First Impressions are Critical

Developing a successful channel program requires some serious preliminary work that no vendor should ignore.

There has never been a better time to be a solution provider. All the major hardware vendors are putting tremendous research and development dollars behind higher-end products such as blade servers, which carry more services opportunities. And corporations are warming up to Web hosting and software as a service, which bodes well for the channel.

Add to this the adoption of mobile and wireless technology, VOIP (voice over IP), and comprehensive threat management solutions involving disaster recovery, e-mail archiving, and intrusion prevention and detection, and you have hungry companies of all sizes that need to be spoon-fed IT services. Manufacturers by themselves cant meet these needs. Hardware makers, software developers, add-on Web development tool makers, niche security vendors and ISPs need the channel more than ever. But the need doesnt necessarily translate to a receptive audience.

Stating you have a comprehensive channel strategy is one thing, but following through is completely different. In June, our sister Web site Channel Insider published a story regarding, a VOIP vendor, targeting the channel. While is saying all the right things, it will be interesting to track the company over the next six to 12 months to see how comprehensive its channel plan really is.

The VAR channel either can make or break your organization. There are five key steps to building a successful channel strategy.

1. Define your offering

Determine whether your product offering is a straight sell that can be part of an overall technology solution, or if it needs customization or integration before being installed. If your product is a straight sell with a certain price point, focus your efforts on distributors first and resellers second. Distributors reach large numbers of resellers and know how to bundle complementary products.

2. Align internal structure

Make channel partners an extension of your company. Since your customers are resellers, your sales staff has to be dedicated to supporting the channel. Assign sales personnel to specific channel partners and train them to call on user accounts and pass leads to their assigned partners.

3. Build information kits

Information kits about your products and hard-copy materials targeted to prospective buyers will help partners represent your product. Internal-use kits should include product specs, dimensions, serial numbers and anything else a VAR may need to order or install the product. Any behind-the-scenes development challenges or specific vertical needs should be mentioned. The kits also should contain special promotions, specific marketing strategies and contact information.

4. Trust and communication

Address any issues that arise by keeping open communications with your partners, which helps build trust. Assigned sales or support reps should meet with partners regularly. Forming a channel advisory council also works.

5. Follow through

The final leg of developing a strong channel strategy is making good on promises. If you promise to dedicate resources to support an individual VAR, do so. If you say your executives are available for client visits, make sure they are.

Like all of us, your channel partners primarily are business operators trying to pay their mortgage and send their kids to college. Let common sense dictate your protocol: Give your VARs one strong point of contact to answer their questions, and keep them informed of things such as late shipments or development. Help your VARs succeed, and they will be loyal.

Elliot Markowitz is editor at large of eWeek Strategic Partner. He is also editorial director of eSeminars for Ziff Davis Media. He can be reached at