At the 2012 Dell World conference, CEO Michael Dell honed in on growth opportunities and goals for the company in the coming year.
As we settle into 2013, Dell is striving to establish itself as a key provider for all things related to Cloud, security, networking and data centers/servers. And Dell is turning to its channel partners now more than ever to become more recognized as an all-in-one solution and service provider.
In the following interview, Kathleen Schneider, Executive Director of Global Channel Marketing and Programs at Dell, uncovers how the company continues to empower and educate partners by leveraging the mantra “Better Together.” Schneider also discusses what trends she’s seeing in the channel space, and how Dell strategically is keeping pace.
Channel Marketer Report (CMR): Overall, what key trends or shifts are you seeing in how channels are operating? Are you seeing the role of channel partners changing? If so, how?
Kathleen Schneider: There’s a big interest and a lot of focus on solutions. Overall, the channel understands that technology is getting more intertwined. Even if a company has a strong base in one area or solution, they’re seeing that being able to help customers understand what technology convergence means for them helps them not be seen as a one-trick-pony.
Partners appreciate and acknowledge that, but it’s also something they’re grappling with: expanding their capability to consult end-customers on what the business problem is. That knowledge becomes their value-add. The more partners can confirm their expertise and ability to build out a solution, then the stronger their business model will be. Maintaining that expertise and growing it as the solutions become more interconnected is key.
The Cloud continuum, for example, really enforces the need for channel partners and VARs to get stronger in different areas and have a great breadth of conversations. It is something that is pushing partners to really scale up and embrace the training vendors bring to the table. Security also is a big topic, especially with the rise of BYOD, which many companies are trying to take advantage of. That’s why we’ve made some investments in security; because we want to be a part of that conversation.
From a channel standpoint, this isn’t necessarily new. But being consultative is very important because solutions are becoming more complex, and end-customers want to understand the value that’s being provided to them, which helps VARs have some kind of differentiation. Partners also are building that “manage it for you” business, which is going beyond just consulting and more of an all-in-one model.
CMR: During the 2012 Dell World show, a variety of announcements, focus areas and goals were uncovered for 2013. Can you share a snapshot of these insights shared during the event?
Schneider:Dell World was extremely exciting this year, especially in comparison to our first installment, which was significantly smaller. We really wanted to leverage Dell World for our partners, so we started the show with our Channel Summit, and then progressed into the other days’ worth of sessions.
I think the key message from that Summit is that Dell is focused on being an end-to-end solution provider. We’re well on our way in that transformation, and both end-customers and partners are recognizing that. They’re seeing the acquisitions we’ve made and have experienced products and solutions from those acquisitions. Dell World helped showcase what that transformation looks like if you’re an end-customer or partner, as well as the breadth of the portfolio we now have, and how these solutions can help address end-customer pain points, and change the conversations they’re having. The event also allowed us to bring Dell partners together and have them discuss where the channel is going.
CMR: Where do you see the Dell channel moving to in 2013?
Schneider:A key message we want to portray to our partners is the whole concept of “Better Together.” That the technology we’re bringing to the marketplace can help deliver a better experience to the end-customer, but also provide benefits to our partners — such as rewards and incentives — for bringing those solutions together for our customers, instead of just sticking to one product or technology.
We’ve helped partners really become strong in certain focus areas, such as storage. But now we’re interested in having our partners go broader in their offerings. Meaning, have experience in driving opportunities and bringing technologies together across servers, storage, networking, infrastructure and other areas.
What I mean by “Better Together” is on the one hand, the technology is weaving together to deliver best-in-class results. But on the other hand, the partners are helping deliver those results to customers, so Dell is going to reward them for the combination of products they recommend.
One example is what we call the “triple play incentive.” Rather than just have incentives for individual product lines, we have a deal when a partner adds more solutions the percentage of the discount goes up.
CMR: Are there any key goals or areas of interest for the coming year?
Schneider: There are four areas of focus for us in the channel:
1. Winning at the data center: In our PartnerDirect strategy we’ve always had a strong focus on the data center, but we want to enable partners to really win and grow their businesses in that area.
2. Training and enablement: We believe that if we have the best trained and most enabled partners, not only will it help them and make them happier they’re our partners, but it also will help them be better partners to us and sell more effectively. We’ve conducted research that has proven partners perform better when they have more competencies, or certifications. Their revenue grows faster, their businesses are stronger and they’re just more profitable.
3. Simplicity: We recognize that we have to grow the program and be robust, but it can’t be complicated. Our partners have indicated that compared to others, we’re relatively easy to do business with. That’s something we have to constantly monitor so we can ensure great ideas don’t become too complex for partners to manage.
