Dell’s channel focus shifts to certifications

Greg Davis, vice president of channels, Dell

Greg Davis, vice president of channels, Dell

There was a time when a channel reporter’s briefings with Dell worldwide channel chief Greg Davis were dominated by discussion of the raw numbers of the PartnerDirect program, most specifically, how many partners had joined the then-new partner program.

It was an understandably important metric for a company looking to overcome a history in the channel that was at best, unspoken-of, and at worst downright antagonistic. But almost five years into the PartnerDirect era, the conversation with Dell is shifting. It is clear that Davis – and by extension Dell – wants more partners, but he also wants more committed, more specialized partners.

Like many vendors before it, the former direct-dealer is going through a “volume to value” conversion its channel program, and it’s a conversion that is clearly taking hold.

“The goal is to continue to grow and enhance the number of partners who complete certifications and reach Preferred and Premier status,” Davis said.

In Canada, that number sits at around 180 certified partners, part of a 2,000-partner certified community in North America, and about 3,600 worldwide. It’s a number that Davis would definitely like to see grow.

“We want to see that number double as quickly as it can, and we want to see partners in Canada become a larger percentage of that community,” Davis said. “We’d definitely like to see that number grow.”

And it’s a number that is growing – the company has “a lit bit mor than doubled” its Premier and Preferred partner ranks in Canada over the last year. It’s part of an overall shift in mindset at Dell – if you hadn’t heard, even eponymous CEO Michael Dell is loudly proclaiming that Dell isn’t (just) a PC company anymore. The company is seeking to define itself – and its partners as well – in terms of an overall enterprise IT stack.

“We’ve really focused all of our programs, incentives and competencies around the data centre,” Davis said. “While we do sell desktops, notebook and client products to and through our channel partners, our primary focus is on servers, storage, networking, security, and systems management. That’s enabled our partners to continue to grow and it’s carved us out a nice space compared to our competitors.”

Overall, the company’s channel grew its business by 14 per cent year over year in Dell’s second quarter, ended August 3. That’s slower than Davis has seen that number in the past, but still faster than Dell’s overall business and “given economic challenges, still a strong and positive improvement over the market.” The channel now account for 34 per cent of Dell’s commercial revenues, Davis said.

Oh – and for the record, Davis does still track the number of total partners in the PartnerDirect program. The ranks have swollen to some 113,000 registered partners. But he’s quick to add that sheer numbers of partners are “nice, and encouraging, and speak to more and more partners gravitating towards Dell,” it’s no longer the key metric for him.

“Our focus is on moving our partners up [the PartnerDirect program tiers,]” Davis said. “And we’ll continue to stay very focused there. It’s a cornerstone of success for us.”

As a result of that focus, the company has dramatically increased the number of training modules available to its partners, and the number of training modules consumed by PartnerDirect members. Bob Skelley, executive director of global certified partner programs at Dell, said that thus far in its fiscal year, partners have gone through some 87,000 Dell-provided training modules, and are on pace to end up north of 200,000 training sessions over the course of Dell’s fiscal.