Heres What Your Allies Want

Frustrated partners seek changes in vendor incentive programs.

Heres a New Years resolution some resellers and integrators would like to see vendors adopt: incentive programs that offer more than money.

Indeed, partners are calling for product manufacturers to rethink their channel programs and traditional mechanisms, such as rebates, spiffs and referral fees. Moreover, they view the vendors growing mix of incentive programs as confusing and difficult to administer. "Just tracking the collection of money from manufacturers today is complex," says Bill Waas, president and CEO of InfoTechIQ, a channel consultancy.

So what do partners want to see? Bob Lamb, president of ESI Technologies, a solutions provider in Athens, Tenn., says he prefers to see vendor channel dollars focused on technical training, sales training and marketing material.

But many vendors, Lamb says, spend their money on promotions that encourage the stocking of products. That approach is of limited value to ESI Technologies, which maintains little inventory. "We try to sell our clients what they need and want, not what a certain vendor is rewarding us for," Lamb says.

John Rutkowski, CEO of Bolder Designs, a network consultant in Newark, Del., agrees. He says most vendor incentives have too short of a life span for his company to reap the rewards.

However, some solutions providers believe vendor emphasis on cash rewards misses the mark. "The problem with using money as a motivator is that its very short term," says Steve Waterhouse, president of The Waterhouse Group, a sales training firm. He says free training or invitations to company sales meetings help deepen partner relationships.

Other solutions providers, meanwhile, want the financial incentives and simpler programs.

Chris Scotti, co-owner of AgniTEK, a solutions provider in College Station, Texas, says most vendor programs are labor-intensive and require the disclosure of customer information.

He sees potential in programs such as Zoom Telephonics VARplus program, which provides the rebate when an order is placed, tracking transactions through distributors.

Rutkowski, meanwhile, would like vendors to provide a "clear outline" of discount structures. "We would like to see the rules of the game instead of us having to guess what they are," he says.

Vendors, take note: a solid program can lead to loyal partners.