Coping with vendor mentality

Network Appliance recently announced a program called Hard Deck that establishes lines of demarcation between accounts handled by the company's direct sales organization and those handled by the company's channel partners: resellers, integrators and distributors. Under normal circumstances, such news would be greeted with a yawn by everyone but the reseller, whose primo accounts might be taken away from him and reassigned to NetApp's direct sales guys. However, from where I'm sitting, it is part of a larger issue that should be of concern to all storage consumers.

Shouldn't consumers get to choose who they work with to define their

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storage solutions? Many of us would prefer a local touch: a trusted partner, from whom we can learn more about unfamiliar products or technologies. A "go-to guy" within a stone's throw of our office, who can respond instantly to our requirements with a spare cable or a replacement part; and, in the best of circumstances, an ally who can burn the midnight oil with us to put together a proposal or even go with us to our technology advisory group reviews to help make the case for the solution we have decided is right for our company.

For a vendor to decide for us who we can and can not speak to regarding a purchase is downright stupid. If channel partners are already certified and knowledgeable about the vendor's product, and they have spent enough face time with the customer to learn his business processes, why not let them do the deal?

NetApp and other vendors who have adopted this approach might say that "rules of engagement" are needed to prevent sales forces from competing with each other in the same accounts. There may be some validity to that, but the simple way to fix the conflict is to let the guy who opened the door make the deal. To be honest, sending a corporate hit team into an account opened by a local channel partner is an almost certain way to lose business.

Not long ago, I had a chat with a CIO who was looking for a storage management solution. He asked around to find out whose products his friends in other companies were using and was referred to an 800-pound gorilla in the space. When he contacted the vendor, they wanted to send out a pair of executives to do "relationship building" -- perhaps over lunch or a golf date.

His response was simple, "I don't know where other CIOs find the time for this stuff. I was hired to improve service levels and to create new information products for the company, not to go to lunches, dinners and out-of-office events with storage vendors."

He wanted someone to come in, meet with his guys, understand the problem and work out a solution that could be installed in short order. Preferably, that afternoon. Working with a local reseller/integrator, he accomplished this task.

Programs or policies like Hard Deck point to a larger problem in storage today that I think of as "bunker mentality" -- referring to the walls that storage vendors have erected around themselves in response to the challenging economy. Rather than viewing the market for their goods as constantly expanding and driven by innovation and excellence, many storage vendors have come to view the market as a zero sum game, in which a competitor's win is their loss.

This bunker mentality is increasing the propensity of vendors to build proprietary lock-ins into their goods, to circumvent IT decision makers and make their sales to less technically astute CFOs and to freeze out their own channel partners whose diligence and patience in educating consumers about overly complex storage solutions have been the mainstay of vendor sales up to now.

Consumers ought to strike back. Tell the vendor that, if they can't choose what sales channel they work through, if they can't get transferable software licenses with their products, if they can't use whatever network or fabric switching that they want, if they can't integrate third party software instead of the worthless "value-add" bundle the vendor is providing with his array, then they won't do the deal.

With vendors desperate to sell product, the consumer is in the driver's seat.

More from Jon William Toigo:
Mea culpa -- Coping with vendor mentality

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