The idea seems simple enough: Vendors create an online database of their channel partners. End customers, in turn, can search the online database for a local, certified IT service provider. In theory that's a win-win for solutions providers and customers. Still, partner locators face three key challenges. Here's The VAR Guy's analysis.

First up, the three questions facing partner locators:
  1. Do end-customers know partner locator tools and websites exist?
  2. Are vendors doing enough to promote their partner locators?
  3. Will third-party partner locators sites help drive more customers to solutions providers?

Partner Locator and IT Locator

Hmmm... The VAR Guy began thinking about this blog entry when he stumbled across PartnerLocator.net. Apparently, the site is in the pre-registration phase now and a beta launch is planned for January 2011. It will cost channel partners roughly $1,200 annually to be listed in the PartnerLocator.net database; partners that register early can apparently receive a 50 percent discount on that fee. Apparently, telecom industry veteran John Luis Maldonado is the man behind PartnerLocator.net.

In some ways, The VAR Guy has heard the PartnerLocator story before. For instance, ASCII Group has built a searchable partner database called IT Locator. The IT Locator tool allows end-customers to find qualified IT professionals by city, state or keyword. And it costs VARs $349 for a 12-month listing.

Vendor Sites and Marketplaces

Meanwhile, big vendors such as Microsoft continue to refine their partner locator tools. Microsoft Pinpoint is perhaps the best-known, vendor-driven partner locator tool on the web. And the shift to the cloud has promoted many vendors to build online marketplaces that customers can easily search. Two prime examples: The Google Apps Marketplace and the Salesforce.com AppExchange.

The options don't end there. End-customers can also find IT service providers by putting projects out to bid, using the OnForce online marketplace. And former OnForce CEO Jeffrey Leventhal is busy building a new B2B marketplace called Work Market.

Who Do Customers Trust?

Still, the key question remains: What online tools do customers use most when searching for a so-called trusted IT advisor? Moreover, would customers be wiser to check in with local business associations to learn about IT service providers in their back yard?

Plenty of questions... The VAR Guy will continue to dig for answers in the days ahead. In particular, our resident blogger hopes to catch up with ASCII Group President Jerry Koutavas during the fast-approaching SMB Nation conference. Plus, The VAR Guy will be sure to investigate additional partner locator tools during upcoming partner conferences such as McAfee Focus, Oracle OpenWorld and Symantec Partner Engage.

In the meantime The VAR Guy wonders: Are partner locators bridging the gap between end-customers and VARs?

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