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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Dell Channels – All the right moves?

Channel Momentum

As some IT companies continue to consolidate and others split up, Dell is promising its channel partners consistency, stability and increased profitability. And it is showing:

  • Dell Channel revenue now represents more than 40 percent of overall Dell commercial revenue and its channel business is growing faster than the overall market

  • Channel revenue growth is up double digits in 10 of Dell’s top 11 countries year-over-year

  • Dell solutions are now available through three of top Distributors - Ingram, TechData and Synnex - and where Dell is experiencing growth in excess of 50 percent


To keep the channel momentum intact, Dell is pledging US$125 million in enhanced incentives to help channel partners bid and close new customer acquisitions and also deploy towards retention deals with existing customers.

As always, not willing to take any hype on face value Techaisle took to the streets to really talk with Dell SMB channel partners and especially those who have partnered with both Dell and HP. Over the course of last three weeks, Techaisle conducted over 25 depth interviews with SMB channel partners. The discussions clearly revealed that the partners have started to look at Dell rather seriously. As one of them said, “Dell has changed its approach and outlook towards channel partners after it went private. They monitor and coordinate with their partners just like any other OEM. They have changed their ways in how they strategize and have created their training plans to cater to our needs and are succeeding by actively collaborating.”

Another partner, based in Texas and focused on SMBs was more direct, “Dell hasn’t been looking at channel partners as a key to gain market share unlike OEMs like HP. A few months back only about a 30 percent of sales were driven by the channel partners and the rest was a result of Dell’s direct sales efforts. The reason is that Dell itself had a large sales team managing sales accounts. However, after Dell went private they have mended their ways in how they look at us. They have kept the key sales accounts with themselves and the rest have been distributed amongst the channel partners for further management and revenue generation which is a good step as it inculcates trust and sense of real partnership.”

Impressive Numerics

At one of my sit-down meetings, Cheryl Cook, VP, Global Channels and Alliances shared some impressive statistics:

  • Dell has 167,000 channel partners out of which 4,255 are Preferred and Premium partners.

  • Nearly 700 channel partners chose to become premier or preferred partners of Dell in 2014, a testament to channel commitment

  • Training uptake, (a top requirement of channel partners as per Techaisle SMB Channel study), was up by 54 percent in 1H’14. But more importantly, training on software solutions increased by 102 percent.

  • Over 82,000 deal registrations were processed, up 8 percent YoY and software (security, device management, data protection, systems management) deal registration was up by 32 percent

  • Rebates processed was also up by 23 percent during the same time frame

  • 4400 new customers were acquired through channels, transacted 10,000 new orders out of which 1200 were for storage and 1600 for software


Although she deftly skipped my question on how many named accounts have been formally handed over to channel partners she reiterated that Dell is continuing to maintain its compensation accelerator program which is yielding good results. Recently, a little over 200,000 greenfield accounts have been posted on the Partner Portal.

Investment in Training, Support, Lead generation, Consultative partnerships

Most channel partners that Techaisle spoke with agreed that Dell has been concentrating on technical training sessions and regularly assessing partners’ performance with a clear objective of empowering them with required product knowledge to be able to pitch to the right set of SMB customers in the best possible way. Unlike the immediate past, account managers from Dell have suddenly become approachable. Some partners went to the extent of telling Techaisle “we specifically like the pre-sales and sales trainings that Dell has designed for Channel Partners. At times I feel that their efforts in the field of training annoy us as there are multiple and repetitive requests for attending or undergoing the same set of trainings that we have already gone through. They do not yet have a system to remove these redundancies”.

Channels are also having good experiences working with Dell’s consultative approach. “Lately, we were dealing with a few SMB customers and they wanted the account managers and few other technical experts to be available on call. We worked together with Dell and closed 3 deals where the consultative partnership worked in our favor”, said an SMB channel partner based in California.

Dell is also investing in supporting the channels when they bid for complex engagements. Their pre-sales support has improved as compared to before as channels now have access to their technical resources who work along with partners’ technical teams in understanding customer requirements, existing customer infrastructure to suggest suitable solutions.

