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Keeping the channel informed

Keeping the channel informed

While many resellers lament the lack of understanding that vendors have of them, one market research company is dedicated to providing vendors with the compre- hensive information about the IT channel they need. As Brad Howarth reports, resellers have a part to play as well...

"We've rediscovered the channel" would easily qualify as the phrase most often spoken by vendors in 1996. PC manufacturers, networking companies and even mid-range vendors have all turned to the channel in the last 12 months, as they seek to extend their sales force beyond what they themselves can cover.

But how many of them really understand the needs of their channel? And with so many vendors competing for the same reseller base, what is it that makes one company more successful in attracting resellers than another?

Finding the answers to these questions is one of the aims of Inform Business Development, a Sydney-based research company providing business intelligence purely on the IT reseller channel. It was founded in 1995 by joint directors David Hancock and Terry Wiley, both channel veterans in Australia and the UK, who were frustrated at the lack of good intelligence about the Australian channel. "In the European marketplace there are a number of organisations that do similar things to what we do here now," says Wiley, "so we felt there was an excellent opportunity within Australia to start this business, but also to assist vendors and channel organisations in bettering their relationships."

Hence Inform was set up. While it provides a number of services, its principle products are the annual IT CHANNEL Trends survey, the first of which was issued last year, and a comprehensive database of the IT channel comprising some 6000 entries.

It is the survey which is perhaps of most interest to resellers. While much of its content is statistical, Hancock says a number of qualitative questions ask resellers their opinions on certain issues, and provide one of the few chances resellers get to express their views to vendors in an open forum. "What you can do is get to the heart of the channel and what they feel," says Hancock.

"One of the things that came out of the 1996 research was that a lot of resellers said the problem with vendors is they just don't understand them. So we ask them a whole series of questions about how they want to be communicated with by the vendors, or what sort of cooperative marketing do they want, so the vendors can really understand what the channel's all about." Hancock adds that anonymity for respondents is guaranteed, with all responses destroyed after the results are tabulated. The results of the survey are marketed to vendor organisations, who use it to assist in planning their reseller campaigns.

Two-way street

Hancock said this year's questionnaire, to be mailed both to Inform's database and distributed in the February 22nd edition of ARN, should only take 20 minutes to complete, and there are a number of incentives for resellers to complete it on time. All respondents will receive a 20-page summary report on the research results, as well as a subscription to ARN and a one-year subscription to the ComputerWorld Today e-mail news service. Most importantly, all resellers who return the survey on time will go into the running for an all expenses paid trip to this year's Comdex exhibition in Las Vegas.

While the trip to Comdex is a worthy incentive, Hancock says he got a good response from resellers who received the 20-page research summary. "Resellers said this is exactly what they want so they can understand the market they're playing in. Those that respond to the survey are generally people who are very serious about their business, they have a strategic plan for their company, and they've been around."

As well as the questionnaire, Inform also maintains an extensive database of channel organisations. This is maintained by calling all companies twice every year for an eight-minute interview. While this database is primarily marketed back to vendors, Hancock says it also benefits resellers. "One of the things that really annoys the channel is vendors speaking to them about products that they are never going to be interested in representing. What the database gives vendors is a snapshot of the industry right now, to tell the vendors not only who is out and who are the major decision makers, but what are the brands of hardware and software resellers are currently providing, what are the vertical markets they are currently selling into, what is their breakdown of hardware, software and services. The idea is that the vendors then won't waste the channel's time."

The data that is then gathered is used by vendors for three purposes: market research, sales activity and direct mailing. Hancock hopes that the high quality of information in the database will lead to less wasted effort on the part of both vendors and resellers.

Look for the IT CHANNEL Trends Survey, in the February 22nd edition of ARN, and take the chance to have your say on the IT reseller channel.

Contact:

Inform Business Development PO Box R424, Royal exchange, NSW 2000 Tel (02) 9231 3200 Fax (02) 9231 3122


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