4. Partner profitability: Dell is looking at the structure of incentives, as well as the way we implement our marketing programs across the spectrum, so they reflect our message of “Better Together.” We don’t want to come up with singular ideas for incentives and campaigns; we’re challenging ourselves internally so in our channel program we have that collaborative mentality. For example, instead of partners focusing on the solution that they specialize in, we recently launched the Enterprise Master tool, which helps them match sales opportunities with specific solutions. Everything is password-protected but very accessible.
CMR: Can you provide more information on what you provide your partners from a training and enablement perspective?
Schneider:Well, first and foremost, we make everything free. Our partners have made an investment by turning away from customer visits and work to train. We have a downloadable PDF about the different levels of competencies currently available, and we do some ROI research on the value it serves. There are some courses that aren’t required that have additional costs, but those mostly are face-to-face, in-class training courses.
We also strive to make all of our training programs interactive and easy. We’re trying to do more face-to-face initiatives and instructor labs, and we’re also trying to supplement training and enablement with investment in tools. We work cross-functionally — from marketing to folks who own the competency programs — to develop educational assets that complement the training.
To further demonstrate the value of training and education, we have a rewards program in which we don’t just offer points — which are redeemable for rewards — around products/solutions. We also have points associated with training courses, especially those that are strategic and important to Dell.
CMR: How do you plan to continue to support your partners from a marketing and sales perspective?
Schneider:Our Partner Advisory Council always has had a marketing piece to it. We always have gotten feedback from partners about marketing trends and what we’re doing to keep pace with these trends. About a year and a half ago, we felt like a natural progression would be to bring together 30 to 35 heads of marketing for the top partners in other countries, such as the UK, Germany, France, and have approximately two days worth of feedback, as well as interactive sessions and workshops for marketing. It wasn’t just presenting our marketing plan.
The goal was to have conversations around potential marketing strategies and campaigns, and to ask our partners their opinions and whether they would use certain tactics. We had conversations around our portal, our collateral, and all our partners provided great takeaways that impacted how we invested our budget for the coming year.
For example, one thing our partners asked for were copy blocks. They didn’t want the finished products for a campaign, but a list of ingredients, or pre-approved messaging and images. That way, it wouldn’t take five days and 100 emails going back and forth before a campaign was executed. That’s on the list of deliverables for different campaigns we’re doing.
My goal is to bring these Marketing Councils to other countries because I really do think it helps us make sure we’re investing in the right materials for our marketing teams.
CMR: Is social media part of the conversation at all?
Schneider:Oh yes, there is interest in social media on the marketing side. Dell developed an internal social curriculum and training initiative. We asked partners if they were interested in learning more or leveraging these assets, and they loved the idea. So we created a training module that has live and recorded sessions, but we’re working on refreshing/updating those social assets.
CMR: How does Dell strive to constantly keep tabs on partner wants and needs regarding marketing/sales enablement and education?
Schneider: Partner feedback has indicated that Dell does a good job at guiding partners and helping them have more complex discussions and empowering them to be trusted advisors. We have a very strong ear to the ground and get feedback from partners internally. We also continue to tap into the Partner Advisory Council once or twice a year to get feedback from partners worldwide. Then the Marketing Advisory Council helps us understand the trends partners are discussing, as well as the big campaigns our partners are working on. We also have a lot of local events, which we value a lot. Most of our events include training in some way. We take every opportunity we can to provide really great content to our partners.
CMR: Is Dell seeking to add any new partners to its programs in the coming year?
Schneider: We’re actually getting quite a few partners from our acquisitions. Currently, we have 113,000 partners total, and 4,000 partners that have competency. Out of that 4,000, 10% to 15% are Premier with two or more competencies, while the rest are Preferred, with only one competency. Right now, we’re focusing on deepening the relationships we have with current partners, as well as developing the competency, ability and commitment those partners have.
Kathleen Schneider is Executive Director of Global Channel Marketing and Programs at Dell. Schneider joined Dell Inc., in 1999 in the Software & Peripherals organization in the US. Over three years she managed various partner product lines, including Xerox, Lexmark and Microsoft and was responsible for B2C and B2B marketing programs for these vendors at Dell. Since then, Schneider has held a variety of positions within the Dell ecosystem, including Senior Product Manager of the Displays and UK Marketing Director. She was appointed to run Channel Marketing & Programs for Europe in February 2009, enabling Dell’s 30,000-plus reseller and distribution partners in the region to re-sell Dell’s full range of IT products and solutions.