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Coronavirus: It’s time to support partners

Vendors have started to respond to the challenges that partners are facing with more flexibility and support

The channel community are reacting in different ways to Covid-19, but what is becoming clear is that for many, this is proving to be an opportunity to demonstrate that relationships really matter.

This is going to be a defining moment for many people and the way that their employers, suppliers and customers react will live long in the memory. Some big gestures are already being made, with Intel donating $50m to fight the virus, Michael and Susan Dell’s Foundation stumping up $100m and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, choosing to donate one-third of his fortune, $1bn, to the fight.

Closer to home, there have also been some decisions taken that will be remembered, with some of the senior management at Computacenter opting to go without pay for the next three months to stand in solidarity with their staff who have been furloughed.

At a reseller level, the focus is clearly more on the customer and there have been efforts to help users set up remotely, and many partners have been armed with free products to help users through these challenging times.

Most resellers are working within a framework of established vendor partner programmes that can trigger rewards when certain revenue targets are hit and certain certification thresholds gained. The priority right now is to keep the lights on and, in the past week, vendors have started to react publicly to that challenge.

On the vendor front, there have already been moves by many to look at increasing flexibility in partner programmes and increasing the training that those in isolation can gain access to. The pandemic has shown that there are people out there across the channel ecosystem who are trying to do the right thing in unprecedented times.

Last week saw HP, Extreme Networks and Microsoft all make changes to their partner programmes so they could increase support for partners and reduce the burden to keep up to speed with certifications.

Accreditation programme timetables have been extended, more flexibility introduced to revenue and rebate targets and the amount of online training and engineering support has been increased significantly.

Writing in a blog post, Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice-president, commercial partner at Microsoft, gave details of how the company was extending Azure expert MSP audits and the deadlines around some advanced specialisations and other competencies.

“We have also been carefully considering how our partner programmes can serve our partners best, as this situation evolves,” she wrote. “We understand that some partners may want to accelerate their pace, while other partners may want to slow things down. Regardless, what is most important for you to know at this moment in time is that we are listening to feedback from you, our partners, and doing what we can to help.”

The firm also pushed back its decision to implement the next phase of its Microsoft Partner Agreement, with the threat that it would no longer trade with those that had not accepted the agreement being lifted, with the enforcement date going on hold.

Other vendors have done similar things around competencies and training and have wanted to make it clear that they are reacting in a supportive way.

“The whole world is currently in the tight grip of this pandemic, but the EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] market in particular has been badly hit, with many countries in partial or full lockdown,” said Sean Collins, senior director, EMEA channels at Extreme Networks. “It would be irresponsible to expect our partners in EMEA and across the world to continue meeting our channel programme requirements without taking into account the changing market conditions.

“At Extreme, we firmly believe that we, our partners and their customers are all in this together, and we are determined to stand by our partner community as we collectively navigate these challenging times.”

More flexibility

HP looked to introduce more flexibility at a local level to give channel management the opportunities to respond to evolving market conditions.

“As a global company, we understand the importance of acting globally while executing at the local level,” said Christoph Schell, chief commercial officer at HP. “Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, we are taking a customised approach specific to the unique and evolving dynamics at the market and country level, depending on a variety of factors.

“We are structured to ensure the continuity of our business operations even under the most challenging circumstances and we feel very fortunate to be in a position to offer the help and support needed by our valued partners and customers.”

Neill Burton, head of channel and alliances for the UK at F5, said that his company had been taking a flexible approach to customers and sending those desperate for help, particularly those in the NHS and public sector, with access to its technology for free.

He pointed out there was an opportunity for the industry to prove that tech could be used for good.

Burton said that F5 had had discussions with partners and some had asked for extended payment terms, and it was doing its best to support resellers.

“I have a more positive view of how this will play out and it will accelerate people’s technology transformation quicker,” he said, adding that those partners that embraced virtual communication now would be better placed in the long term.

“Those that are quicker to build virtual relationships will come out of this stronger,” he said.

Paul Garvey, vice-president of EMEA sales at Forcepoint, said the first priority had to be that the technology that customers were relying on was deployed and was standing up to the current challenges.

He said most customers had triggered their business continuity plans and its channel was supporting them.

“Partners are recognising that their existing customers are the way they will work through this, making sure they are delighted,” said Garvey.

Ben Richardson, head of channel EMEA at Forcepoint, said that his firm was aware that, at the moment, cash was crucial for customers and it wanted to show flexibility.

Partners have had their hands full in the past few weeks helping customers to get remote-working operations set up, but Richardson acknowledged that life could become more difficult the longer the lockdown goes on.

“There will probably be a bit of a lag and there will be a slight delay to the big infrastructure projects,” he said. “For a lot of partners, it’s business as usual and more are looking at new ways of doing business. The pipeline is building well. We are keen to support our partners and invest in them.”

Richardson added: “With partners, we really want to put our arms around them and bring them through.”

No one knows quite how long the lockdown and virus pandemic will last, but the chances are that more vendors will loosen the demands they make on partners through channel programmes and make moves to increase the support they offer.

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