Small VARs Feel Left Out, CRN poll finds segment less satisfied with vendors’ channel programs

By John Roberts , CRN

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August 22, 2003 – Vendors that are revamping their channel programs might want to listen more closely to small solution providers, which hold strong opinions about where those programs are lacking.

Small VARs are more critical of vendor channel programs than large solution providers, the monthly CRN Channel Satisfaction Survey found. Over the four-month period from March to June 2003, small solution providers (less than $5 million in annual revenue) expressed a lower overall level of satisfaction with channel programs from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft than their larger counterparts did.

The study defines overall level of channel satisfaction as the percentage of solution providers satisfied with channel programs minus the percentage that are dissatisfied. And the difference was particularly striking for IBM.

For IBM’s hardware channel programs, the overall satisfaction level came in at 32 percent among large solution providers but only 26 percent among small VARs, with 100 percent being the highest possible score. For software channel programs, IBM’s channel satisfaction rating was 35 percent among large solution providers, compared with 28 percent for small VARs.

The trends are similar, but less dramatic, for Microsoft and HP. Among large solution providers, Microsoft’s overall channel satisfaction rating was 40 percent, compared with 34 percent for small VARs. For HP, the figures were 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Small solution providers say major vendors often come up short in providing them with the key tools needed for doing business.

The little guys don’t have access to the tools, both technological and marketing, that the big guys do,” said William Hersh, a partner at White Box Systems, Lemoyne, Pa. “Maybe if Intel, Microsoft or any other major vendor would send out a marketing tools pack to their entire enrollment,instead of just the big VARs,they would find more small VARs singing their praises.”

Marketing materials, especially those that are free, remain crucial to small VARs. In a recent CRN poll, 65 percent of small solution providers said marketing materials were “very important” to their profitability.

Yet small VARs aren’t only dissatisfied with major vendors’ channel programs. Some of these solution providers feel that, overall, they just don’t get equitable treatment from big vendors.

“Vendors are apparently blind to the fact that their direct-sales force, combined with a direct low-priced Web site, has now set a ‘street price’ in the mind of the SMB customer,” said Craig Carnahan, vice president of Cybergear, Gilbert, Ariz. “When vendors start playing games with price and availability, it creates such an [uneven] playing field that most VARs have a hard time standing up.”

Cisco Systems, however, got higher marks for overall channel satisfaction from small solution providers. Its rating came in at 34 percent for small VARs vs. 27 percent for large VARs. “Cisco has been focusing a lot of effort on smaller VARs so they don’t fall through the cracks anymore,” said Alex Solomon, co-president of Net at Work, New York.