It wasn't long ago that Dell was known in the channel as the direct sales company that would occasionally dip its toes into the channel waters, then quickly yank them out again.
A lot has changed in two years. Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell started hinting in May 2007 that it was time for Dell to get serious about channel sales and being a good partner. By December of that year, Dell launched the PartnerDirect global partner program.
PartnerDirect included a partner portal, marketing logos and guidelines, pre-sales resources and customer care, certification programs and credit options. One other key element was a deal registration program using Salesforce.com's partner relationship management tool. After about six months, Dell officials said deal registrations amounted to $200 million, and had lowered the minimum size to register deals from $75,000 to $50,000.
PartnerDirect launched with two tiers. Registered Partners got all the basic benefits of the program. The Certified Partner level added demonstration units, field account managers, enhanced financing, extra support, product roadmap previews and co-marketing funds. Dell started separate certification programs for managed service providers and for enterprise architects.
One other structural issue that Dell positions as an advantage for partners is the decision, inherent in the "Direct" part of the program's name, to keep distributors, and their cut of profits, out of the mix. Partners order directly from Dell and can have orders shipped straight to customers.
To be sure, Dell already had 30,000 partners worldwide and about $9 billion in solution provider revenues when PartnerDirect launched. But the formal program launch has organized existing partners, attracted new solution providers and brought substantial channel-based revenue growth.
According to a Michael Dell speech in November, PartnerDirect had about 40,000 partners -- a net increase of 10,000 partners in one year. On the official Dell Channel blog, an executive noted that the PartnerDirect portal is available in 19 languages and the company has registered partners in 148 countries. Meanwhile, the Round Rock, Texas-based firm's North American partner base is now rivaling HP's, with Dell claiming 16,000 North American partners.
The partner opportunity in the managed-service area is a little more limited. Dell's mix of the direct and indirect model extends to its portfolio of SMB-targeted services offerings. In 2007 and 2008, Dell bought its way into the services space with the acquisitions of managed service platform provider Silverback, remote-service management SaaS specialist Everdream and SaaS e-mail continuity vendor MessageOne.
In launching PartnerDirect, Dell decided to bring over about 150 SilverBack partners into the Dell program, and executives say they are looking for hundreds, rather than thousands, of managed service partners.
In all, the company said it met a 33 percent growth goal -- reaching $12 billion in solution provider revenues in 2008.
"This isn't an experiment," Michael Dell told a group of visiting partners about six months into the program. "What we want to do over the next three to nine months is better understand the capabilities of our partners."
The company has also been listening. One objection raised by channel observers to PartnerDirect last year was that its highest profile executive, Greg Davis, only operated at a regional level as vice president and general manager of the Americas Channel Group. In January, Davis got a promotion to a global role running Dell's channel business.
Davis' promotion came during a companywide restructuring, in which Dell reorganized itself globally around four major customer segments -- large enterprise, public, SMB and consumer. That the channel initiative not only survived the reorganization but saw its key champion move up a rung on the executive ladder is a positive sign for Dell's commitment to its new channel religion.
RCP readers are taking Dell seriously. A stratospheric 69 percent of survey respondents resell or recommend Dell products. And a healthy 33 percent of respondents said they belonged to the Dell PartnerDirect program.
When it comes to Microsoft partners, the Dell value proposition is obvious. As a longtime strategic partner with Microsoft, Dell's product portfolio of corporate-oriented PCs, laptops, servers, storage and other products are a logical fit for Microsoft-based solutions.