Dell unveils channel program

Dell unveils channel program

Deal registration, competencies and a partner portal are key elements of the new program

Dell's first channel program will be heavily focused on deal registration to help curb market conflicts, and include a portal site.

The new program will also have traditional offerings such as a Dell authorised logo program, online training, education, demo units, financing and product road maps, but will lack back-end rebates. There will also be a provision for deal sharing with Dell's direct sales force.

Dell's first channel chief, Greg Davis, said most of the framework of this plan had been based on partner feedback. At the heart of the program is operational efficiency, he said.

"We already have about 15,000 partners and they leverage Dell for operational efficiency in our direct business. We now want them to leverage it to make partner business more efficient and offer more value to customers," Davis said.

As an example, channel partners today have the ability to order custom-configured computers and Dell will build them.

This is a cost-efficient manner compared to Dell's competitors and the distributors, Davis claimed. "We build to order for them and ship direct to customers on their behalf," he added.

Dell is working on a program to place partner's packing slips and other information inside the box on their behalf. There are also plans for asset tagging and custom software loading.

Dell will have a channel model made up mostly of registered business partners and a top tier called certified partners.

The central hub of Dell's channel program will be a password-protected portal site. Davis said the portal will be the main information page for partners to learn about the program and its benefits. Over time, he envisioned partners will build significant capabilities through training that will be showcased on the portal. Part of the portal training will be product roadmap briefings.

One of the major offerings in the portal will be dedicated technical support just for the channel, along with a tech chat forum.

Davis said he realised the channel program would be similar to offerings of other programs in the market and that was a major reason to come out with a unique site. He hopes the site can showcase partner capabilities to customers and also to Dell's direct sales teams. He also hopes that the portal can be a conduit for networking between partner, customer and Dell's direct sales force.

Overcoming issues such as channel conflicts is clearly the number 1 challenge Davis' channel plan will face, which is why the deal registration portion of the program is being pilot tested first.

"We have to manage that. One of the key elements is the deal registration tool via the portal. We will work hard to get them registered and they will have an opportunity to register deals and we will utilise this to minimise conflict," he said.

The deal registration plan will work like this: A partner must first be registered on the portal site. From there the VAR registers the deal. Then the Dell portal site assesses if Dell is already engaged in that particular deal. Something as simple as extending pricing would mean Dell has already captured this customer. But if it is a wide open opportunity Dell will not proactively market to them to take that deal away. Also all the data will be walled off from the direct sales team at Dell.

"The partner can feel safe. There is no fear of them being used," Davis said. Also, Dell's direct sales team will be compensated regardless of what route the customer takes.

Partners will also be able to attain competencies within the program. The program will have two at its inception with another 3-5 competencies coming next year.

The first will be an enterprise architecture competency, which will focus on building relationships with channel customers that already have strong value add in this area.

Storage expertise will be essential, Davis said. Dell wants to build on EqualLogic's success in the channel. EqualLogic was recently acquired by Dell for $US1.4 billion. Storage power, cooling and virtualisation will also be important attributes to have for this competency.

The second is specific for certified partners. Those solution providers will get first crack at managed services through the recently acquired Silverback Technologies. Davis said Dell wanted to pursue a deeper, stronger relationship with certified partners in hopes of developing a managed services partner base.

Validation of this program will be a hard sell for Davis. One way for Dell to win channel partners is by passing direct accounts to the solution providers. There will be no move, at least initially, to do that, Davis said. He added that it could occur through the partner portal site where a direct customer could team up with a partner who is offering certain capabilities they need.

Davis called his channel plan ambitious. He admitted there is a lot of work ahead of him and his team to leverage Dell's capabilities with operational efficiencies.

"We want to provide a great value proposition to a set of channel partners that want to do business with Dell. I am not going to make everyone happy. We are in the formative stages and I hope they see value and partner with us. It will take several years to build out the benefits," Davis said.

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