In addition to training and support Dell is making a series of investments to help channel partners by:

  • Making available 5X demo gear to facilitate proof-of-concept

  • Increasing number of Solution centers for partners to showcase Dell end-to-end solutions to their customers (granted not many SMB channel partners will take advantage)

  • Improving areas of financing such as extending credit and payment terms thereby assisting channel partners in better managing their cash flows. The terms announced are 75 days interest-free financing on all Dell purchases for an introductory period of 180 days


Are conflicts a thing of the past? Channels are cautiously optimistic

Dell seems to be diligently working towards building trust within its channel partners. Dell and its partners have had a love-hate relationship due to conflicts with Dell’s strong direct sales force across all divisions. In fact, with the progress made, channels are wishing that Dell limits its investment in its internal sales teams as it would in all probability bring back the channels to “square one”.

The channel partner community reminded us of unpleasant past experiences of “Dell snatching customers from their partners and dealing with them directly”. But they quickly added, “We haven’t come across such a scenario (lately) and would never want to face a situation like that”.

Another partner said, “Dell has always been known for their direct business and has ramped up their efforts in the indirect sales through channels around a year ago. Earlier, we never knew if a deal which is routed through us will be closed keeping us in loop (with our margins intact) or Dell may go ahead and deal with the customer directly. Now, this has completely changed and Dell itself directs the customers to go through us”.

An HP and Dell partner was eager to get his point across regarding lead generation saying that Dell is managing a nice balance while sharing potential customer details with only one partner. HP is not following this approach triggering conflicts.

End-to-End Solutions message is resonating

Dell is steadfastly focused on its end-to-end solutions strategy and channels are paying attention. “Dell offers support in implementing end-to-end solutions. They work with us in consultation to determine the best product and solutions based on SMB customer requirements. Account Manager from Dell works with us closely when we deal with such deployments. We get all the technical help required, if skills are not available with us. Dell offers us access to experts (both on calls and physically, when required) from functional areas when we deal with SMBs for deployment of end-to-end solutions”.

Channels are finding that not only end-to-end solution deals give them extra margins but also makes it easier to deal with Dell, namely, channels get a better attention from Dell. Techaisle feels that if selective attention becomes the norm then many Dell SMB channel partners may flounder.

A mid-west Dell SMB channel partner was very vocal when we spoke with him. “Dell is important while we engage in end-to-end deals with our customers. Dell’s role starts from pre-sales to the deployment of such engagements. They offer the required marketing set-up for the products and solutions. If we have to take care of these things on our own, I think our margins will squeeze and it will be difficult to sustain our business”.

Having a full portfolio of offerings also allows “non-end-to-end solution channel partners” to sell adjacent technologies. For example, “we have clubbed and sold Dell hardware with Cisco, NetApp and IBM storage management and security solutions”.

Then there are other channel partners who try and build solutions with a product from Dell as the center-point. “Based on customer requirements we will see if there is a Dell product suited to meet the needs. If yes, we pitch for it and if there isn’t a product suited, we may bundle it up with other solutions and design an end-to-end solution for our customer. If the customer wants to go with a specific product and Dell doesn’t have promising product in the area; in these cases we will bundle it up with other product and present it as an end-to-end solution to our customers”.

Lingering Channel Challenges

To my question on what should channel partners be expecting next from Dell, Cheryl Cook quickly points out her focus on strategic pillars of mobility, security and Big Data with big push on converged infrastructure and innovative storage solutions.  She counters me with a question on VMware EVO:RAIL and its “fantastic” suitability for the SMB market segment.

Channels are listening and echoing that the fastest selling Dell solutions are Rack and Blade servers. But they feel that Dell has not yet been able to position its Force10 and SonicWall offerings effectively and channels are losing to Cisco or HP.

As conflict is disappearing, trust is settling in, channels have a new gripe. When a customer floats an RFP to a number of partners, Dell seizes the responsibility to directly speak with the customer, decides which partner is in the best position to offer most favorable terms and informs other partners to step aside and not waste their time on a deal which may not land with them at all. This annoys the channel partners as they would like a fair opportunity to win the deal and gain a customer by cutting down on own their margins.

