The keys to a strong vendor/channel partner relationship

What makes a strong vendor/channel partner relationship?

After their marriage, a channel partner’s relationships with their technology vendors are probably the most important, and long-standing relationships in their lives. And not unlike a marriage, a strong vendor/channel relationship requires nurturing, give-and-take and mutual respect.

What are the components that keep this relationship strong? CDN asked partners, vendors and channel analysts for their perspectives on what makes a successful partnership.

Find out more in this CDN slideshow.

by Jeff Jedras, CDN

What a channel partner wants

A report earlier this year from Forrester Research outlined five things channel partners want from technology vendors, and provides a useful starting-point for setting the criteria that make for a successful relationship.

The report states that “new vendor-channel partner relationships are going to be forged on how well vendors can deliver on channel partners’ expectations.”

When partners are figuring out which vendor or vendors they’d like to work with, Forrester said they often want to have these five questions answered: “How big is the market opportunity for this vendor’s product’s, what are my paths to profit with this vendor, how will this vendor help/support me, how is this vendor’s channel program superior (and) how will this vendor showcase my value to customers?”

Learn more: Five questions to ask when choosing a vendor to work with

Harry Zarek, CEO, Compugen Inc.

There is no single part of the relationship that stands out. Given the strategic nature of these partnerships there are a host of requirements to ensure there is a ‘win-win’ approach to the business. Included in any discussion are principles around trust, mutual commitments, and willingness to demonstrate flexibility and shared goals to our customers.

Amongst the best vendors there is an understanding of our unique value proposition and how we make money; that we need to do what is in the best long term interest of our customers.

Paul Doucet, president, EnabledSuccess Inc.

In my opinion, the most important part of a strong vendor/partner relationship is visibility. A partner needs to be able to have visibility into transactions with the vendor, especially when some vendor transactions are direct with the end customer. At the same time, the vendor needs visibility into the partner’s pipeline so they can proactively offer assistance in closing deals, understanding when deals might close and what is needed to help close a deal. Visibility into marketing campaigns and materials is also important.

When partners have visibility into vendor campaigns and marketing material and leverage that material, both parties benefit.

Adam Belzycki, corporate sales regional director, SHI Canada

A vendor should be a business advocate, have an in-depth understanding of strategy and KPI’s, full disclosure in communication, changes and strategy and proactive meetings, reviews and onsite visits, be seen as a committed participant in success, and have the ability to share profit and risk

I was approached by a senior PBM and asked how they could become more channel friendly, and this is the ranking I gave him:


• Don’t change the program constantly
• Either your 100 per cent channel or not

Common sales goals

•Both teams need to win
•If your internal sales reps make less if the business goes through the channel, this is a disincentive and shows your attitude towards the channel

Clear rules of engagement

•Responses, escalations and customer engagements are consistent with the vendor program and there is accountability on both sides when issues arise
•Ensure that common marketing initiatives are executed and ROI is driven


•Both high-level and line-level exposure and regular meetings to ensure that strategy and execution are consistent

Dave Sherry, president, Unity Telecom

Like most relationships, trust and respect are key attributes to a solid relationship with a vendor. Having clear lines of communication with the vendor and a understanding that there is a mutual benefit in working together, rather than this is it take it or leave it attitude.

Of course it goes without saying, that integrity/honesty is a key in any business dealings. You have to have a partner who will work fairly with you, knowing that you share in the pain and the gain.

I think it would be a great learning experience for some of the senior execs from the manufacturers to come and work in their partners businesses for a week, they may learn a lot about what it is like to deal with their company’s rules, processes and staff.

A good vendor will see the relationship truly as a partnership, one in which you win together. Working together to grow the business, being involved in the investments required to grow the business and being there to weather tough times makes for a strong long lasting relationship.

Paul Edwards, research director, SMB and channel strategies, IDC Canada

The most important components of a strong partnership are summed up in this acrostic. Bringing these together will lead to greater success and increased sales.

Solutions: Both parties must bring “solutions” to the table. This relates as much to technology and services as it does to understanding sales and marketing approaches.

