The Changing Channel

Figuring Out Which IT Community Is Right for You

For channel partners, joining a community is essential to making their voices heard by the larger organizations they are partners with. But given the wide variety of communities in the channel, it can be a challenge for partners to know which ones suit them best.

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The first prerequisite for partnering is trust. You must find partners that you can trust to deliver their services at the same level as you deliver yours. You must be able to trust in their integrity and their ability to conduct themselves professionally. You must trust that they have your back.

Where do you find such partners? Communities.

There are several kinds of communities in the IT channel, and it's important to examine their structures and their motivations to determine which ones best fit your needs.

Vendor-Run Communities
Most every channel vendor has, by definition, a channel partner program. Many hail Citrix as having the best. Others appreciate the focus of the Microsoft Partner Network. Smaller software providers and hardware manufacturers may create incredibly strong, intimate bonds with their partners, while larger manufacturers may provide incredible training and development benefits. The programs vary widely and usually include many inducements, such as joint marketing funds, training and support, special discounts, deal registration, and more.

Distributor-Run Communities
Some distributors have seen the value of providing a venue for partners to gather together to share expertise and best-practices, build affinity programs, add broader training opportunities than any one vendor would, and otherwise find ways to help partners work together for their mutual advantage. As long as members remember that their sponsor has a very clear motivation for supporting the organization, there can be great value here, as long-running communities like TechData TechSelect and the Ingram Micro VentureTech Network have proven.

Entrepreneur-Run Communities
The fact that someone has a financial motivation to operate a community does not mean that the motive is ulterior. Some entrepreneurs have simply seen the need for a community to support a specific group of IT channel companies and have elected to fill that need. That's how most great businesses get started. Many of these foster focus groups that meet regularly to discuss their challenges and gain insight from one another. Many partners can't say enough about how much value they've received from these discussion groups.

Listening to members of some of these communities and following their social media postings, you get a strong appreciation of just how loyal they are to their community and how appreciative they are of the value it brings. Great examples include Harry Brelsford's SMB Nation and Arlin Sorensen's Heartland Technology Group.

Some of these communities are formed by suppliers of services to the IT channel to deliver value beyond the services that are purchased. One great example is the ConnectWise IT Nation.

Vendor-Neutral Associations
There are fundamentally two types of associations that a channel partner should consider joining: those that are vendor-neutral, and those that are independent but vendor-focused.

A very good example of perhaps the premier vendor neutral association is the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which has driven its funding through the growth of industry training standards and programs like the A+ Certification that most techs pride themselves on earning. This has allowed CompTIA to hire staff to drive the programs, hold industry events, create informational and developmental activities, and deliver greater value overall. In addition to hired staff, this association depends upon involved members of the IT channel to drive its various focused communities. The committed professionals who have given of their time and talent are a very impressive group, and each exemplifies the passion with which association members work to benefit other members.

Independent Vendor-Focused Associations
Joining an independent association that is focused on a major vendor gives you the opportunity to join with many other of that vendor's partners, thus aggregating many voices into one larger voice that can speak much louder and be more impactful than any one VAR could be alone. Another powerful value in an independent vendor-focused association is that members learn how to maximize their return on investment in their partner by helping them learn how to get the most out of the relationship. One excellent example is the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), which serves as an "on-ramp" for members. Regionally, nationally or globally, the IAMCP can readily point members to the best resources and the best strategies to accomplish what they need to grow their businesses.

Communities are the only way the hundreds of thousands of small to midsize partners who are the heart of our channel can join together to have a truly independent and strong voice with the larger organizations we turn to for products and services. Communities preserve the balance in our channel. Join.

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About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.