The importance placed on partner programs by the channel has fallen as the balance of power shifts between technology providers and vendors.
In a world in which traditional reselling is declining, and technology features dwindling, partners are moving front and centre of the customer conversation, advising on the purchase and implementation of solutions and services.
Because as outcomes begin to dominate the conversation, end-users are less concerned whether the vendor box is blue, red or green, placing the choice of technology in the hands of the provider.
Such a shift is playing out through the supply chain with 77 per cent of partners rating partner programs as important when evaluating vendor relationships, down from 94 per cent in 2016.
That’s according to Canalys research, which reported that nine per cent of partners rated partner programs as “not at all important”, while almost a quarter rated them as lacking importance (six or less on the ranking scale).
“Increasingly, the ball is in the channel’s court,” said Alex Smith, senior director of channels research at Canalys. “Partners have more levers to pull.”
For Smith, the results should come as a “warning to vendors” that they must get partners aligned as the market faces disruption from cloud and digital technologies.
“They can provide more of their own services or make new technology vendor partnerships to fulfil specific opportunities,” Smith added.
“Meanwhile, vendors often change programs to reflect changes in partner business models and to spur loyalty, but such changes can have the unintended consequence of increasing complexity, leading to frustration.”
Specifically, a lack of consistency/changes to programs was the top complaint, with 16 per cent of partners selecting it among their top issues.
Meanwhile, complexity in achieving certifications and specialisations was the next highest at 15 per cent.
“This research clearly highlights the difficult balance that vendors need to strike,” added Sharon Hiu, analyst at Canalys.
“They must continue developing programs to remain relevant to their partners’ evolving businesses, while also minimizing the level of disruption and frustration that changes often create.”
Going forward, Hiu believes partner programs will continue to be vital to partners as they are fundamental to how they navigate relationships with vendors.
But on the flip side, Hiu said vendors must involve partners more in program planning and strategy discussions to ensure programs are valuable.
“As partners develop different service models, the most successful vendors will be those that effectively help partners adapt their technical capabilities,” Hiu added. “The huge challenge is to keep programs simple while our industry embraces complex new technologies.
“Vendors must take action, such as investing in stronger digital tools, including integrated automation and AI-enabled capabilities, to help reduce partners’ manual administration work.
“Partner managers must also become more empowered and offer personalised support for individual partner needs. The channel is pressuring vendors to do just this.”