ADAM, Stylelabs, and managing vendor - partner pairings

It happens at the end of many a Greek tragedy, but perhaps most prominently at the end of Euripides' Medea: just when you think all is lost, the hero is about to die, or the empire is about to crumble, at the last minute in flies the deus ex machina, the god in the machine, who saves the hero or the empire from complete and utter ruin.

We often see deus ex machinas in enterprise technology selection projects, too. In the final stages of selecting technology, it's rare that technology itself becomes the decisive factor. If you've done your filtering well, understood your use cases and what makes for a good technology fit, the final two or three vendors will often prove technologically capable (or at least similar to each other).

Case in point: I've very rarely seen the Belgian-based, married-to-Microsoft, Digital Asset Management vendor ADAM lose a deal in the latter stages because of their technology. Rather, the deal is made or broken by the implementation partner they bring to the table.

Because ADAM doesn't offer implementation services, they've spent a good deal of energy building up a channel partner network, with very mixed results. Initially ADAM had no certification program for partners (they added that in 2009), and for a while their partners with significant experience (such as Hinttech) were based only in Europe. Through further efforts ADAM has signed on and trained up various partners in North America -- Accenture and Siteworx, to name a few -- but by my measure, it's still not enough to support ADAM's fast-growing installed base in the US.

It may be that ADAM's has some challenges solidifying a larger quantity of dedicated and experienced partners due to what some prospective partners have called "aggressive" channel management tactics, such as charging €20,000 and demanding lead sharing in order to even be called a partner.  (This is a common approach for larger vendors who might bring big deals to the table, but is a bit unusual for smaller, channel-only vendors.)

Some general rules about vendor-partner dynamics hold true here.  First, partner training does not equal hard experience or DAM savvy.  Second, partner heft does not always mean solution depth.  This is why a tiny integrator based outside of Brussels called Stylelabs is often flying in on wings of chocolate and fruity lambics, saving ADAM from losing deals. I've seen Stylelabs replace the initially proposed partner, and then win enough deals in the latter stages, that it made me ponder: does Stylelabs save ADAM where they would otherwise fail?

It would seem so. Stylelabs stands out as an ADAM integrator because they are stylish, DAM-savvy, and transparent about their pricing. Most other ADAM partners are like ADAM itself -- formal, serious, reserved, very "corporate." It's not that one approach is better than the other, but for better or worse, style sometimes wins over substance when it comes to winning deals. For some customers, the pairing of ADAM and Stylelabs is a tasty cocktail of style and substance - which is why they have such a great success rate when paired together.

Stylelabs recently played deus ex machina on a procurement by a Fortune 50, US-based global company when other partners brought to the table didn't impress enough. I'd seen it happen before with other large global deals. I felt compelled to ask ADAM CEO Pieter Casneuf about it: how can ADAM's partner network scale to support much larger and more numerous enterprise deals, when this quite smallish integrator is the one closing many of ADAM's most important ones? He gave the traditional answer: "lots of training" and partnerships with big-name integrators. But it's a long path from partnership deals and training to true DAM savvy and experience.

I'm often asked by our subscribers, "If I don't like the partner the vendor brings to the table, or don't think they have enough experience, but I know the software is the right fit, what should I do?" Simple: you vet alternatives. Always.

This is just as important in other marketplaces, including Portals and Web Content & Experience Management (WCM), where many vendors have a partner-oriented model. To be sure, the software you choose will be decisive to your success in the long run, since you will likely live with the technology much longer than the integrator. So don't overweight the stylishness of a partner like Stylelabs. Style is more perishable than software.

Still, that partner will have a big impact on your initial success.  So your diligence in choosing the right one should be suitably rigorous.

If your enterprise is grappling with these challenges, drop me a line.


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