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How many channel partners are too many?

It is an almost unanswerable question but Billy MacInnes wonders just how many channel partners are too many

A story on this website set me to pondering a question that, as far as I know, has never been satisfactorily answered in the history of IT: Can a vendor ever have the right amount of partners? While it seems like a simple enough question, the sad fact is that, unlike Goldilocks, vendors rarely have the option of “just right” when it comes to partner numbers. Usually, they have too many or too few.

The reason I bring this up is because of a story concerning Citrix which revealed the vendor had increased EMEA customer numbers by 30% despite reducing its partner base by 12%. Those numbers make it hard to argue that Citrix had too many partners if it can drop some and increase customer numbers at the same time.

Citrix EMEA VP of partner sales, Luca Marinelli, told MicroScope that it had cut some partners “because they were not active” and that improvements in the vendor’s channel engagement over the past 12 months had led to an upturn in channel sales.

As an aside, Marinelli added another sinister sounding euphemism to the lexicon in referring to the axing of Citrix partners in the following terms: “We have sunset some partners because they were not active.” I really hope that doesn’t take off. Can you contemplate being sunset from your job? Or having someone tell you: “I sunset my wife because of irreconcilable differences.” Perhaps the vet preparing you to put down a beloved pet might ask if you were “ready to sunset Casper”? Worse still, medical staff might ask if you were “ready to sunset” a sick relative when they needed you to decide to turn off the life support.

Anyway, coming back to the issue in hand, it’s notable that Citrix also increased the compensation for partners that identified and qualified new opportunities. Allied to this, there was a very big rise (73%) in partners taking specialisations.

So here’s the thing: can you really increase sales if you axe inactive partners? By their nature, inactive partners aren’t selling that much, if anything. In theory, getting rid of them gives the vendor more time to spend with partners that are active but, in practice if they are inactive they’re not likely to be engaging with the vendor and the vendor is not likely to be engaging with them.

Perhaps the rise in sales is more to do with the increase in compensation for partners bringing in new opportunities and with more partners becoming specialised? After all, both of those are factors which have been cited many times in the past by vendors and partners as ways to boost sales and revenues. The figures from Citrix appear to prove they do exactly that.

As to whether vendors can have too many or too few partners, it’s probably fair to say they have one or the other pretty much all the time. In any case, a vendor’s idea of the right number of partners might be considered too many from a partner’s perspective. For example, there’s very likely to be some divergence between the vendor’s view of too few partners and the partner’s perspective when it comes to a high margin product that’s doing well.

It’s very hard to get it “just right” when no one can say with any degree of accuracy what constitutes enough partners.

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