Corporate Vendor Management

06 April 2018

One of the services Embedded provides is a liaison service between Resellers/Service Providers and large Corporate Vendors. Historically, this used to be provided by Vendor Account Managers, but as margins are squeezed and commercial models change, this role has fallen out of Vendor priorities and into “the abyss”. Any reseller wishing to maintain a relationship with, or even a vague understanding of, a Corporate Vendor will struggle without a decent liaison point and in many cases this has already disappeared.

Why on earth is this the case? Many Vendors have defined their interactions points in a way that pushes communication to email or web portals, because it is cheaper. Whereas, in today’s digital world, this should be effective, the “relationship” part appears to have been overlooked. A number of Corporate Vendors have relationship points that cross:

· Opportunity Portals, for partners to upload their details

· Marketing Portals, for partners to submit campaign requests and extract generic campaign materials

· Partner Management Portals, for partners to update their accreditations and credentials

· Catalogue Portals, for partners to load their relevant own products to support a joint selling approach with the Vendor (that doesn’t work…)

· Training Portals, for partners to take accreditations and training for vendor products

· Provisioning Portals, for partners to administer licenses or instances on behalf of customers

· Support Portals, online help for partners to get responses to queries

· Daily Emails giving the latest information, usually one email per internal silo of the Corporate Vendor.

Whereas there is probably a portal for every eventuality, the nuance that the Vendor is missing is each of these portals in their own right is a business application that needs a user. That user needs training. And without that training, the portal is rendered generally unusable, or at best enormously frustrating for partners who have to interact with them. Assisting with the complexities of portals used to be the domain of the Vendor Account Manager. And they are becoming extinct.

Another problem is that a lot of these portals are just shop windows for overengineered internal processes within the Corporate Vendor themselves. A number of times I have heard of processes where a partner enters information into a portal, which then has to go through a number of manual steps internal to the Vendor. Why bother with a portal if all it does is populate a spreadsheet that is printed and socialised within the Corporate Vendor’s committee structure?

The other, slightly arrogant, nuance that all Corporate Vendors appear to fall into the trap of is a belief that they are the only Vendor that a partner deals with. They overlook that a partner needs to manage the numerous portals for each Vendors, which very quickly becomes an overhead that a partner struggles to manage. This point is probably the most important point.

By example, a reseller could be managing a client project that incorporates the delivery of a HPE Server, some Windows licenses, a Juniper switch or two, a Cisco firewall etc. To adhere to the Vendors’ expectations, that poor reseller would need to log this as an opportunity on 5 different opportunity portals (including their own CRM), provision on 4 different provisioning portals, and let the poor old Ops team interface to 4 different support portals if it goes wrong. The opportunities need updating as the project changes. 5 times. Every time it changes.

Vendor Management therefore is a thing. Amidst all of these portals and digital interfaces, you need “people” who understand the nuances of the relationship, to filter out all the noise and get focus back on what is important based on an understanding of the Vendor. Which promotions are occurring, how are the vendor sales teams paid such that you are focussing on the right sort of opportunities if you want joint engagement, which products are the trendy ones etc. There are human aspects to assessing a relationship for which a gaggle of portals cannot be a substitute.

In the same way that the Vendors struggled, the value of a Partner Manager within the reseller however is very difficult to justify. Vendors tried to calculate the benefit of their resources through increased partner sales, which is very rarely directly tangible as it is largely an overlay function. Partners would need a substantially complex vendor landscape to justify a full time, or team of, vendor management staff and again, how do you measure its success? For a partner the easiest route is inbound leads, but as Vendors strive more and more to engage direct with clients this is proving more and more difficult to attain.

So the model is broken and relationships are frayed. If only there was a way to overcome this?

Embedded are working on a process of designing a Vendor Management framework that aggregates the interfaces between Vendors and Partners, such that we can reduce the cost of holding this relationship and reduce the duplication of the role within partners. We are looking for partners to test this with, if you are interested please let me know.

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