Setting Up Partners For Failure?

A short post, but this has been on my mind for a few months.

People who work for resellers and vendors typically have access to competitor information. This is usually a comparison or contrast against whomever the vendor sees as their competition. Sometimes it is generic in nature, and other times it is tailored to specific competitors.

For example, if you were an EMC partner, you might get to see what EMC’s views are regarding NetApp, HP, IBM, Hitachi, Dell, and other storage vendors. They give you this information so that if you have to go and sell against these other vendors, you can emphasize all the benefits of your vendor of choice, and bring up all the negative things about the competition. If you happen to work for a vendor, you probably have access to even more information about the competition as vendors trust partners to a certain extent, but they aren’t going to give them everything as it relates to their competition.

There are a lot of people out there who don’t really care for the competitive information. They see it as marketing nonsense and don’t waste their time reading it. I tend to read a fair amount of this stuff since my company partners with so many different vendors. I do this because I like to be prepared when it comes time to discuss the pros and cons of various vendors. I will never think of everything on my own, so I can leverage this type of information and gain a bit more insight into the various vendor products.

The Problem

As I read through this stuff, I find myself wondering if vendors aren’t setting partners up for failure. Two issues I have noticed are:

  1. Vendors do not admit their own shortcomings in the competitor info documents. I realize you only want to emphasize the good points, but eventually someone will bring up a deficiency and your salespeople won’t know how to answer it unless they have an engineer with them, or they REALLY know the product they are pitching. Some of the competitor info will mention what to respond with if the other side brings up any “perceived” weaknesses, but it is usually some vague statement attacking a “straw man” and not really dealing with the initial claim.

2.  Some of the information regarding other competitors is just plain wrong. I was recently combing through a particular vendor’s competitive analysis documents on one of their competitors, and the points raised in opposition to the other vendor were incorrect. I don’t mean that they embellished a little. I meant that they were factually incorrect. They were wrong enough to where even a semi-competent customer would be able to shoot down the claims made in the competitive info document as false.

Closing Thoughts

Competitive info can be useful provided it is realistic and somewhat sincere. Filling people up with outright lies or generic marketing messages will eventually get them in trouble. Someone is bound to call them on it, and when they don’t know how to respond, they end up looking like an idiot.

What are your thoughts on competitive information?

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One Response to Setting Up Partners For Failure?

  1. Fernando says:

    Very accurate post on the limitations of competitive information. I’ve seen exactly the same thing: embellishments, inaccurate information, hiding one’s own shortcomings, …
    It becomes the tragedy of the blind (poorly informed partners) leading the blind (customers who don’t know what they want).

    Unfortunately, I don’t see an easy way out of this. To me, the nature of the channel relationship model – bigger discounts for larger amount of business – means that every partner eventually gravitates to one or another vendor. No matter how much Cisco one may know, if the day-to-day is based on Juniper (or HP or …) things will get stale. At some point, there is little opportunity to become a ‘trusted advisor’ who is truly independent AND equally knowledgeable on multiple platforms at the same time.

    Going back to your point, I think we need to realize that ‘failure’ and ‘success’ will mean different things to vendors, partners and customers, even individuals. The current model of ‘FUD based on incomplete competitive information’ is just a reflection of that.

    Sorry for the dispiriting thoughts. Better to acknowledge the issues so as to understand how to handle them…

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