't do full justice to what channel companies do for their customers-and it smacks too much of hardware and doesn't really give any indication of the software and services aspect of a reseller's job.
Still, at heart, it is a fair summary of what a lot of channel companies do. Many of them resell someone else's technology, be it hardware or software. Quite a few of them also resell someone else's services. And now we're heading for the cloud, there are going to be quite a few reselling someone else's infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) or software as a service (SaaS), or all three.
Just what channel companies should call themselves should probably be determined by the degree to which they take on the design, installation, integration, implementation, support and services around the technologies they resell. For example, to me IT consultant suggests someone who comes in and helps me decide what's the best IT solution or approach for my company and then either assists me to implement it or just goes away and leaves me to do it or get someone else to.
A total solution provider is, to my mind, a company that can sell me the IT hardware, software and services my company requires. Now, that total solution provider is also a reseller of hardware and software (and possibly services), so it could just as easily, in many instances, be called a total solution reseller but it wouldn't sound quite as impressive.
The most confusing one is VAR because it's very difficult to agree just what constitutes "value added" in this industry. What, exactly, entitles a reseller to elevate itself to the status of VAR?
All this confusion has a knock on effect when it comes to vendor accreditations. What names should they give to their channel accreditation programmes? Should vendors get rid of the term "reseller"? How can a vendor define VAR so that the customer understands the level of expertise the partner has on its products? And will that definition be common to all vendors? If not, how will customers know if their chosen total solution provider has the requisite level of expertise on all the constituent parts of the "total solution" (hardware, software and services) to be able to provide a consistent service across the whole solution stack?
This is nothing new, of course, because resellers have typically made a virtue of their ability to sell a solution rather than a single vendor's products. Indeed, vendors too have often pointed to a reseller's ability to bring together different technologies into a single solution as one of the biggest benefits channel partners bring to the table.
I guess what I'm getting at is it can be hard to deliver consistency of experience and service in the IT supply chain when the roles and definitions applied to the channel partners keep altering. It's bad enough that the technology and the buzzwords keep changing and the hype leaps from one thing to the next relentlessly but is it too much for customers to ask for some stability and consistency in the foundations of the supply chain that underpin them?
In other words, however confusing the technology may appear and however opaque the terminology the industry might employ to describe it and how it works, surely channel partners should aim for a level of simplicity when it comes to describing what it is they do to potential customers?