Computer Associates has launched a channel plan—in the midst of a company reorganization—that will effectively give CAs direct-sales force preferred access to more than 12,000 corporate accounts.
Im here to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly parts of this strategy. And, believe me, there is plenty of all three to go around.
Naming preferred accounts is a double-edged sword. I would be the first person to agree that whenever there is an entrenched direct-sales force in place, rules of engagement must be established, and they need to be clear, with no gray areas, or it will result in confusion. And confusion results in lost business for the vendor and the channel.
The answers to questions about who takes the lead on accounts, who is the direct point of customer contact and exactly what role a vendor sales representative plays—along with the services offered by a channel partner—are critical to ensure the success of a project and the satisfaction of customers. If a VAR believes it is competing for business inside an account with a vendor that it represents, that VAR will eventually push another suppliers wares.
VARs are about solutions, yes, but they are also about making money and not supporting a company that is sabotaging their business.
Dont get me wrong. That is not what I am saying CA is doing. To the contrary, what I am saying is that there is a lot of history between the channel and direct-sales initiatives of all kinds.
There is a lot of good involved with CA naming preferred customers, as long as there are rules for engaging and servicing those customers. Clarity wins over confusion any day. CA should be applauded for trying to narrow the gray area between its channel partners and its direct-sales force.
We know CA is marketing the move as a way to drive more sales, not less, through its channel partners. It is openly admitting it cannot service all the requirements of corporate accounts and needs to bring in VAR partners to fill in the service gaps. My understanding is that CAs direct-sales folks are going to be compensated handsomely for bringing in channel partners. This is certainly good.
It is no industry secret that CA wants a greater mix of its business to come through the channel. It has said so publicly in recent years. Right now, sources tell me that number is below 20 percent and that it needs to grow significantly.
But I am not sure this is the right vehicle to get CA there. Mixing direct-sales reps with channel partners could be a dicey proposition. VARs are always suspicious of direct-sales reps—and often for good reason. I have rarely met a VAR that didnt claim to lose some piece of business to a vendors sales force at some point. Suspicion is bad. However, if the incentives hold true, this could be a very good deal for the channel.
Another potential bone of contention is that any CA partner can solicit the named accounts, as long as its done through the companys direct-sales force. No VAR that I know likes to be handcuffed in that manner. CA says it simply has informed its channel partners that if they engage in a named account they can expect to find CAs direct team there. Im not sure how the communication between the two works, but it seems it would require another organizational step that may cause scheduling and political headaches. Again, if the channel starts to see real service leads come its way, it will get over this point in a hurry.
Also, we are talking about 12,278 named accounts. That is a pretty large preferred customer list for VARs to swallow. CA may say its not. But for the solution-oriented VAR, being told to stay away from being the lead on 12,000-plus accounts is a big pill to swallow. Big pills are never desirable.
As for the ugly, Ill leave that to the Mets season-opening loss to the Reds. What this has to do with CA is that the best-laid plans of mice and men, often ... you know the rest. We will see how this eventually works out for the channel and CA. It certainly has the potential to be far more good than bad. Lets hope it doesnt get ugly.
Elliot Markowitz is editor-at-large for The Channel Insider and editorial director of eSeminars for Ziff Davis Media Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.