Simplify the channel, or our partners will be left behind

A hand reaching out to a screen which displays automation options

We live in complicated times. The global health crisis has forced us into new ways of living, working and socialising within a short time frame. Channel partners have, of course, been helping their customers navigate this new environment, while ensuring their own businesses remain up and running throughout the pandemic.

However, in addition to these new challenges, partners continue to face increasing complexity from within the IT channel.

Baking in complexity

A few years ago, IDC predicted that by 2021 at least 30% of channel players will not exist in the format we know them today. This is down to an influx of non-traditional, and ‘non-transactional’, partners entering the ecosystem. Digital agencies, cloud service brokers, third platform start-ups, digital system integrators, cloud players and consulting firms are all starting to offer IT products and services.

Now consider the existing complexity associated with the traditional partner programme. For a long time, partners have protested that their vendors’ programmes are too confusing. There is no clear path or boundaries laid out when it comes to vendor-required certification and training. There is also a lack of transparency when it comes to receiving information, or even hitting sales or revenue thresholds.

There are numerous reasons for this, but a common one is that vendors can collect a collection of ad-hoc partner management tools and programmes over time. This is exacerbated by acquisition, with vendors attempting to combine elements of each of the programmes. Another is that the move to services and consumption-based IT has resulted in a mix of traditional rebate programmes and new reward systems ushered in to cater to the new business model. Imagine how much more complicated those programmes will get with trying to accommodate the new generation of channel partners.

Simplifying channel programmes

There has never been a greater need for simplicity in how vendors engage with their partners than there is now. Partners need to be agile to react quickly to the ever-changing environment we all live in while continuing to help their customers thrive. Technology vendors will emphasise the importance of simplicity within their product range, designed to help organisations evolve and transform faster to be more efficient. The same needs to be reflected in their channel partner programmes. This involves several key principles.

First, information about partners must be clear and easy to access. We can’t require our partners to have to dig through dozens of documents – sometimes not even available in the local language – to find out what margins to which they are entitled, or to verify constantly their skill level. As with our IT infrastructure offerings, we need to bring more automation and transparency to our channel strategy. That includes the availability of up-to-date information or certification status.

Deal registration and other payment calculations must also be simple to understand and easy to use. This means not having to navigate a dozen different incentive programmes to try to understand what margin partners will receive from a project. Partners deserve full predictability on what they can expect to earn on any project. From our side, we must ensure our salespeople engage as soon as possible, and the partner is confident there is no conflict of interest – either with us or any other partners on the deal.

No partners left behind

Automation will be key to securing this simplicity. There is nowhere this is more important than in the modern partner portal. Whether a reseller, integrator, service provider or distributor, the partner must find all the information at their fingertips, instantly. These include tools to help with sales and project generation, margins, objectives, rebates, level of skills and certifications needed, or their progression through the levels of the programme.

They should also receive their backend margins and rewards automatically, without having to fill out complicated forms. The same goes for obtaining their skills. Partners must be able to specialise based on their experience and preferences, and promote that specialisation to clients. This becomes even more important with an increasing number of partners today wearing multiple hats, compiling integration offers, services, hosting, etc. in their portfolios.

For this, vendors must unify and simplify their partner support programmes as much as possible. The goal is to prevent partners from piling up several trades, and wade through further complexity to understand their relationship with the vendor on a project. Today, agility is key to success. In today’s world, which moves at lightning speed, partners simply can’t afford to spend time jumping through hoops to get the answers they need from their vendor partners. Otherwise, there is a good chance they will get left behind – or leave the vendor behind.

Cyril VanAgt is senior director channel and OEM at Nutanix EMEA