Specialise, but don't get tunnel vision

Specialise, but don't get tunnel vision

Partner programmes are like technology – trends emerge and as one vendor introduces a theme, others follow.

When the economy wasn’t dictating that tech companies be quite so circumspect, rewards and incentives tended to be a little more lavish. Trips to exotic and far away lands and the use of high-performance cars weren’t out of the question.

As vendors let partners know their roadmaps last year - and are again doing so with the approach of second half of this year when new financial years loom for many in New Zealand, the encouragement to specialise has become a common strategy.

During its global partner conference last July, Microsoft announced the Partner Network, which is seeing about 30 new solution competency areas being phased in and the Gold, Certified and Registered tiers phased out.

At the end of this year, Symantec will be following a comparable path, by rewarding partners who specialise to gain in-depth knowledge of particular areas of its product portfolio.

Cisco’s recent global partner conference in the US also emphasised partner specialisation, especially as Cisco’s portfolio is set to grow with the acquisition of Tandberg. This is evident in its Global Partner Network programme, which helps partners identify organisations that have complementary skills and can support customers locally for multinational offerings.

Brocade is another to follow this trend, with its recent Asia Pacific-wide scheme designed to help partners target particular vertical markets.

Encouraging partners to specialise is a logical response to several factors at play in the current technology environment.

The amalgamation of firms on a global and local scale is one. Customers need to know what a partner business’ core skills are, even when they become part of another company. Vendor reward and incentive initiatives can keep partners from losing sight of their key areas of specialty.

The trend toward market consolidation also means vendor technologies are coming together, giving resellers the chance to operate in new markets and to offer products they haven’t resold before. Formal acknowledgement of specialisation in distinct parts of an amalgamated portfolio lets customers know where a company’s expertise lies.

However, customers aren’t the only ones who need to know the areas a company has strong expertise and technical skill in. Other companies in the partner landscape need to know also, because partnerships can be facilitated when there are customers who could benefit from co-operation between specialists who can meet their diverse business requirements.

By implementing formal rewards for reseller companies that drill deeply into a particular part of a vendor’s solution offering through achieving certifications and upskilling staff, vendors can ensure they have genuine experts representing their brand in the market.

But it would be remiss not to sound some notes of caution. As mentioned earlier, vendor amalgamation is resulting in broadened product sets, bringing new opportunities for partners.

It is easier for smaller companies to be known for a particular competency, because stretching resources to cover too many markets is impractical.

But for those capable of taking on new opportunities, specialisation shouldn’t result in tunnel vision. Partners should ensure they keep their view broad and cast an eye on the future to make sure they capitalise on emerging technologies. While vendors can be successful by encouraging specialisation, they should also work with resellers to ensure new opportunities are met.

They could mean matching partners with others who have distinct or complementary skill sets for customers who are investigating new technology areas. This places an obligation on vendors and partners to also keep abreast of international market trends.

Common to each of the three vendor programmes mentioned above is a long lead-in time to allow partners to work on core competency areas and associated skill requirements. Such early signalling will be equally important in allowing partners to seize on new opportunities.

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