Is the channel missing the ‘human touch’?

Research from Kaspersky suggests vendors need to improve their relationships with channel partners, with experts weighing in on how to develop a closer bond through programmes and education

A recently published vendor survey suggests the IT channel today is missing ‘the human touch’.

This may come as a surprise, given the importance of relationships to the channel, but the research by Kaspersky shows that nearly seven out of 10 resellers and distributors want better relationships with vendors. The same number say they would like more personal contact with their dedicated account manager.

Kaspersky notes that the current need for more of a human touch is key, given that phone calls have, in many cases, been replaced by email and other digital forms of communication.

“It is clear that vendors must change the way they are operating to stay in line with the evolution of the channel and partner demands,” says Andy Bogdan, head of UK SMB channel at Kaspersky. “Vendors have the know-how, industry expertise and resources to become real thought leaders in the channel, and that is what their partners want – and need – to receive from them.”

Talking economics

However, how much time and effort a vendor spends developing a relationship may depend on the size and spending power of the partner.

“Put simply, most of this is down to pure economics,” says Mark Terry, former marketing chief at distributor Vuzion and now senior consultant at Doing it Digital. “Ultimately, money – or money potential – talks, and this, in turn, determines how big your slice of the one-to-one communication pie is.

“For one-to-many, I would argue vendor communication is increasing in quality and quantity, but they are being done programmatically to deliver more scalable engines – for example, email, social, content, webinars, events, and so on. This is to reduce the reliance on one-to-one communication.”

Terry believes something not often talked about is that there are many new resellers and providers setting up business, all wanting to take advantage of lower barriers to entry.

“It’s not always possible for vendors to communicate with every single reseller on a one-to-one basis,” he says. “Although big deals often prick the ears of vendors, there is an increasing expectation that distributors support their resellers and MSPs [managed service providers] by having scalable engines in place.

“This can become difficult for distributors, whose margins are being increasingly eroded by having to deliver more service and support, which often needs technology to ensure its efficiency.”

The Covid-19 effect

A loss of face-to-face interaction has clearly affected every business during Covid-19. On the one hand, we can get a greater insight both into people’s living rooms and their lives, but on the other, we’ve had to replace all human contact with digital communications. In some cases, this means vendors have been forced to work harder to maintain their relationships with their channel partners.

The Kaspersky survey indicates that 56% of resellers and distributors feel isolated if they hear nothing from their vendors, while 65% admit they are finding it increasingly difficult to build relationships with vendors.

“During Covid-19 and beyond, vendors need to simply work closer with their partner community,” says Darren Parker, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) channel manager at secure email vendor Zivver.

“We may not be able to physically visit our partners, but there’s no stopping us working with them remotely, setting up virtual call-out days, providing our partners with relevant marketing materials and working with them to hit the right audiences, ultimately creating new sales opportunities.

“We can also spend this time keeping our partners updated as to what we’re doing as a vendor – informing them of new product releases, for example, and providing sales and technical training. We can also support our channel as much as possible with their online events,” says Parker.

“From our perspective, as a vendor, investing in our channel partners is key. We are continuing to do joint campaigns and investing MDF [market development funds], while also providing the information and training they need to optimise opportunities, within an open and supportive working relationship,” he adds.

Andrew Brown, managing director of channel firm, and Zivver partner, C-STEM, adds: “A stronger relationship between the vendor and channel partner directly translates to a better quality of solution and service for the client.”

Becoming more human

So how can vendors inject the human touch back into their relationships with channel partners?

Kaspersky’s Bogdan offers this advice:

  • Provide regular updates and free education on the surrounding threat landscape;
  • Assist the channel to build and demonstrate a strong security posture;
  • Build a framework that supports a strong security strategy, based on the customer’s security maturity;
  • Shadow learning – host and provide webinar and vendor engagement with customers, alongside the partner community;
  • Provide a strong partner programme that rewards growth and investment, and specialisations to complement existing propositions, such as virtualisation specialists learning and the delivery of hybrid cloud solutions;
  • Offer a reputable spokesperson or source to speak to so they can educate channel customer bases and act as an ambassador;
  • Lastly, show loyalty to the channel partners to provide a strong feeling of support and allegiance.

However, the responsibility for maintaining and improving relationships shouldn’t fall squarely onto either party, according to Jason Howells, director international at Barracuda MSP.

This is interesting as 77% of resellers and distributors think that having a personal relationship with vendors is important, but 71% feel the onus is on them to establish such relationships, rather than on the vendors themselves.

“There is much more for us all to do to build better relationships. It is, however, a two-way street,” says Howells.

“It’s not okay to expect vendors to do all the work or for the channel to do all the work – it must be a joint effort. This will require choosing your alliances carefully and committing to building a long-term relationship with heavy investment from all involved. We will not succeed together if there is not 100% trust in the relationships built. 

“The channel has always been an amazing vehicle for connecting vendors and opportunities. The front line is also the hardest place to be, and there is no doubt that it requires a human touch to access these opportunities. You must have the human touch in the channel and your partnerships – you work together, and you win or fail together.”