Engagement: A deep level of open engagement between vendors and their partners (and vice versa) is required for transparent communication on what impacts the relationship, e.g. executive level strategy, sales and marketing activity, product and services development, etc.

Leverage: Both parties must effectively, and in a mutually agreeable manner, leverage what the other brings to the table. This could be something as direct as a product or service, but could also be something less tangible, like a sales methodology.

Limits: Both vendors and their partners need to be aware of their own limits and the limits of the relationship to avoid jeopardizing current and potential business.

James Alexander, senior vice-president, Info-Tech Research Group

Partners are an interesting lot. Fiercely independent, incredibly resourceful and eternally adaptable, they survive and thrive based upon the strength of the relationships they forge both with their customers, and the vendors they do business with. That’s not just my opinion as a long time solution provider; over the past two years we’ve surveyed and interviewed more than two thousand partners and that’s the overwhelming message they give us.

As such, the foundations of a successful relationship are based upon what one might expect: trust, mutual respect and personal interaction. We recently surveyed partners around more than thirty elements of partner programs in the areas of Sales and Marketing Support, Partner Enablement and Transactional Efficiency. The most important? Providing a dedicated telephone or in person representative.

In this era of self-service portals, peer-to-peer communities and social media, it’s critical for partners to have someone who represents their own very specific needs. That’s the key to an ongoing, successful vendor/partner relationship.

Mary Whittle, director, worldwide channel development, Avaya Canada

The basis of the relationship must be founded in mutual trust and respect with both sharing the same goal — to provide an exceptional customer experience.

To accomplish this vendors must appreciate that partners have strong links, often local presence or industry specialty, with their customers. Partners deliver a broad range of products and services, often from other complementary vendors and across multiple client lines of business. And partners value their customers as deeply as vendors do.

Partners must recognize that the vendor is sharing its most valuable asset — the vendor’s brand — with them. Partners must be willing to gain the competency required to successfully represent the vendors’ products and services — including accurate pre-sales positioning, design and configuration, implementation and after-sales support. After all, if a product doesn’t perform as promised — it’s the vendor’s logo that will be visible to the user.

Finally, partners and vendors must trust that each will perform their role with integrity, a collaborative spirit and demonstrate support for each other in the customer’s eye.

Donna Wittmann, vice-president, channels, Cisco Systems Canada

A key priority at Cisco is value-based channel relationships. By clearly understanding a partner’s business objectives and priorities, we can build strategies together and become relevant to each other’s businesses. I strongly believe the best vendor/partner relationships occur when you have this win-win situation.

Our priority is creating positive customer experiences that reflect well on the partner and Cisco. Our goal is to help our partners increase their credibility with their customer base by remaining on the cutting edge of market transitions, and helping them increase revenues by being first to market with those technologies. In the early 2000s it was IP telephony — today it’s a new approach to virtualization of the data centre.

John Cammalleri, vice-president, solution partners organization, HP Canada

Mutual trust between partners and vendors is critical to a strong relationship. There are several elements that contribute to building this trust.

First, there must be a level of predictability between vendors and partners from both a programmatic and a sales engagement standpoint. Secondly, both partners and vendors must work to ensure relevance for their customers. For partners, this means continuously addressing market relevance and building competencies that align with changing customer requirements, while for vendors it requires bringing best of breed solutions to the market in a timely and competitive manner.

And finally, both partners and vendors must maintain open communications to ensure their goals are aligned, as there should be no mystery behind what a partner or vendor is trying to accomplish.

Jay McBain, director of channel development and communities, Lenovo

The most important part of the vendor/partner relationship is open lines of communication.

With the explosion of vendors in the past five years, the chances of a partner keeping track of products, programs, certifications and clip levels is very low. Therefore, it’s critically important for vendors to streamline product offerings, simplify programs and not put in place artificial tiers, clip levels or certification programs for the partner to participate.

A recent phenomenon is the movement of partners towards peer networks or community groups. With the vast array of information available, and the challenge in validating it, partners are putting more trust in their peers (and even competitors) to sort through the maze. Strong vendors can add value in these communities in a genuine and authentic way – selling or pitching should be a thing of the past.

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