Most Admired Channel Vendors of 2014

Technology stalwarts continue to stand strong; hot security technologies don’t gain vendors entrance to coveted top spots.

By Larry Walsh

A question we get asked a lot at The 2112 Group is which vendors are doing it right in regards to their channel programs and partner relationships. It’s really an arbitrary question, as perceptions and performance are often relative to the observer. In other words, what we at 2112 think and perceive about vendors may differ from solution providers’ experiences.

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So rather than answering the question from our singular vantage point, we asked solution providers to tell us. In our annual Channel Perceptions Report, we asked solution providers of all shapes and sizes to tell us which vendors’ channel programs they admire in terms of productivity, execution, consistency, and loyalty to channel partners. The results are telling, but not surprising.

First, the methodology. Solution providers were asked to name their top three most admired vendor channel programs. They were not asked to list them in any particular order, and they were given no vendor names from which to choose. We gave vendors 1 point of credit for being named, and we scored the number of references on a 100-point curve.

Second, the demographics. Our sample, which consists of 180 vendor partners across North America, includes value-added resellers (VARs), solution providers, systems integrators, managed service providers (MSPs), direct market resellers (DMRs), and telephony agents. Participating partners range in size from small (under $1 million in revenue) to very large (greater than $1 billion in revenue), in proportions consistent with the general population of the North American channel.

The following are the top 5 vendors, as noted by solution providers.

1. Hewlett-Packard

Admiration Rating: 100
Topping the list is Hewlett-Packard. Despite the vendor’s struggles over the years – and the impending split of the company – its PartnerOne program continues to garner the respect and admiration of solution providers. HP has challenges, but consistency isn’t one of them. HP has developed and homogenized its channel programs and operations to the point where partners know how to navigate and capitalize on the vendor’s products and brand.

2. Cisco Systems

Admiration Rating: 94
Cisco continues to operate one of the most well-oiled channel programs in the business. The strength of Cisco’s channel efforts lies in both consistency and communications. Cisco is abundantly clear with its partners about expectations, commitments, resources, and compensation. As a result, Cisco partners invest in their relationship and, for those that perform, are rewarded for their efforts.

3. Microsoft

Admiration Rating: 75
Microsoft’s channel reputation has been tarnished in recent years as the software giant diversified into hardware and became inconsistent in its indirect commitments. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has been reinvigorated. It’s become more engaged with partners, particularly in the systems and cloud arenas, and is pressing forward in mobility as well. As a result, the more engaged channel partners are overlooking the limited Surface tablet channel and focusing on the vendor’s efforts in business applications, cloud services, and systems management.

4. IBM, Lenovo (tied)

Admiration Rating: 69
The tie between IBM and Lenovo for fourth place makes perfect sense considering that the two vendors have been in each other’s orbits for the past decade. Lenovo’s channel operations owe much to IBM, as they were born from the ThinkPad PC division and are evolving to include servers – home-grown and acquired through the x86 sale last year. IBM, though, continues to be a channel powerhouse, empowering integrators and solution providers in evolving markets, including Big Data, cloud computing, and cognitive analytics. Where the two vendors diverge is in the complexity of their channel programs. IBM’s is consistent, stable, and complex. Lenovo’s channel program is relatively simple and easily accessible, and equally consistent.

5. Dell

Admiration Rating: 63
Dell’s channel evolution continues, and its efforts to win the hearts and minds of the channel show in its top 5 showing. As a private company, Dell continues to diversify its technology portfolio, moving into systems management, cloud computing, virtualization, security, and storage. With this increasingly diversified technology mix comes new channel initiatives and partner enablement programs that are drawing and keeping solution providers. While Dell hasn’t fully vanquished skepticism stemming from its direct-sales legacy, it’s come a long way since the days when it was a symbol of the anti-channel.

The top 5 vendors should come as no surprise to anyone, as they are all stalwarts of the technology industry and the channel. There are additional notable mentions. Intel (Admiration Rating: 50) and VMware (Admiration Rating: 44) just missed the top cut. And Oracle (Admiration Rating: 31), which tends to cater to larger integrators and software houses, made the top 10.

If the list was expanded to the top 25, other notable vendors would’ve made the grade: cloud backup vendors Datto and Intronis, each with a rating of 19; storage giants EMC and NetApp, each with 13; and software powerhouses Citrix, SAP, and Adobe, each with 13 also.

What’s interesting is the near-absence of some other large vendors, including cloud pillars Amazon (6) and Google (not mentioned). And what happened to the security software and hardware vendors? Symantec was the highest-rated security vendor (13), and others made the list but received single-digit ratings. This shows that hot technologies don’t necessarily translate into channel affinity.

A list of the most-admired vendors is only one component of the annual 2112 Channel Perceptions Report. Look for more insights into how solution providers assess the performance and value of vendors and their channel programs in the summary and full version of this report.

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Larry Walsh, The 2112 GroupLarry Walsh is the founder, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group. You can reach him by email:; or follow him on social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.