In the early decades of computing it was common for a single vendor, such as IBM, to provide all the IT needs of a customer. That is far removed from today where an IT department must work with a plethora of suppliers in order to deliver services to the business. Partnerships are crucial, and it takes real commitment to build and look after partnerships – in life as well as in business. The expression ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ refers to the situation, usually within long-standing relationships, when either one or both of the two parties begin to feel contempt for the other. Usually this is because the level of happiness diminishes over time and faults become apparent which previously were not noticed.
But what is it that actually breeds the contempt? Is it just a reflection of the length of the relationship, with each partner finding fault in the other or is it something more deep-seated? Might it be that the promises of the first few years when both were gung-ho and keen to make it work have begun to fade due to disappointments, disagreements and petty squabbling? This is indeed what can happen between an IT vendor and its partners. Trust is paramount. When trust has been breached, contempt enters the mix and things rapidly go downhill. Blandishments, gifts and incentives may be offered to smooth the waters or re-establish the relationship. It works occasionally but usually it is seen for what it is, a cynical method of manipulation to repair bridges for personal gain. One could possibly call up another idiom - ‘the leopard never changes its spots’.
Let me put this in context of the storage industry. Some storage vendors care deeply about their relationships. Like NetApp for example. With the vast majority of our business going through a two-tier distribution channel, working well with our partners is critical. It always has been. When the company was formed 20 years ago, the founders believed that their primary long term route-to-market would be through the channel and so selectively built an ecosystem to support that decision. NetApp sees its partners as an extension of itself. Without a functioning channel, NetApp will flounder. Unlike most of our competitors we have made a big bet with the channel – a bet that has been on the table for those 20 years and has never been taken off. Unlike some of our competitors who have dallied with their channel, consistency and trust have been watchwords of NetApp’s channel strategy. When the dot.com bubble bust in 2000 and the market began to shrink, many of the storage vendors, concerned for their revenue streams, started taking deals direct and protecting their own sales force’s pipelines. NetApp never did that. In fact NetApp continued its growth through that crisis and subsequent economic meltdowns. Why? Partly by focusing on what mattered to customers – storage efficiency for example and partly by sharing the strain and then the gain, with our channel.
So when evaluating the health of the relationship a channel partner will always look to today and to the plans for the future. But they should never forget the past. History is always worth understanding. Just because a vendor is on a charm offensive that does not mean they will always be so altruistic. Rely on a vendor for whom channel centricity is a core part of their DNA, not one bolted on for expediency and just as easily unstrapped.