Friday, August 27, 2004

Channel Management: Longhorn Delays Open Door in Channel for Competitors

CNET listed three challenges for Microsoft currently due to its delays on Longhorn: "how to market XP this holiday season, what to do in the years before the next major operating system release, and what changes to make to Longhorn, if any, to ensure a timely update." A closely related forth challenge is that with a 3 year old operating system, Microsoft could lose the active support of its channel partners.

A VAR at CompTIA's Breakaway 2004 session earlier this month in Orlando said his business would be better if vendors focused more on delivering products and less on program gimmicks. It is a simple fact of the channel that for a channel partner to grow or even stay alive, they require fresh products to customize and sell.

The situation with Longhorn reminds me of Novell in the mid 1990's. Although its Platinum, Gold and Authorized resellers were among the most loyal in the industry, they were easy picking for competitors (especially Microsoft) when Novell struggled and failed to provide them with timely, powerful, compelling new versions of Netware. No matter how successful or acclaimed, channel programs are weakened by long delays in product releases. Now Microsoft is vulnerable to the same tactics it used, perhaps even from Novell with SuSE.

This is not so much an issue for the industry as for Microsoft. Creative channel partners will find innovative ways to bring technology to their customers. The question is, with Longhorn delayed to 2006 or beyond, what is to stop competitors such as Linux from cherry picking Microsoft's best channel partners?

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro


Monday, August 23, 2004

Issue: Recruiting Channel Partners and Sales Executives

Many companies do not approach recruitment correctly.

Many of us have had interviews where the person on the other side of the table was clueless. A reader recently told me about an experience where the interviewer not only failed to recognize the channel experience of a principal of a VAR, but also insulted him by saying that they were looking for experienced sales executives. After relating this anecdote, he asked "Are channel people in Seattle just clueless?" Clueless gatekeepers are only the most visible part of the problem and it is not just Seattle.

Recruitment requires great clarity on requirements, flexibility about channel partner business models and knowledge of the partner's business accomplishments. Unlike a sales employee interview, if you insult a channel partner during the recruitment process, not only do they not sell your product, but also they may actively campaign against you, countering precious marketing dollars spent in branding. Worse, in the channel, vendors often do not even know they have insulted the potential partner.

Everywhere I go sales executives and channel partners tell me egregious tales of channel mismanagement. While every human organization makes errors, there is no need to insult potential partners (or sales people) during the recruitment process.

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro


Friday, August 20, 2004

Strategy : Deliver real value to the customer

Is your company really focused on the customer, or are you just pushing products? The Channel Pro has been addressing the ways in which we view our customers, and the language we use to discuss them. All of this is important because it defines a company's perspective and the relationship it has with customers.

Phrases like "putting the customer first" and "the customer is always right" have been thrown around forever. The "customer centric" buzz is almost deafening. But what does it mean to "put the customer first"? Everyone these days claims to be "customer focused", but that phrase has different meaning to different people.

There's a good article in CRM Buyer that discusses this issue. It points out that for too many companies "customer-centricity has been taken up not to effect real change but simply as a better way of achieving the same goals. No sooner have new tools and concepts been embraced than they're used to push the same old products more efficiently and more effectively. "

The article suggest seeing your company as "a portfolio of customers looking for value".

Customers appreciate real value far more than lip service.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Strategy : Make Love not War

Adversarial relationships between sellers and buyers are pervasive. Need more proof, consider all of the war language used by sales and marketing. Attack the market, target customers, guerrilla marketing, and scorched earth campaigns. Too bad the customers end up as collateral damage.

We need to change the conversation. We need to be on the same side of the table with our customers and help our channels become more successful. Maybe a different metaphor than war? Start changing the attitude in marketing. This is the group that creates and communicates with employees, channels and customers.

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro


Friday, August 13, 2004

Strategy : Going to War with Channels

The language we use for our sales force shows the adversarial nature of the relationship between sales and buyers.

Here another example: air cover advertising for the sales force. Do we really need to bomb our customers until they surrender and buy the product? How much more adversarial can we get?

The use of war terminology often starts in reference to competitors, but the attitude spills over into sales and poisons trust. The point here is that we need to change the conversation to create successful customer and channel relationships.

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro

The Buyer's Perspective

What a coincidence. On 8/12 I was at Okidata teaching Executive Focused Selling for Channels for the Executive Conversation. On the same day, a reader's comment to The Channel Professional about giving channels or customers bad news stated that the larger question is one of perspective. 'How do we perceive our customers, as partners or adversaries?'

I agree. While delivering bad news is never easy, especially to strategic accounts, if we are in an adversarial relationship, delivery of bad news becomes all that much harder. Furthermore most channel relationships with vendors, despite the name channel partner, are adversarial because they are traditional sales relationships.

I had just made this point in the course at Okidata. Traditional selling erects barriers. Even the language we use demonstrates this. Sales people talk about needing "arrows in their quiver." If the relationships were not adversarial, perhaps sales people would not need to be armed with arrows with which to shoot our customers.

Respect and trust at the executive level are created when vendors adopt the buyers perspective and work WITH the customer to solve business issues. Products and technology are merely tools to use with customers to achieve business results and performance.

Companies that try to build "Trusted Advisor" status in their sales organizations without changing the conversation will only succeed in creating spin and slogans. Most customer relationships have times when bad news has to be delivered. Which side of the table would you like to be on if you have to deliver it?

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Management:  Round Rock, we have a problem...  

The Dell management team down in Round Rock, Texas, has two problems. Number one is their customer service. Number two is a growing communication problem. They need to work on both.

Yesterday, a friend was complaining about ongoing issues they're having with Dell customer support. It brought to mind other other things I'd been hearing and reading. The company has been in the news due to growing problem with their customer support reputation.

It's even made its way into the the comic pages.

The longer these problems go on, the broader the effect in the wired marketplace. Bad reviews, negative customer feedback, and criticism on the Web can be cumulative. Dell's service problem is noticable in random places like here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Dell has established a good reputation overall and they continue to get good marks on customer service. But they are also more vulnerable than most companies to word-of-mouth issues, due to the lack of a real channel. And in the wired marketplace bad news can have a long life.

Dude, you've got some management issues.


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