The rapidly-changing nature of the channel ecosystem is turning every aspect of partners’ businesses upside down, including relationships with vendors.

Hardware continues to be commoditized, cloud-based offerings continue to increase in popularity and the technology space is growing ever more crowded.

All of this is changing the dynamic between the channel and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

What partners want to see from vendors is moving away from the convenience of a one-stop shop toward agility and responsiveness.

Travis Tucker, an account executive IT services firm Curvature, says there are a lot of benefits in the channel today to working with smaller vendors with a more narrow focus.

In many cases, these smaller firms are leading the innovation in areas like security, networking and storage because all of their resources are focused on that one solution.

But Tucker says the biggest advantage smaller OEMs have over the industry giants is the dedicated focus on service.

“There’s a lot of focus on the deals and getting tech resources,” he says. “Just the process of registering the deal, quoting it, getting demo units—it all happens much more quickly.”

Speed of service is essential to Tucker being able to service his customers in the current market conditions, where he has to coordinate half a dozen or more solutions from different vendors in order to provide a comprehensive solution to his clients.

“Sometimes it can take a few days to hear back from the larger OEMs, which makes a big difference in my ability to satisfy my customers. If you’re trying to give a quote and it takes you a week to get that quote back [from the OEM], it’s really frustrating.”

These days, says Tucker, the market is seeing more and more best-of-breed solutions as opposed to end-to-end solutions coming out of giant OEMs.

This means partners are managing several different partnerships for every single customer engagement, which is a recent challenge for his business

“You might be dealing with a Fortinet security solution, Cisco routing and switching, Opengear for out-of-band, HP compute and Dell storage or something. It can be across a very wide and diverse group of OEMs.”

In addition, the marketplace is far more crowded today than it ever has been.

The overlap of competitors within a space can be challenging when it comes to selecting a vendor partner.

“You can get something like a 10 gigabit networking switch from Dell, HP, Edgecore, Supermicro, Quanta or Penguin, but do you really want to have seven OEMs that sell the same thing? A natural challenge of the channel is being selective of which partnerships give you the broadest capability to meet the client need without overwhelming everyone involved by trying to manage multiple, very similar product offerings.”

As a result, Tucker’s approach to vendor selection is different than it was seven or eight years ago.

It isn’t that his criteria have changed.

But today, he has to be far more selective when he’s applying those criteria because he doesn’t want to sign up every new OEM that comes into the market.

“Take security, for instance. Ten years ago there wasn’t a huge playing field. Today, you have a lot of legitimate competitors from the SMB to the enterprise level: Cisco, Fortinet, Palo Alto, Sonicwall, Checkpoint and a few others.”

Open networking, he points out, just didn’t exist. If you wanted switches in the data center, more than likely you were going to go with Cisco.

In the end, Tucker says, it comes down to communication and agility.

He wants to partner with vendors who are intentionally easy to work with, who make a commitment to transparency and partner engagement.

“Working with nimble, responsive OEMs is the number one reason that I’ll engage and really push that product. You want to be able to sell something quickly and easily. You want a company that makes it easy to deliver solutions, whether it’s with registration, demo units, demo calls with the clients and really having open engagement with sales engineers and having them readily available—that makes a huge difference in our ability to really sell.”