Apple was started in the year I was born, 1976.
History tells us that while there were many competitors in the early days, the company's ambition, design and commitment to make the best computers were not enough to put Apple in the driver's seat against the combination of IBM and Microsoft. Until 2007.
Apple's iPod, iPhone and iPad swept the market with a consistent brand, and it also provided a desktop PC equivalent in the iMac. Due to the success of these products, Apple has managed to gain a big share of the desktop/laptop space due to the much discussed halo effect.
I was reminded of this when walking through the Ingram Micro showcase in Auckland a few weeks back. The vendors had set up booths to show off their latest and greatest and product managers were able to catch up with their clients and friends. And they also tackled the much more daunting task of pitching to new customers, getting people to make a commitment of time, energy and training to understand their product, and to trust in their support to deliver hardware or software to a new and untapped client base.
We were being asked to make a commitment to build a practice around supporting Apple's products in business environments, as we had done for so many other products. As partners we are not allowed to sell the iPhone or products at education prices, and to be honest, even Apple acknowledged that the margins are so low on the hardware that there is really no point. They needed partners to deliver services, enterprise level management, support and security.
Apple products were making their way into businesses as “bring your own devices” and because they had played for so many years as a niche player with carefully selected partners, there was and still is a lack of real enterprise support.
Apple presented us with the sales holy grail: an existing market demand, a low competitive landscape with some specific tools to address the management problem created by their products entering the business environment in the first place.
Suffice to say that this did not go down too well. It was not lack of vision of the people in the room, but more how real world experience had informed the participants. The whole team had been through building vendor relationships before. We knew the pain of being a Platinum Partner with great support until organisational downsizing or a better offer left you with a product manager who turns up to every meeting unprepared, dogmatic about their brand and openly deriding competitors. The kind of person who I would not want alone in a room with my team, let alone any of my clients.
A few weeks after Ingram came Microsoft’s Tech Ed. About 2000 people attended the three-plus day event, featuring many breakout sessions, and a great group from Microsoft and others, standing up and sharing their successes, difficulties and tips for supporting customers of the Microsoft stack.
Of couse, not all products come with the same commitment level. But even the most publicly panned product, Windows Vista, was able to achieve sales of 400 million units, thanks to a supportive and dedicated partner ecosystem.
As vendors look to gain a little of that Apple magic that has created the most valuable technology company in the world, it would be good to remember that in the number two spot, that position was built through partnership and market perseverance allied with a reseller community that delivers support, training and an established work pool of experienced people who seem to move roles on a regular cycle.
The message for resellers? If you want to work with a technology vendor that doesn’t take almost thirty years to become an overnight success, look for the ones that commit to the best partner strategy.