Marketing, Part 2 : “Value-Add” Resellers

Marketing often entails conveying to the prospect audience more than just what your products are about. We are judged by the company we keep, and the MV DBMS will be judged by the people that represent the platform. There is a discussion in the U2UG forum right now about changing support providers, and this is integrally related to how people on the outside will view our industry in general when considering a new purchase. I’m taking the opportunity afforded by that discussion to frame this second article on my series on “Marketing in the Pick industry”.

I’ve always found the MV industry tiered reseller model to be friendly to revenue generators and occasionally hostile toward end-users – who really are the revenue generators. How many sites have been in a position where they hate their application provider and just want DBMS support, but the two are integrally bundled as far as the upline DBMS provider is concerned? How many companies would rather leave the MV model to get a completely new application, rather than to struggle with their “value-add” application provider?

Let’s introduce the players:

  • We have the MVDBMS providers at the top of the food chain.
  • Some Distributors intended to herd the cats at the next tier.
  • Value-Add Resellers, aka Application Providers
  • And End-Users.

The “Value-Add Resellers” are defined as people who add value to the DBMS, but for many of these people the value-add stops with their business application software. I’ve never liked the idea of linking DBMS “value” with business software. Rather, I see people who provide DBMS-related value as sometimes the same people who provide applications, but not always. It’s convenient to have a single provider for all system-related matters, whether application or DBMS, and some end-users want or expect OS support in there too. Many app developers are nice people who know their vertical market and found it easy to write programs in BASIC, but that doesn’t qualify them to provide “value” with regard to supporting the DBMS. While many of these people develop expertise over time, many of them are non-IT people who never really focus on the capabilities of the platform beyond the modest requirements of their own development.

That becomes important when the end-user asks their “VAR” about new connectivity for Java or .NET, or integration with SQL Server or SAP, and the value-add provider tells them it can’t be done. What the reseller means is “I don’t know how to do it, so I’m not going to let you do it”. The result over time is that the end-user looks for other applications and other providers who can partner with them for their IT needs.

The MV DBMS vendors all keep a respectful distance from the end-user tier, leaving queries about platform capabilities to their channel partners. In other industries where creating an application over the platform implies expertise, that’s OK. In our industry you don’t need to be an expert to create an app, and when end-users grow beyond the abilities of their resellers, the higher level tiers need to step in to ensure the needs of the end-users are properly addressed – or we ALL lose.

The solution to that problem is to separate applications from DBMS value, for the MV DBMS providers to certify the people who present their products, and to compel partnerships between the people who have apps but cannot provide DBMS-related value and DBMS experts who can respond to non-application queries from the channel.

I think the DBMS providers need to modify their reseller agreements to allow more communication between the higher tiers and end-users. When the end-user has a question that is not adequately answered by a “value-add” partner, the end-user should know that their inquiry can be escalated to a distributor or to the DBMS provider.

TigerLogic has a tier that sort of sits along-side the VAR channel – these are Consultants who do not provide applications but they are still allowed to sell licenses and provide support to end-users. I think all of the MV providers should have a partner category like this.

VARs who do not qualify to provide DBMS support should be compelled to partner with Consultants who are certified. Such qualifications should be re-evaluated every 2 years or so, as technology changes, the platform changes, and personnel change – but the quality of end-user support must remain at a level which reflects well on all parties and the industry as well. Further, a company that is registered as a VAR but they cannot provide VAR services should not be getting a VAR commission! Their value-add is effectively that of a sales broker. They provide value to the DBMS vendor, not to end-users. And that’s an important point. If the end-user does not perceive value, the reseller is not providing value-add, and the relationships need to be re-evaluated.

“Value-Add” related to the DBMS can be further differentiated between people who sell the DBMS and people who facilitate sales. The only way the MV DBMS providers can get out of the hole they’re in, with regard to the practice of just selling their DBMS to companies that already have a competing MV product, is to improve the quality of the channel with people who not only know the product, but people who evangelize the product and thus contribute to the overall industry positioning of the platform. Other platforms draw new prospects because there are people out there talking about the platforms to people who know nothing about the platform. We don’t have anything like that. We don’t have a way to reward people who bring new business to the industry – forget about which DBMS provider or which application developer gets the business. A sale for the industry is a sale for all of us. Application providers don’t evangelize the platform – these are the people who say “we sell applications, not a database”. Certified DBMS professionals may not extend their expertise to evangelizing for the industry at large – it’s hard enough to earn a living just selling expertise within this community. There must be some reward for people who take it upon themselves to draw interest toward the industry in general. From there prospects can be guided toward specific apps and platforms. The goal would not always be to make direct sales, but simply to make people aware of this capable platform and the options available. From there, the next time someone hears the name “Pick” or “MV”, it won’t be an uphill battle for the application provider to explain and justify the platform as a part of their sales effort. Many app providers cannot and will not do this well. If they blow it, we ALL lose.

There should be some reward for whomever does that job of marketing for the MV DBMS industry. One would think that this would be a challenge undertaken by the MV DBMS providers themselves. Unfortunately I don’t think any of them think that far ahead – and that’s part of the reason why we are where we are right now.

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