No Regrets – but could have been bolder

Looking at the last one year since taking the helm, Cheryl Cook has no visible regrets. After much coaxing and cogitating she says, “Perhaps we could have been bolder in our move” referring to speed of Dell’s organizational moves and intuitive proactive thinking. The future is bright and she and her team are committed to helping all partners – “narrow or broadline”.
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Perspective: Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Success Management

Cisco and the SMB market

Cisco has established an undisputed leadership position in the enterprise market. The company combines a widely-adopted and well-integrated portfolio of networking products with a highly-skilled (and paid) direct sales force to manage/expand its presence within major accounts.

The SMB market is a separate challenge. Here, buyers are less likely to require integration across multiple network components and more likely to emphasize price. They are also more likely to receive advice/management from channel partners, further reducing Cisco’s control over the acquisition process.

Against this backdrop, Techaisle’s SMB Channel Trends research illustrates the strengths and challenges Cisco must manage, as it looks to expand its share in the SMB segment.

Cisco Commands High Trust and Reputation within its Channel Partners

Within the channel community, Cisco enjoys a sound reputation and a high degree of trust. Techaisle’s SMB channel partner survey shows that 78 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners trust Cisco, a higher percentage than is registered by competitors such as HP and IBM. Nearly 70 percent of the partners believe that Cisco has quality products – again, the highest ranking recorded within the ‘hardware leader’ group including Cisco, HP, IBM and others. However, only 52 percent mention that Cisco has cutting edge technology, a percentage lower than that for both IBM and Microsoft. Moreover, 60 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners say that they Like Cisco, lower than corresponding rates for HP and Microsoft, only slightly higher than is found for IBM.

In its 2013 Annual report Cisco has written, “A substantial portion of our products and services is sold through our channel partners, and the remainder is sold through direct sales.” With specific reference to SMBs, Cisco wrote, “Generally, we define commercial businesses as companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. The larger, or midmarket, customers within the commercial market are served by a combination of our direct salesforce and our channel partners. Small businesses or companies with fewer than 100 employees, within the commercial market are primarily served by our channel partners.” Techaisle’s data shows that Cisco has attracted positive attention within this channel partner community, but that its technology and relationships may not leave it especially differentiated from competitors.

Data shows Cisco's SMB Channel Partner Challenges

Cisco is seeking to capitalize on market transitions and is steadily driving its channel partners to offer products and services that deploy cloud, mobility, virtualization, managed services, data center solutions and now Internet of Things. This is by no means an easy task as most SMB channel partners are being actively courted by competitive vendors that also want to grow their emerging technologies’ business. SMB channel partners selling emerging technologies have an average of 3.46 vendor partnerships; this average jumps to 4.21 for Cisco SMB partners, a difference of 21 percent. With this increased contention for mind/market/wallet share, it can be difficult for Cisco to manage brand identity and its related messaging.

This difficulty is illustrated by study findings showing that of the Cisco SMB channel partners, 44 percent consider Cisco to be their top partner. The other 56 percent mention Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM and several other firms. Within the VAR/SI community, Cisco’s share of preference is 48 percent; this drops to 39 percent amongst the MSPs/SPs that are viewed as critical to the success of future cloud initiatives.

It is not enough to only measure customer satisfaction or brand awareness to identify overall channel and market presence. Techaisle believes that it is important for IT vendors like Cisco to measure their Brand Equity within SMB channel partners as well as SMBs. Techaisle’s Brand Equity Score, BES-360, helps to identify areas where IT vendors can improve to increase share of wallet.

Cisco’s SMB Channel Partner Brand Equity

Our research finds that Cisco has done extremely well in building trust and reputation within its own SMB channel partner base. Cisco’s Brand Equity Score within its SMB channel partners is higher than most – but lower than scores for both IBM and Microsoft. The implication of these findings is that even through Cisco has high brand equity amongst its channel partners; it is not necessarily true that its entire SMB-focused channel base is firmly wedded to Cisco’s game plan.

Breaking down the data for Cisco, Techaisle’s study finds that almost 25 percent of Cisco’s channel partners have a Brand Equity rating of 80+ (on a scale of 1 to 100). This group forms Cisco’s core partners. The data also shows that almost 35 percent of Cisco’s SMB channel partners have equity of less than 40. These are the partners that Cisco needs to work on.

Interestingly, small business focused channel partners give a higher Brand Equity Score to Cisco than mid-market focused channel partners. This is a segment that Cisco should address as the mid-market is a battleground for most IT vendors and there is yet no clear dominant player.

