Instilling R&D Value Among Partners

To stay innovative, solution providers need guidance from vendors on how to leverage the informational resources at their fingertips.

By Larry Walsh

The global technology industry spends roughly 6 percent of its gross sales and revenue on research and development (R&D). That means $6 out of every $100 is pumped into labs and skunkworks in the development of new, innovative, and disruptive technologies. In 2014, the total spent by IT vendors, service providers, and telecommunications companies topped an eye-popping $238 billion.

R&D is essential for technology companies, as it keeps them ahead of the competition, replaces commoditized products with new goods, and maintains market relevancy. Through R&D, vendors keep themselves fresh and vibrant.

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A question I’ve asked myself frequently over the past few years is complex in its simplicity: What does R&D look like for a channel partner?

Some partners are innovation engines. They invest in themselves to create reference architectures that leverage the power of vendor products to create problem-solving solutions for customers. Some partners are investing in home-grown products that complement or enhance the functionality and value of their vendors’ goods and services.

“Some,” in this context, is a minority.

Vendors spend vast sums of money each year on channel communications, training, and enablement. Vendors pack partner portals with information, references, and resources that, collectively, rival the Library of Congress. A person or partner can get a real education with these resources.

A frequent complaint 2112 hears from vendors is that those libraries of white papers, reference architectures, case studies, and product specs go virtually untouched. Partners access portals, but they typically don’t explore them. Unless vendors put information front and center, the materials collect dust.

It would be easy to call partners apathetic, but that’s too simplistic an explanation.

Yes, there’s some apathy among partners, but we can’t forget that partners often operate under immense pressure amid limited resources. The average partner regularly works with seven or more vendors. That’s seven channel programs complete with partnership requirements. That’s seven ordering systems. That’s seven channel account managers (CAMs) looking for business plans and sales forecasts. That’s seven sets of training and certification requirements. That’s seven incentive programs. That’s seven partner portals to sift through for information and resources.

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Let’s assume our hypothetical partner is selling and supporting one product per engaged vendor, and the average number of vendors is, again, seven. If each product has an incentive program, training requirement, and corresponding account manager, and each vendor has its own channel program, ordering system, and partner portal, the partner is dealing with 42 variables in its daily operations. That’s the partnership workload of an average solution provider, without even taking customer interactions into consideration.

Vendor-developed resources aren’t a waste of money and effort. Partners need these resources, but they also need direction on what to do with these resources and how dedicating 5 percent of their time toward studying vendor materials can benefit their operations. Partners need more than just interaction with their CAMs; they need true liaisons who can coordinate knowledge exchange.

My theory: The core of partner R&D is reading. We need to make reading fundamental to impart knowledge and inspire partner innovation that benefits customers and, ultimately, returns value to vendors.

Larry Walsh, The 2112 Group

Larry Walsh is the founder, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group. Follow him on social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.