Vendors need to equate simplicity with loyalty

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5 September 2018 | 0

Billy MacInnesI’m not sure what to make of recent research from Canalys that found there had been a drop in the number of channel businesses who rated partner programmes as important when it came to evaluating vendor relationships. On one level, while the decline is a cause for some concern, the fact remains that more than three-quarters of partners (77%) continued to rate programmes as important in 2018, compared to 94% in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that 2016 seems to have been a bit of a high point in terms of the importance attached to partner programmes, with an average score from respondents of 8.2 out of 10. While this is higher than the 7.7 score for 2018, it should be pointed out that 2018 is only marginally lower than the 7.8 scored in 2014.

So what does it mean? Were vendors working especially hard on channel relations in 2016? Or where partners more concerned with the quality of programmes two years ago?

Canalys suggests the latest findings should be viewed as a “warning” for vendors that they need to “get partners aligned as the market faces disruption from cloud and digital technologies”. Senior director of channels research, Alex Smith, argues vendors can be guilty of introducing increased complexity to programmes when they alter them to “reflect changes in partner business models and to spur loyalty”.

Fellow Canalys analyst Sharon Hiu says the research highlights “the difficult balance that vendors need to strike. They must continue developing programmes to remain relevant to their partners’ evolving businesses, while also minimising the level of disruption and frustration that changes often create”.

While that’s undoubtedly true, I don’t think I’m out of line in pointing out that the figures suggest that, for nearly a quarter of partners, it’s not really important what vendors do to their programmes. For them, it doesn’t matter what changes vendors might make as it’s not a significant consideration in their dealings with manufacturers – which, in itself, is quite significant.

The other thing is that when Canalys asked partners for their three biggest complaints about programmes, I can’t help wondering whether many of those who didn’t care about them would have bothered to provide an answer. If you assume they didn’t, it would appear almost a fifth (16%) of those who think partner programmes are important were unhappy with the fact vendors kept changing their schemes and were guilty of a lack of consistency. As many as 15% found achieving certifications and specialisations too complex, 14% said there were too many partners in the programmes and 11% said the discount and rebate schemes were too complicated. Taken across the history of channel relations, none of those gripes is particularly surprising.

Canalys makes the sensible suggestion that vendors should involve partners more in planning their programmes and strategies. Again, this is nothing especially new although manufacturers vary widely in how willing they are to involve channel businesses in evolving their indirect strategies.

“The huge challenge is to keep programmes simple while our industry embraces complex new technologies,” Hiu says. Amen to that. But if the vast majority of vendors succeed in making their programmes simple, will they also become unimportant to a lot more channel businesses? After all, if programmes are a differentiator for partners, it’s because the quality of what they offer varies widely. If vendors are all successful in giving partners what they want, programmes become less important in the overall scheme of things.

It’s possible, therefore, that the 23% who report partner programmes are unimportant to their vendor relationships are doing so because they’re happy with what they have. Another option is that they just don’t care. Then again, perhaps the vendor is so important to their business that they don’t have a choice, irrespective of how good or bad the partner programme is.

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