Among all SMB channel partners of Cisco, VARs are actually driving up the Brand Equity Score. In fact 41 percent of VARs constitute the HBE (High Brand Equity) group. On the other hand, MSPs constitute only 20 percent. In order for Cisco to continue to grow its CMSP program and build on its initial successes, Cisco has to turn its attention to the MSPs that serve the SMBs to understand the key reasons for lower brand equity.

Drilling down further into the data, Techaisle finds that Cisco is not doing better within the overall managed services community than it is within MSPs focused on cloud. A higher percentage of Cisco’s HBE partners are offering managed services to SMBs whereas a higher percentage of ABE (Average Brand Equity) partners are offering Cloud to SMBs. Cisco’s SMB cloud ambitions would benefit from moving some of these ABE cloud partners to HBE segment. The HBE segment offering cloud services need extensive training on cloud solutions to become more successful in offering cloud to their SMB customers. More than 40 percent of these channel partners are working with SMB customers that have private cloud. This may be good for Cisco in the short-term but it does not represent best practice in this segment, and it is misaligned with the ongoing acceptance of public cloud as a preferred IT delivery platform.

Product resale revenue is 43 percent for HBE partners as compared to 38 percent for ABE. Similarly, recurring revenue is 57 percent for HBE as compared to 61 percent for ABE. Naturally, this bodes well for Cisco’s current revenue as the High Brand Equity partners are driving higher revenues from products. However, if Cisco plans to increasingly promote services then a lot more work is required to identify partners with higher services revenues and move them into the High Brand Equity segment.

Final Perspective

Brand Equity Score findings help indicate areas of expansion or exposure as vendors, like Cisco, assess their potential for expanding the footprint of their brands within the SMB channel partner community. The composition of Cisco’s BES across its channel indicates the core strength of its brand. Techaisle’s analysis indicates that Cisco has both strengths to build on and areas requiring focus as it moves to position its next-generation solutions (especially, cloud solutions) through its channel to the SMB market.

Techaisle’s brand management work is anchored in the belief that if a vendor’s brand equity is good, then it can compete successfully with vendors with lower brand equity for sales of comparable products or services. Vendors with sound products/services but low brand equity will struggle to maintain parity with competitors that have higher brand equity, even if that vendor’s products/services are (somewhat) inferior.

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SMB Cloud Resellers: Recurring revenue is not the sole indicator of cloud business success

Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner study shows that while cloud drives recurring revenue, profitable cloud channel members report that they drive more than 40 percent of revenue from non-recurring sources (such as services and attached product sales). Channel partners that are overly-reliant on recurring revenue are not achieving success in their cloud businesses; the companies in the Unsuccessful group report that more than 80 percent of revenue is derived from recurring sources.

techaisle-smb-cloud-resellers


 It is important to drive revenue from multiple business lines. While more than 50 percent of revenue for successful SMB Cloud channel partners is derived from recurring sources, unsuccessful channel partners obtain over 80 percent of revenue from recurring sources. Recurring revenue is important because one can predict earnings thereby reducing risk; however, selling licenses alone does not create a high value or high margin business. Cloud profitability requires that SMB cloud resellers combine sales of cloud services with sales of one-off consulting and products.

The market currently is comprised of two revenue sources: a large but declining on-premise business, and a small but rapidly-growing cloud business. Successful channel partners will be those that participate in both revenue pools thereby finding real advantages over single-market competitors. For example, think about a situation in which an SMB is looking for a new email system. Those that propose only physical hardware and on-premise software will be very expensive. Those that propose only cloud-based services will be much less expensive, but will not enjoy a substantial amount of revenue (a Microsoft partner would get 18 percent for the core Office 365 email connection in year one, and roughly 6 percent in second/subsequent years). A partner blending both on-premise and cloud might get both the recurring Exchange revenue plus additional product/service revenue – laptops, MDM, security software, migration and deployment services, etc. They would also achieve better margins for the on-premise products than the on-premise-only provider, since it would be more difficult to do apples-to-apples price comparisons for solutions that blend cloud and on-premise equipment.
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Strong Need for SMB Cloud Channel Partners to offer Vertical Solutions

Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner Trend study shows that there has been a big leap in percentage of SMB channel partners offering cloud computing services to SMBs in the last year across several countries. For example, in the US the percentage offering cloud services has jumped from 38 percent in 2012 to 64 percent in 2013 and another 22 percent are planning to offer cloud solutions. Similarly, in Australia the percentage has gone up substantially from 34 percent in 2012 and in Germany from less than 30 percent to over 60 percent. The biggest change is seen among the VARs. In 2012 only 34 percent were offering cloud solutions and in 2013 74 percent of them are offering cloud solutions to SMB customers. In Germany, the biggest jump has been within the SPs (Service Providers). However, not all channel partners (VARs, SPs, MSPs, SIs) have become successful in selling cloud to SMBs. Techaisle’s Winning Strategies of Successful SMB Cloud Channel Partners study finds that there are quantitative, meaningful and actionable differences between channel partners who are successful in the business of selling cloud and those that have not developed successful cloud practices.

Industry expertise and the ability to offer vertical solution is one such key area that is creating a distance between the successful and unsuccessful SMB cloud channel partners. Techaisle’s SMB studies have shown that SMBs are increasingly looking for vertical industry solutions but channels have been relatively slow in offering such solutions. Year 2014 will be important as this is the first year when SMB business issues have flip-flopped from reducing operational costs to increasing business growth and cloud-based line of business vertical solutions is an important area of investment.

Combining the data from Techaisle's SMB and Channel Partner studies we find that a significant gap exists between percent of SMBs adopting vertical cloud solutions and percent of SMB channel partners offering such solutions though it must be said that the gap has narrowed in the last 2 years as shown in the chart below.

techaisle-smb-cloud-vertical-solutions-blog-3

The Winning Strategies of Successful SMB Cloud Channel Partners study data shows (chart below) that 21 times as many successful cloud partners are offer vertical solutions to SMBs as those that are not successful.

techaisle-smb-cloud-vertical-solutions-blog-2

Most of the successful SMB cloud channel partners have product/service portfolios that are mapped to the full set of SMB technology needs: compute and storage infrastructure, applications, communications, support for test/development, and solutions addressing specific vertical requirements. The majority of unsuccessful SMB channel partners have limited their offerings to storage, backup, and basic SaaS offerings like Office 365 or Google Apps.

Some may argue that there is a ‘chicken and egg’ effect: that successful partners have broader portfolios because they have more engaged SMB customers. As with the chickens and eggs themselves, though, it may not matter where the cycle begins, if SMB channel partners that are not currently successful in the cloud wish to compete with those that are, they will need to develop portfolios that extend beyond IaaS to vertical-specific applications.

techaisle-smb-cloud-vertical-solutions-blog

Above chart from the Winning Strategies study shows that 50 percent more successful cloud channel partners than unsuccessful partners report that vertical industry knowledge is a key component of the value that they bring to their SMB customers. These successful channel partners are able to demonstrate knowledge of the SMBs’ industry, and are therefore able to create confidence within their SMB clients. These channel partners are also the most likely to build and maintain long-term relationships with their SMB customers. Unsuccessful channel partners claim that they are able to demonstrate understanding of their SMB customers’ business needs – but at a technical level – and are constrained by a lack of vertical understanding. 70 percent of unsuccessful channel partners emphasize their technical expertise during interactions with SMBs as they lack the understanding of their SMB customers’ industry vertical to be able to offer sophisticated cloud solutions. They emphasize service quality without necessarily understanding what this means in a cloud context. In addition, many of the unsuccessful partners tend to stress price when positioning cloud computing solutions.

Therefore it is imperative for SMB channel partners to go beyond technical knowledge and really understand the dynamics of industries in which their SMB customers operate and become industry subject matter experts.

Techaisle’s Winning Strategies of Successful SMB Cloud Channel Partners study covers critical differences between the activities and approaches of successful and unsuccessful cloud partners in three key areas: Business Priorities and Resource Allocations, Current and Planned Cloud offerings, Sales and Marketing Strategies and Tactics

Techaisle’s SMB Channel Partner Trend report covers: Mobility, Cloud, Managed Services, Virtualization, Backup, Data Integration, Sales & Marketing including Social Media & Lead Generation

 

 
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