In the years since the rollout of its PartnerDirect channel program five and a half years ago, Dell Inc. has been one of the loudest in the industry in terms of trumpeting their partner numbers. And with good reason – for the Round Rock, Tex.-based vendor, every channel partner that signed up for the program must have felt like a chip taken out of its hard-earned former reputation as an unsurpassed direct-dealing boogeyman in the channel. And every partner that signed up an completed a transaction was an even bigger win.
Today, Dell’s channel leadership will still gleefully share with you its channel signup numbers. But the numbers discussion is shifting, as has the focus of Dell’s partner program. Talk to Greg Davis, the company’s worldwide channel chief today, and he’s still proud that his organization signed up 5,000 new partners during its first quarter. But he’d much rather talk about the boost in the company’s upper-tier Preferred and Premier partners, whose ranks have increased by 60 percent over the last year and now stand at some 4,000 organizations worldwide.
It’s a sign of the times – as Dell continues its journey away from the PC vendor of the past and towards a company that offers an ever-expanding array of increasingly integration IT solutions for businesses, it’s finding – as have so many before it – that it needs to get closer to the right partners to deliver that message and the services that make the promise real.
When the company signed on channel veteran Frank Vitagliano to lead its channels business in the Americas, one of his main goals was to make Dell a “much more strategic vendor” for these partners, and again, the company backs that up with raw numbers. Dell’s on pace, Davis says, to deliver between 250,000 and 275,000 channel training courses this year, and offered training to more than 8,700 individuals in the channel during the first quarter. It’s also seen deal registrations from the channel spike 14 percent over the course of 2012 versus 2011.
Its efforts seem to be paying off – Davis said the company typically sees its top –tier partners drive growth of between four and six times the rest of the company’s channel community, which is in turn growing faster than Dell’s direct business, now accounting for 36 percent of Dell’s commercial revenues.
But it’s far from complete. Even if it were to hold steady on the number of overall partners – and there is no chance that will happen – both the total number of top-status partners, and the ratio of those top partners to the overall base still fall far short of Dell’s ultimate goal.
“I’d love to see 10 percent of our base in the Premier or Preferred status brackets,” Davis said. And with the database for PartnerDirect sitting at just over 100,000 partners worldwide, that gives the company a lot of runway to grow the upper echelons of its channel program, a group for which he says his goal to foster “the most competent and capable partners anywhere in the world.”
The company’s latest move to continue to grow that group is to introduce four new software-centric competencies into PartnerDirect, an effort which effectively closes the loop on getting many of the software companies snapped up by Dell in recent years – Quest Software, SonicWall and Wyse Technologies chief among them – completely into the fold. While that will mean those companies’ respective programs are fully integrated into PartnerDirect, that’s not the end of the journey. The company notes that almost 90 percent of the partners for those acquisitions were already Dell partners. Getting the partner programs for those company’s fully into the PartnerDirect framework is an important step, especially when it comes to simplifying business for those partners. But the real test comes in the second half of the year, when Dell plans to turn its attention to making getting its growing software lineup on the minds of much more of the PartnerDirect community.
“It makes life much easier for our partners who walk in with a complete solution, rather than showing multiple pieces,” Davis said of the effort to drive more cross-selling in the channel.
Beyond that, it’s a key shift in Dell’s continuing evolution as a channel player. Partners speak well of its transformation into a solutions-centric company to date, but how it creates strategic partners who pick up on these comparatively new areas will be key to continuing to driving the kinds of numbers that Davis loves to share.
Partners speak well of its transformation into a solutions-centric company to date, but how it creates strategic partners who pick up on these comparatively new areas will be key to continuing to driving the kinds of numbers that Davis loves to share.