Technical knowledge sharing could be the future of the channel

A pair of head outlines - a puzzle piece segment is cut out from one and placed on top of the other.

Channel initiatives commonly focus more on incentivising partner sales teams than the technical experts – so when cloud storage vendor Pure Storage put "techies at the centre" of its Pure WaveMakers programme, it made headlines.

Pure WaveMakers centres on an invitation-only technical community for sharing expertise, not just from vendor to partner, but among partners as well.

Matthieu Brignone, channel vice president for LATAM/EMEA at Pure Storage, tells Channel Pro the idea is that more open information sharing will build knowledge that boosts customer experience and sales alike.

"Like every vendor, we had a portal all the partners could access, and technical information available. But we were a bit weaker on the technical side," Brignone explains. "We had nothing really structured for those guys."

Whereas partner sales professionals typically compete with each other, technical professionals differ: They also care about the technology in its own right and so are often more motivated to engage with each other and exchange ideas, solutions and best practice.

Partners will join on a basic Member level, moving on to become Champions and Legends to reflect regular business, the partners they bring to the vendor, and interactions they have with the rest of the Pure WaveMakers community – for example, sharing best practices with other techies in the community.

Higher tiers broaden and deepen access to specific information and knowledge, around product roadmaps for example, or special or bespoke training and direct access to US product management. That's apart from the "typical rewards and gifts", he says.

"So it's privileged access to dedicated resources and information. Based on enthusiasm we have so far, I think it is super-promising," Brignone says.

"But [WaveMakers] will not be open to every partner, because for any community to work well you need to have people committed to it, with at least a certain level of awareness. Just look at football, or cycling; it doesn't make sense to commit to a cycling forum if I never cycle."

Different strokes for technical folks?

Martin Gibbons, EMEA channel head for datacentre backup company Cohesity, says technical aspects are definitely "pivotal" and that the "old formula" of accreditation can often fail to hit the mark when it comes to engagement, understanding and sales.

However, he also warns that partner programmes can become unnecessarily complex.

Partners often prefer a simple offering with strong basics including upfront margin, deal registration and, possibly, renewals protection.

"Our partner programme is easy to follow, predictable in remuneration, and profitable for partners," Gibbons adds.

Brian Allison, global channels vice president at SaaS-focused Snow Software, notes that many channel programmes are structured primarily around the economic transaction, which misses a sharper focus on how a more explicit alignment can drive customer success.

"We have built ours around solution providers that engage a customer throughout the lifecycle. We believe this approach is critical," Allison confirms.

Neil Stobart, systems engineering sales vice president at object storage provider Cloudian, warns however that many vendors "try and ram" deep technical training down presales throats.

"What is really needed is education – being able to recognise opportunities, understand if the use case is a fit, provide initial sizing and pricing, and describe solution benefits. Often systems engineers propose solutions, not commercial."

For Jon Gillies, EMEA channel sales director at identity access management provider One Identity, technical teams are critical to channel success partly because solutions offering clear business value can quickly become more complex to deliver.

One Identity has an online technical community, as well as the usual accreditations and pre-sales training.

It also offers "a lot" of additional training including deep dives, product roadmap sessions, and live demos.

Gillies believes this approach works and while it's obviously to prove a cause-and-effect relationship, One Identity has so far achieved 80% of licence sales via EMEA partners this year, with 35% of deals originating from partners.

"So we also focus on the more technical side," he says.

"There's a real desire to learn more and know more, and if you can facilitate that, you're going to do better for the customer. I think we cover most aspects our partners are looking for in terms of the technical experience."

Technical training and education must keep up

Christina Walker, global channel director at data erasure provider Blancco, agrees.

"Training the technical and solutions architect teams is key, especially in how to map in the vendor solutions with others for a holistic solution," she says.

Blancco likes to focus on complementary use cases and efficient partner implementations for customers, which helps partners' sales engineers and solutions architects alike meet customer needs, Walker explains.

James Munroe, channel director at security vendor Trend Micro, says that programmes must evolve to keep up with consumption models – and this could often include a technical value-add.

Change is necessary, even if only to ensure that vendors themselves remain relevant.

"Otherwise, a programme just becomes a prehistoric relic that only acts as a barrier for entry to that vendor," Munroe notes.

Faisal Malik, global business development manager at IT learning provider Firebrand Training, agrees that technical professionals can be overlooked.

"They are a vital component in building a more effective VAR channel programme," Malik says.

Sam Giggle, sales head at unified comms firm TelcoSwitch, says that vendors frequently provide up-front training – but then some simply leave the reseller to get on with it.

"While that might be fine for some, most will need and value ongoing support," Giggle says. "Deliver a full toolkit."

Fleur Doidge is a journalist with more than twenty years of experience, mainly writing features and news for B2B technology or business magazines and websites. She writes on a shifting assortment of topics, including the IT reseller channel, manufacturing, datacentre, cloud computing and communications. You can follow Fleur on Twitter.