Tuesday, December 9, 2008

When Things Don't Go as Planned......

This past week one of our best vendor partners - SonicWall - had a problem that has sent some chills through the channel. While this is not going to be a description of the problem - a licensing server failure after routine maintenance gone bad - it is my perception of how the issue was handled and some realities we need to face as solution providers. (If you want to read the internal Sonicwall analysis of the cause and the resulting actions taken - I have posted it with permission here: http://www.heartlandtechnologies.com/pdf_files/SonicWALL_LM_System_Root_Cause_Analysis_and_Corrective_Action_Report.pdf)

So what should our reaction be when a vendor has an issue? Some partners would say we should react strongly, move on to another vendor, get angry, string them up - lots of reaction out there in the channel when any vendor has an issue. While we can't just pretend it didn't happen, we can respond appropriately and act as the word used to describe us is put into action - partner. My opinion of partnering revolves around a few things:

1. No vendor is perfect. There will be days things don't happen quite as planned. Let's be honest, it happens in our businesses more than we want to admit. Technology sometimes doesn't work. People make mistakes. Things just happen. I am reminded of something I learned from scripture - "let him who is without sin cast the first stone". That won't be me - I am far from perfect and so is HTS. Reasonable is the way I think we have to approach it.

2. We should hold vendors accountable. At the same time, we also need to hold our vendors accountable to provide us the best service, products and information possible. That means we communicate constructively about what can be done better. We help make changes that are needed, offer suggestions where appropriate, and participate in the solution. It is easy to second guess things after the fact. Could SonicWall have communicated sooner? Probably. Hindsight is always 20/20.

3. We should evaluate how they take responsibility when there are issues. One of the things that I watch closely is how a vendor reacts when things don't go well. Some run and point fingers. Some deny that anything is wrong. In this case, SonicWall gets a strong grade from me for openly communicating with the channel. Multiple emails, phone calls and follow up communications. They admitted there was a problem and they put resources into action to work at resolution. I had multiple calls from key SonicWall team members making sure we were able to serve our clients well. They took the bull by the horns, ate some crow and appologized for the situation. That impresses me and tells me a lot about the leadership at the top of SonicWall. Matt Medeiros, CEO, personally called me yesterday to check on the status of our customers. That is class and much appreciated.

4. We should never forget that as SMB VAR's - the customer is our responsibility. More and more I am seeing SMB VAR's that seem to want to "hand off" the customer responsibility to a vendor. It is primarily happening with MSP and help desk relationships, but it seems to be slowly migrating everywhere. We want to sell a solution, leverage a service or product, and then pretend we are off the hook with our customer. If there are issues we just point fingers at the vendor we are partnered with. But our customers could care less why there is a problem. They only know that as their trusted business advisor they depend on us to take care of them. So yes in this case, SonicWall caused an issue. But at the end of the day it is an issue we own together. The customer is our customer and they entrusted their business to us. We can't pass that off on anyone. We have to take ownership of the customer relationship and stay focused on serving them no matter what. Selling any solution does not relieve us of the responsibility to make sure the customer is taken care of. No matter what......

My advice is to partner closely with your vendor partners. They will make a mistake now and then. They will try your patience and do things that don't make sense, at least on the surface. But they are your partner, and you need to put skin in the game to make investments, build relationships and work hard to be successful together. While I hope we don't have any more issues like this for a long time, I know that more than before this happened, we are partnered with a great company and will continue to build and grow our businesses together as we tackle whatever comes at us.

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