Dell has been busy, its channel partners are increasing their likeability of the company, and Cheryl Cook, Vice President of Dell’s Global Channels & Alliances is staying steady on her path to grow and maintain channel partners who add value to their customers. In Techaisle’s latest US SMB Channel Partner Trends survey, 57% of both Dell & non-Dell partners said they “Like” Dell, up from 53% a year ago and substantially higher than two years ago. In Q4, total North America partner revenue was up and while majority of North America channel partners showed growth, Dell’s distribution partners experienced double digit growth.
In a recent discussion with Techaisle on the state of the Dell channel, Cheryl Cook focused on:
Dell’s Partner Direct program was formally launched in 2007 and saw aggressive channel recruitment in 2008. By 2011, partner enablement, training, certification and integration of acquisitions had percolated to the top of the agenda for Dell’s channel team. Today, over 42% of Dell commercial business goes through channel partners exhibiting Y/Y growth in triple digits. Dell now has approximately 4,200 certified (Preferred and Premier) partners globally and Dell provided the channel with 75,000 leads throughout the year.
If not broken, then why fix it? Staying the course yet pivoting slightly to channel partners that are able to add customer value, Cheryl Cook and her team are focusing on enhancing the refinements within and across Dell’s different business units. Not all are partners able to deliver end-to-end solutions, nor do most play across the entire continuum of offerings from clients to integration. Some partners are more specialized and unique to either security or just client and server, but the new deployment format not only gives the channel partners the ability to independently accelerate across each of the business units that they can serve the best, it also allows for other partners to accelerate across multiple areas if they have the skill sets and customer potential.
To reinforce the point, Cheryl Cook said: “We think we are certainly shaping and driving a precision in the model. We strongly believe that business and the industry is consolidating around the top three OEMs, which are HP, Dell, and Lenovo, and we want to ensure that we're helping instead motivate the channels to help us gain share within the partner community, but specifically through customers.”
Dell continued to see healthy activity in its deal registration, which Cheryl Cook has repeatedly mentioned that “it is really a proxy for engagement and activity with the partner community.” Dell had over 34,000 deal registrations in North America, which is year on year growth of 28 percent and globally the number was 94,000 deal registrations up 19 percent year on year.
Deal registration approval ratings remained constant, indicating that Dell is not relaxing the criteria for approvals, but at the same time it is working on improving responsiveness. Over the year Dell made IT investments in automation with the objective of delivering a quicker response time, targeting to deliver SLAs to its partners within four hours or less after a deal registration. A delighted Cheryl Cook said, “In Q4 across the world we were below four hours even while the volumes went up.” Dell is really putting an emphasis around partner experience including operational enablement, automatic provisioning of tools in the way of configurators and quoting.
To make the experience sustainable and maintain velocity in the business, Dell North America has aligned around a single field coverage that is mapped to three regions: East, Central and West, plus Inside Sales and Acquisition accounts. Dell also created a vertical market Center of Excellence focused on Education, State and Local Government, Healthcare and Life Science. This is the view of bringing Dell’s sales teams closer to the customers they serve and drive operational efficiencies that streamline the number of people customers and partners needed to work on account planning and execution. For partners, this means better joint sales engagement, stronger and longer-term relationships, and improved account planning.
Besides advocating competency and training, Dell is stepping up promotion of its 16 Dell Solution Centers, enabling the partners to leverage these worldwide solution centers for benchmarks, proofs of concept, labs or presentations. As per Dell, partners have seen a 79 percent win rate they bring customers to Dell Solution Centers.
In February, Dell launched new and expanded competencies – Product, Solutions, & Services. The product competencies align Dell’s channel partner’s sales, business and technical requirements with training and resources to ensure that they get the highest level of support across Dell’s end-to-end solutions and take advantage of rebates, deal registration, and incentive programs. These cover client, enterprise security & systems management. Solution competencies is yet a pilot program focused on cloud, big data & analytics providing a path to partners to deepen their knowledge and skill sets. Services competencies are targeting the Storage PS/SC series & networking where individual reps can obtain certifications to become an authorized service deployment partner.
With consistent global structure for rebates available to preferred and premier partners, recently Dell implemented new business incentives of up to 15 percent in some regions to reward partners who bring Dell into new accounts and/or additional product lines with current customers.
