About seven-years ago Murray Wright and Dave Walsh of Ingram Micro Canada (NYSE: IM) created a group called the SMB Alliance. The group consisted of 20 top-flight IT vendors such as IBM, HP, Microsoft, Symantec and Cisco Systems.
The original idea behind the SMB Alliance was to lead resellers and vendors down a straight path toward the end user.
The 2003 plan was based on eight strategic vertical markets such as education, manufacturing, legal, graphics, and medical. The SMB Alliance was free to join and included solutions-based education training, best practices sharing and partner engagements with vendors and resellers. It was a sound idea back then but when you look at it today with the heavy emphasis on small and medium business it looks like pure genius.
This week Ingram is hosting a conference in Orlando, Fla. for the SMB Alliance. It’s amazing how much this group has grown. Back in 2003, the goal was to reach 300 channel partners. Today, the SMB Alliance boasts 3,940 members in Canada and the U.S. This year’s conference centres around…you guessed it…cloud computing. But it will also educate resellers on managed services, marketing, mobility and professional services. It will also have workshops for key market areas such as healthcare and non-profits. The vendor buy in is outstanding with support from smaller vendors such as Belkin, OKI Data, Trend Micro along with big vendors from the original SMB Alliance including Lenovo, McAfee, Sony, and VMware.
Is VARNex the same?
Another strong group from Ingram is its VentureTech Network (VTN). Tech Data has its own buying group called TechSelect. They too are a formidable group in the market place. Synnex a short time ago created what a lot of people in the industry called a me-too group called VARNex.
Recently I was contacted by a Synnex representative about VARNex. We are still working on finding a date to get together. But it got me thinking if another buying group is necessary for Canada. When VARNex launched under Bob Stegner in the middle of 2008 there were bold promises to bring VARNex eventually here to Canada. Stegner was a big reason for the success of VTN when he was the vice president of Ingram Micro marketing.
When CDN first reported about Stegner and VARNex the plan was to enhance the group’s partner-to-partner capabilities. VARNex was just a loyalty program at the time. But to compete with the big boys in VTN and TechSelect I believe VARNex needs to be unique in some way. Offering the same services as VTN and TechSelect isn’t something channel partners are going jump for joy about. It would be interesting to see if Stegner combines an SMB Alliance-type of group and what VTN/TechSelect offers with VARNex. We shall see of course when the VARNex executives brief me.
The other question for VARNex is one of relevance. Will they be able to grow their base when VTN and TechSelect already have all the good channel partners locked up? I think they can again because of the SMB market. I’ve come across plenty of excellent and smart channel partners who are actively winning in the SMB. The only problem with them is that they are small in size. It’s not much of a buying group if your members don’t buy a lot. I would include them. I think if you can sprinkle your base with small, but smart resellers it can only enhance the group’s councils and could lead to new and innovative business plans.