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Having spent 25 years in data protection, with several early years in channel and field-sales roles, I've noticed three common things that backup vendors don't seem to realize about channel partners.
1. Not every VAR/SI should become a backup service provider
Some vendors assume that they can help every one of their partners become backup as a service (BaaS) providers. The partners know the products, so with a little extra marketing for "BaaS in a box," they can presumably jump on the cloud bandwagon. There are two problems with this assumption:
- Just because a reseller is outstanding at technology deployment, it does not necessarily mean that it can or should run whole infrastructures as your "data of last resort." Operational management isn't the same as deployment or integration expertise -- and not all resellers maintain enough staff to manage an "as a service" set of platforms adequately.
- Not every reseller is effective with the marketing and business-development model of a cloud-based business. Sure, they could offer services to their existing customers who are considering "the cloud," but they could also resell those services with far less effort, unless it really is core to their business model.
What most successful VARs/SIs really offer is "expertise" combined with relationships and situational awareness of customer environments. After all, they probably installed most of the IT systems and will assuredly be the first called when something breaks.
But, when ESG asked IT decision-makers who they wanted to purchase backup as a service from, local VARs/SIs were near the bottom of the list, as were telco providers. Telco providers typically do know how to run an "as a service" infrastructure and market to a cloud consumer, but telcos don't know customers' IT environments, nor do most have the depth to help during an actual disaster, other than ensuring the BaaS platform is available for data restores upon request.
In many cases, to actually be successful in converting a VAR/SI to enable cloud services, VAR/SIs should partner with telcos or MSPs, who understand backup as a service and want to partner with the local resellers. The resellers stay involved with their customer (bringing expertise and environmental experience); the MSP/telco delivers the reliable service and the customer benefits from cloud-based data protection. In other words, the VAR/SI should be involved in selection, deployment and management of BaaS, but not the actual delivery of the service.
2. Resellers are not always a good proxy for vendors looking for customer opinions
Vendors assume that any VAR/SI with 50 customers must have nearly 50 times (or even just 10 times) the insight into what customers are looking for. Some vendors will solicit their partners as proxies for what customers want in sales initiatives, marketing messages or even product development. Yes, partners definitely have insights and can see things at a macro level, but they are biased in two distinct ways.
First, partners often have a long history with their primary vendors, which can affect the objectivity of their consensus of feedback. And second, partners are looking for profitability, which means that the products they want to sell may not (in many ways) resemble what customers want to buy.
Partners have unique insights that absolutely have to be listened to and considered as vendors try to outperform in the congested data protection marketplace, but customers' viewpoints are unique and are very difficult to quantify. If the vendor's favorite long-time partner is answering on its customers' behalf, it won't provide any insight into the opinions of prospective customers who aren't currently aligned to that partner's services.
3. Many VARs/SIs aren't perceived as credible
A recent ESG research report titled "Data Protection Personas, Methods, and Channels" appears to reveal disconnect between how IT organizations utilize partners and how much confidence they have in their partners' expertise. Two examples:
- Only 41% of IT respondents used their VARs/SIs for introductions to new data protection technologies for consideration. This is disappointing in that "Introducing new technologies for consideration" was the highest of the data protection lifecycle stages that partners were involved in, and they were only involved in approximately two out of five sales opportunities.
- Similarly, when IT professionals were asked to assess their confidence in their VAR/SI capabilities, "Introducing new technologies" and "Pre-sales positioning/competitive differentiation" were two of the lowest scored -- meaning that exactly what vendors presume partners are best at and what they depend on partners for (pre-sales) is the area in which those partners perform most poorly, according to IT decision-makers.
What does it all mean?
Vendors need to ensure their partners are competent to deliver backup as a service. That competence may center on operating a secondary infrastructure or managing it through a third-party MSP. Or, it may center on properly articulating not only pricing, but also operational benefits -- in other words, not just features, but also usability scenarios applicable to today's heterogeneous, real-world IT environments.
Data protection has and will continue to be a channel-driven, or at least a channel-accelerated, marketplace. However, the changes in vendor affinity, push/pull sales-dynamics and a lack of differentiation of expertise among VAR/SIs have lessened some of their influence and the insights.
You need to be confident that the third-party experts fully understand how a given product compares with competitive alternatives and how it fits into your organization's unique IT infrastructure. In other words, demand that your data protection channel partners provide knowledge and expertise -- not just gear.
BIO: Jason Buffington is a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. He focuses primarily on data protection, as well as Windows Server infrastructure, management and virtualization. He blogs at CentralizedBackup.com and tweets as @Jbuff.
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