Partner cloud playbook
Partners and customers have been asking Techaisle about Dell’s cloud strategy. At Dell World in 2015, Michael Dell and Satya Nadella announced the Dell Hybrid Cloud System for Microsoft. Specifically for the SMBs and the midmarket customers Dell’s hybrid cloud solutions should resonate well. But Dell’s initial focus seems to be on the higher end of the market segment. Dell has launched a pilot in the US and Canada with 10 partners where Dell is working on competencies for cloud including enablement, blueprints and reference architectures, financing capabilities and putting them in front of customers. The intention is to help partners build out their cloud practices. However, in Techaisle’s view, cloud is big and complex – 10 partners is a start, but a small one. Dell plans to get 40 partners on-board at the worldwide level. Today, customers who have worked with Dell on cloud deployments have a strong regard for its solutions and capabilities. Dell must continue expanding its thought leadership and visibility to broaden its leadership position and opportunities in both enterprise and SMB hybrid IT.
Dell is using the levers of financing as part of a robust, clearly defined cloud solution strategy to help its partners address the post-transactional market, where discrete sales of individual products or integrated systems are replaced by agreements to provide IT capacity and business functionality “as-a-Service.” Cheryl Cook expands on Dell’s vision by saying: “we're really looking at some of these transformative kinds of trends, these evolutionary trends where partners are struggling to find someone who'd be able to address that. We're trying to be that partner for them that doesn't just bring the innovations in technology, the capabilities from a management perspective, but also in the financing and the tools in enablement to go deliver”.
We see Dell is placing considerable effort and energy on the management and automated implementation and deployment of cloud. An example provided is around Dell Hybrid Cloud System, which in some cases clients have taken 80 percent fewer steps than configuring a comparable Cisco UCS alternative, translating into value to a partner in preserving precious pre-sale hours and pre-sale time of their solution consultants and architects. In Techaisle’s view, it is a start, the hybrid infrastructure market is not a monolith, and a strong advantage from Dell over UCS in this market is not established as yet.
Dell believes that it has enough scale in its partner business that most of its time, energy and resources going forward will be spent on more highly aligned and mutually invested partners; in other words - partners that are building businesses and practices and capabilities around the Dell portfolio, those that are willing to invest and drive incremental growth from both business unit expansion and new business.
However, as the current market conditions stand, Dell is recruiting former IBM disenchanted franchise partners or potential former HP partners in addition to EMC partners wanting to get educated in advance of the pending combination of Dell and EMC – the new Dell Technologies. It is hopeful about the opportunities of an expanded partner community with the addition of those from EMC.
In the foreseeable future, Dell expects to see healthy growth in its national solution providers. For the smaller channel partners Dell, in a broader way, will likely help activate a couple of lines of business – storage, networking.
As per recent Techaisle channel survey, 50 percent of partners say partnering with an IT vendor that shows stability in its business is very important and 49 percent mention that an IT vendor that has end-to-end solutions is important. Dell certainly wins on both factors. Dell has a pragmatic channel partner approach but the notion of certification-based competencies in the current market is quickly losing its cache. Channel partners are increasingly finding that certifications represent cost without benefits because customers’ purchase decision criteria have evolved. Customers are increasingly immersed in a post-transactional market that is shifting from one defined by discrete purchase-and-deploy deals aligned with refresh cycles to one where businesses take a ‘hybrid IT’ approach that blends a limited number of on-premise assets with a growing range of on-demand services.
In one of the most candid conversations with Cheryl Cook we’ve had to date, Techaisle got the sense that Dell is on the verge of channel evolution, gently stretching its finger from “value addition by the channel” to “value creation for the customer”. The notion that channel businesses need to add value to remain viable has become old. Dell’s nudge to the channel is to discover how products and services delivered create value for the customer. In an era of ‘good enough’ technology, customers are not especially interested in optimizing the performance of their hardware and software widgets – they are focused on improving the performance of their businesses. It will be a gut wrenching shift as outlined in detail in Techaisle’s white paper – Channel Imperatives for 2020. Dell will not jeopardize its thriving channel business but it is treading several paths that may very well converge at the corner of channel delight. Techaisle is hoping that that the convergence will open a new path where Dell takes a long-term view of channel transformation ensuring channel longevity.
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