While sitting on a plane idly chatting with a small business owner last week, the conversation moved to computers. The guy was in the process of evaluating channel partners, and asked if it was important for a channel partner to offer managed services. My first instinct was to give him the falling-off-the-log obvious answer: “Well, gee… if you’re going to use managed services, then I guess my answer is yes. (Sarcasm sometimes gets the better of me, as you can see) But then I realized his question actually went deeper than that.
“Yes.” I told him. “I would want my channel partner to have offerings around managed services, cloud, security, and all the technology areas and delivery mechanisms that are key to my business – regardless of whether I intended to actually use them right now.” The reason is that I would want my channel partner to be at least somewhat forward-looking in terms of industry transitions. In short, I’d want him to be clearly ahead of me in this respect. And managed services are by no means on the bleeding edge anymore. So if the partner doesn’t even have a story for managed services, I’d wonder if the partner was driving his company through the rear-view mirror. And if they’re driving their own company that way, how successfully can they steer my own technology choices?
Assuming the partner does offer managed services, the next step is to find out if the partner provides its own services, or functions as a sales agent/ reseller for somebody else’s.
If they offer their own managed services, I’m going to ask a variety of key questions. Do they own or rent their data center facilities, and how are the services actually delivered? What is their percentage of uptime? When was their last outage? What level of remote access to my data will they have? What about security? What are the service level agreements that dictate how quickly they will come running to my aid when something goes wrong? What are the various flavors of offerings, and are the price differences in line with the relative increases in value? All of these issues will factor into my interview process.
If the partner is an agent/reseller for somebody else’s services, the list gets even longer. In addition to the questions above, add the following:
Which provider(s) are they working with? Does the partner add any additional value on top of what the service provider provides? And if so, what might that be, and how important is that additional value add to your business? How does the price offered by the partner compare to the pricing offered by the actual provider in a direct sale? Who delivers the support, And if its mixed support, get an understanding of who is responsible for what. Has the partner been actively in contact with the service provider to the point where the partner would know about any planned changes to the service that they are reselling? And can your contract be renegotiated or terminated if such changes occur?
A number of other questions should also come to mind as you customize the services to your own company’s needs. But with a little forward-looking and open communication, the solution that best meets your needs should be easily within reach.
Ken Presti has extensive experience in channel program analysis and development. He is the founder of Presti Research. His company focuses on channel and go-to-market programs and strategies in order to help our clients build successful and profitable partnerships with compatible companies.