The best of frenemies
My disappointment at not being able to attend the Canalys Channels Forum this year was tempered somewhat by reports that it had been lashing in Barcelona for a lot of the event. Reading through the stories that emerged from the forum, my attention was drawn by comments from Canalys president and CEO Steve Brazier in his keynote concerning growing tensions between vendors and channel partners.
The event has a reputation as a forum for partners and vendors to rub shoulders with each other and have conversations away from the more formal and restricted setting of a vendor partner conference.
But Brazier suggested that those conversations would have a markedly different tone this year and could be less amicable than usual. He argued that vendors were ramping up the pressure on partners to help grow their business and demanding more loyalty in the process. “We are expecting to see a few more arguments between resellers and vendors and there is tension,” he told attendees. “It’s not so collegiate anymore.”
The reason for the friction? “The vendors have been struggling for growth, many of them, and they are going to push you to deliver more growth,” he said.
Now, I’m not going to argue with Brazier that vendors are likely to be pushing partners to deliver more growth. That’s pretty much the entire rationale for taking partners on in the first place. Of course, if they’re doing this against a backdrop where they are struggling to achieve that growth, I can see how this could create some discord between vendor and partner.
Vendors can’t rely on partners to compensate for growth that they’re struggling to achieve themselves but it’s still possible, in this type of situation, that the partner channel can provide an engine for growth the vendor doesn’t have.
As for his remarks about tension and arguments between vendors and partners, it’s probably fair to say that there will always be some friction between them, the issue is more about how much. While there’s a benefit to having a “collegiate” atmosphere between partners and vendors, it’s still healthy to have the ability to step outside the bubble, if only to be able to look at things from the customer’s perspective.
This raises another question (and source of tension): who is the channel partner a partner to, the vendor or the customer? If a vendor believes that the channel business is its partner, it’s to be expected that a major source of friction is going to be around how that partner performs in selling and supporting the vendor’s products. But it’s probably a bit unfair for the vendor that makes this distinction to expect the reseller to shoulder more of the burden when the vendor is struggling to grow.
If the channel company thinks its role is to be a technology partner to the customer, then it’s only to be expected there will be friction sometimes with suppliers and some of their conversations might get a bit sticky. If partners are doing their best for customers, their role in the growth plans or not of a particular vendor may come second to what they consider to be the best or most suitable technology for the customer.
The truth is there will always be tension in the role of partner as channel companies seek to balance the needs of customers and vendors and keep both happy. But in the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that vendors come and go and partners should remember the old maxim: The customer always comes first.