Hewlett-Packard may have been quick out of the gate with details about its post-merger product and services roadmap, but the company is still fleshing out details of its channel sales strategy.
The issue is important for users because it affects the way in which HP products will be sold and supported in the future, analysts said.
Companies such as HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems are all trying to expand their direct sales efforts on the hardware front, said Laurie McCabe, an analyst at Summit Strategies.
At the same time, they need to maintain channel relationships at the high end to help deliver complex technologies, she said.
"What vendors such as HP are trying to do is elevate themselves as much as possible into a primary contact position with customers, as opposed to being called into play in a hardware supplier role by third parties," McCabe said.
Program strategy unclear
As a result, one of the biggest questions raised by the merger relates to the future of HP's Hard Deck program, under which the company sells directly to a designated set of customers. HP's sales organisation takes the lead on such accounts and brings in resellers only when needed. Channel partners are also awaiting word on a similarly named account program Compaq had in place before the merger.
HP has said it intends to keep the Hard Deck principle in place to let channel partners know exactly where it will sell directly. But partners want to know whether HP plans to expand the number of customers it will go after directly and, if so, who the customers will be.
"It's OK if they expand the Hard Deck," said John Sheaffer, CEO of Sysix Technologies, an HP reseller in Illinois. "But HP needs to tell us who's going to be in the Hard Deck and what their engagement strategies are going to be outside the Hard Deck."
It is also important for HP to properly implement and execute its new strategy of having separate channel organisations for its enterprise systems and for volume products such as PCs, notebooks and handhelds, Sheaffer said. A similar initiative by HP a few years ago resulted in resellers having to do extra work to "gain traction with each organisation", he said.
HP also needs to quickly spell out who the key field-level managers and account representatives of the respective channel organisations will be, said Geoffrey Lilien, CEO of Californian HP reseller Lilien Systems.
"We have a lot of accounts where we work with HP, and it is important to know who we are going to be working with," he said.
The two channel organisations were designed so that HP can support partners in a way that best aligns with the mix of business they do with HP, a company spokeswoman said.
Resellers will have to deal with only one channel organisation instead of both, she said. In addition, HP won't change any channel programs for resellers of both HP and Compaq for a period of 90 days, starting with the May 7 launch of the merged company, she added.