IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Partner Program Tips and Tricks

To reap valuable vendor benefits such as MDF, training, and leads you need to mine partner programs for all they are worth. These channel pros explain how. By Megan Santosus
Reader ROI: 
Getting the most out of vendor programs requires skill and effort.
You can enhance program benefits through solid relationships.
Give-and-take efforts are crucial.


For small channel partners, taking advantage of vendor partner programs is important for running a successful business. Marketing collateral and funds, events, training, and lead generation are among the valuable carrots that vendors offer through various programs. Yet getting the most out of all the programs offered requires both skill and effort. To stand out from other partners—and more important, to reap the most benefits—channel pros need to mine programs for all they are worth.

“Almost every one of the vendors has buried in the fine print better ways to interact with them,” asserts Joshua Liberman, president of systems integration and managed services provider Net Sciences Inc., in Albuquerque, N.M. Over the years, Net Sciences has been involved with many vendors and partner programs; today the company works primarily with Datto Inc., Intel Corp., and Dell SonicWall. “The basics of most partner programs come down to discounts and training, events and MDF [market development funds], or other marketing subsidies,” he says.

The key to better interaction begins and ends with relationships, says Michael Cocanower, president of itSynergy, an MSP in Phoenix. That is straightforward advice that nevertheless requires considerable time. “I run a company and the vendors run [companies] even though they are much larger than mine,” he says. “It’s about people working together to accomplish an objective.” Finding out a vendor’s objective often requires a brutally honest conversation during which an account manager and partner discuss their respective goals.

Cocanower had such a conversation with Microsoft. “The majority of our revenue comes from recurring fees,” he explains. “While we certainly sell Microsoft solutions, it is more of a secondary focus for us.” Cocanower clearly expressed itSynergy’s goals and where Microsoft’s products could support those goals. “That level-setting of expectations is what makes the relationship,” he adds.

The Path to MDF
And it is a productive relationship that opens the door to MDF. Jamison West, CEO of Seattle-based IT service provider Arterian, a subsidiary of Aldridge, finds that solid personal relationships with account managers are particularly useful when working with larger vendors such as HP and Microsoft, and take considerable time to establish. “There isn’t one rep and one tool where everything about MDF is contained in one place,” he explains. “For Microsoft, I have used four different tools.”

Thanks to regular meetings with the account manager, West says he understands which MDF offerings are most relevant to Arterian. In addition, he knows that there are often buckets of funds that are available outside of typical channels. “I am able to contact a couple of people at Microsoft outside [of the channel program] who can often point me in the right direction due to the relationships I’ve developed,” he says. This approach has proved successful for getting a few thousand dollars to co-sponsor events to promote specific products.

In getting partner funds for events, Liberman says it helps to come up with new ideas or new venues. Several years ago, Net Sciences teamed up with SonicWall and another local company to hold an event at a kart racing track that was co-funded by the vendor. Currently, Liberman is thinking of holding an event that adds a twist to the traditional lunch and learn—with a late afternoon start, attendees can pack up a meal to take home. This “dine and dash” idea, as Liberman calls it, is garnering interest among partners. By taking a novel approach to events, or targeting new verticals, Liberman says that “funds are surprisingly available even to partners who do $50,000 per year, which frequently is the level that we are at with some of the vendors that have provided us with MDF.”

About the Author

Megan Santosus is a Boston-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The ChannelPro Network.

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