How many partners is just enough?

Vendors and partners can struggle to agree on channel numbers, says Billy MacInnes
(Image: Stockfresh)

21 July 2021

How many partners is enough? How many partners is too many?

These are questions that vendors are often confronted with as they grow their partner ecosystems. Like Goldilocks, they often find themselves struggling to find the right balance between too few partners, too many and just enough.

The added complication is that channel partners often have their own answer to those questions and their answer depends on what type of channel partner they are.




For example, if you’re a high volume type partner, it doesn’t really matter that much how many sellers there are because you can probably outsell and out-stock most of them – and your customers know what they want from you.

But if you’re a specialist that has invested a lot of time and money in building the skills and expertise to add real value to the products you stock, you’re not going to be very happy if the vendor has loads of people just selling its products willy-nilly. That just devalues your investment.

So even if the vendor thinks it has arrived at the happy circumstance of “just enough”, there will be partners thinking “it’s too many” and those still hoping to take on the product will be thinking “it’s too little”.

There are points in the process where some partners will drop out because they don’t think their engagement with the vendor is worth it anymore. That may well happen at a time when the vendor still wants to keep those partners onboard because it doesn’t want to tip the balance too much away from specialists.

It can all get quite complicated.

There is also the fact that while having a limited number of partners might be great for the channel companies themselves, it’s potentially holding the vendor back from fulfilling its potential and taking it to the next level. In the long run, it could be lethal to the vendor’s future.

So striking the right balance can be tricky, especially when the different parties involved don’t necessarily agree on where that balance is.

The reason I raise these points is because Microsoft recently revealed it has 400,000 partners selling its products and services worldwide. As if that figure wasn’t staggering enough, the vendor’s global channel chief, Rodney Clark, added it is being approached by several hundred partners every day eager to sign up.

“By the end of this year, we will be at a half a million partners that are part of the Microsoft Partner Network,” he stated. Which made me wonder, “when will it reach just enough”?

No wonder Clark was keen to stress that “my push now to my team and to our company is not only to be the most populous partner programme by the numbers, but to provide you the most effective digital path in the industry”.

He too is well aware that a balance needs to be struck. The big issue is making sure that the “effective digital path” is big enough to fit everyone that Microsoft wants to sell its products. And effective enough to keep them all happy.

“It’s got to be easy, and it has to allow you to grow and accelerate your business to make this the most effective digital engine in the ecosystem,” Clark said.

Spoiler alert: it’s never that easy.

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