The partners’ gambit

Cagey vendors and demanding customers are forcing the channel into an impossible position, says Billy MacInnes

27 May 2021

I read an interesting story on the CRN UK website concerning the dreaded chip shortages and how they have affected supply of computers. Unlike most other news articles which have concentrated on the delay to supply caused by the dearth of semiconductors, this one focused on the unique difficulties partners face by nature of their man/woman-in-the-middle status between supplier and user.

Specifically, it looked at the problems partners face in managing customer expectations, especially when the information being given to them by manufacturers is either sketchy, non-existent or top secret.

Apple specialist Jigsaw24 sales director Tim Bodill articulated it well when he told CRN: “When you’ve got a vendor saying, ‘no you can’t tell anybody that we’ve told you that there’s going to be a supply issue’ and then you’ve got a customer on the other end of it saying ‘when can I have my installation please?’ then it’s a really difficult situation.”

In other words, rather than relying on the partner to be a conduit of information to the customer, vendors are putting them in the invidious position of “massaging the truth” or saying nothing at all.

But what price, in that situation, is there for the hard fought label of ‘trusted advisor’, if the partner merely parrots the vendor’s publicly stated position to the customer, all the time aware that it’s plainly not true? How ‘trusted’ can you be if you can’t tell your customer the truth because the vendor told you not to?

It’s understandable that the vendor would prefer some discretion when seeking to relay what’s really going on to a channel partner but there have to be some limits.

Channel partners are in the fortunate position of having a strong relationship with vendors and customers. In many ways, they are ‘partners’ to both. They are proof that there are exceptions to the old truism that “two’s company, three’s a crowd”.

But not when it comes to shortages, apparently. In those instances, it seems, they are expected to choose a side, or at least to lean more heavily towards one than the other.

That can be difficult when situations like the one outlined by Lucy Randall, head of product management and procurement at Jigsaw24 occur. “There’s been some instances where we’ve had lead time expectations of two to three weeks and then, actually once the order’s in place, it’s immediately set to six months,” she told CRN.

In what could be a masterclass in understatement, she says “managing that with customers is just a very, very difficult conversation when the information coming from the supply chain isn’t realistic or in any way reliable to some degree”.

That’s the crux of it. How comfortable should partners be in relaying information that isn’t trustworthy when the consequences of that “misinformation” could damage their reputation and relationship with their customers? Not to beat about the bush, when the chips are down, which is their most important role, partner to the vendor or trusted advisor to the customer?

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