Retribution or Rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation can be a powerful way to reform a partner and bring it back into the fold as a high performer, but only if the partner shows promise.

By Diana L. Mirakaj

With an educational background in criminal justice, I typically lean toward the belief that if someone does the crime, they should do the time. It’s not that I completely rule out second chances, but the gift of free will is also its own curse: It allows people to make choices, so if you choose the wrong option, you should be held accountable for the consequences of the action selected.

In business, it’s not always that cut-and-dried (unless, of course, the SEC is involved, but that’s a different blog). When it comes to poor business planning, retribution may be too harsh a sentence to impose. Rehabilitation would appear to be the more compassionate approach. But then another question needs to be asked: Can you rehabilitate those who don’t recognize what they’ve done wrong? Or for that matter, aren’t willing to change?

At The 2112 Group, we speak with solution providers and vendors on a daily basis, and our conversations include questions associated with operational, sales, and management fundamentals. Though the discussion points may vary from strategic to process-related, we always seem to end up on the same path, with the same question: How do we improve performance?

For a vendor struggling with a low-performing partner, would retribution – locking that partner out of the channel program and “throwing away the key” – be a viable solution? Or would reforming the partner and then integrating it back into the broader ecosystem be a more effective and financially beneficial technique?

Since wiping the slate clean and starting over with a new round of partners isn’t an option for any vendor, the most plausible option is the latter, which leaves the vendor to strengthen its existing partner base by rehabilitating those besieged by challenges. Understandably, this is often met with frustration by the vendor. After all, is it the vendor’s responsibility to improve the business quality of the solution provider in order to make it a better partner? The short answer is yes. Here’s why.

The average solution provider is actively working with four to seven vendors, a range that hasn’t changed over the past three years. “Actively working” is a high standard, as it reflects that solution providers are engaged and productive with a focused few, while still engaged with multiples more on an infrequent or opportunistic basis.

Research by 2112 indicates that solution providers most likely won’t be expanding the number of active vendor relationships they have in place; rather, they’ll be dropping or de-emphasizing legacy relationships in favor of partnerships with new vendors that offer advanced- or emerging-technology capabilities.

The expectation is that solution providers will gravitate toward technology products that have strong hooks into professional and managed services. This doesn’t come at the exclusion of cloud services, by the way, as solution providers are showing signs of building capabilities and practices that address the design, product deployment, and support of cloud resources.

For vendors, it’s a balancing act across the partner community. Highlighting the practices of high-performing partners – through case studies or training workshops, for example – can be an effective way to teach by example and inspire other partners to strive for success. It also motivates the high performers, who, seeing that their achievements have been recognized, may bolster their efforts to surpass previous goals.

The bottom line: It’s worth vendors’ while to invest in lower-performing partners to keep them in the fold and prevent them from defecting. But this is only the case if certain conditions are met. Will the partner, for example, reciprocate by investing in the partnership? When sizing up whether partners are worth reforming, consider the following:

Does the partner possess a strong enough understanding of the vendor’s products/services to remain in the channel program? Will the existing technical and business capabilities be enough to meet current standards and exceed goals for future growth?

Resource Investment
Solution providers benefit from investing in management functions, such as vendor relations, training, and human resources. Does the partner invest in one or more critical business instruments or systems? If not, are they willing to going forward?

Need for “Re-Onboarding”
Just because they went through it once doesn’t mean a recharge isn’t needed. Partners that haven’t actively participated in sales are NOT ACTIVE, which means they’re not contributing partners. Does the partner need a refresh on the training available, such as sales and technical support, or the marketing tools offered by the vendor? Making them “run the course” again is a good exercise that will be valuable in the short and long term.

Business Planning
Solution providers that have sound management practices and teams, and that employ common business practices and operational standards, demonstrate higher rates of growth and profitability. Does the partner engage in formal business planning to make its goals a reality? Our research shows that 58 percent of solution providers don’t. Find out if the partner you’re looking to reform is part of the 42 percent that do.

Bear in mind that not all solution providers will benefit from a rehabilitation plan; in fact, some may outright refuse to take help. Let them go and focus instead on those that seek improvement. Make them earn their second chance.

The 2112 Group works with technology vendors to optimize their existing channel programs and create partner enablement plans that translate into better forecasting and outcomes. To learn more about 2112’s channel development services, email


Diana L. Mirakaj is president and chief operating officer of The 2112 Group. You can follow her on Twitter at @dlenam.