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March 19, 2015

Changing the Channel: Partner Programs Position for the Future

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Indirect channel approaches for offering connectivity and IT have been around for eons—sales partners are the lifeblood of many a global organization. But all too often, the architecture for these programs has been unwieldy, static and slow-moving, and lacking in resources that truly match channel partners’ business models.



Recent channel moves show that this is beginning to change. Suppliers are updating their approach to partners by implementing modern marketing resources and updated program structures, making a pivot towards the cloud and facilitating global reach, and rolling out super-charged digital portal strategies. Taken together, these are the hallmarks of a fresh outline for channel partner programs.

Modern Marketing

Channel programs are perhaps most notably evolving to take into account the way that channel companies do business now. It’s a far cry from the days of cold calls and direct mail marketing, after all.

Take, for instance, Nimble (News - Alert) Storage, a storage solutions company that has launched a global channel program for partners that resell the Nimble Adaptive Flash platform. The program features a tiered structure with certification levels—nothing innovative there. But, crucially, it features a range of incentives and sales enablement tools as a baseline from which to start.

Nimble is also taking a rare ecosystem approach, and said that it will offer programs in alignment with its own alliance partners, including Cisco (News - Alert) and VMware, to create strategic solutions selling opportunities for joint channel partners of the companies.

As part of the partner program, Nimble has built in three levels of certification for partners: gold, silver and bronze. Depending on certification level, Nimble will provide enhanced resources such as on-demand demonstrations, networking opportunities at both local and national events and branded marketing materials for increased awareness and engagement.

But the real story is in the incentives: Nimble offers inclusion in the Nimble Loyalty Incentive Program, which is a growth-focused allotment of marketing development funds (MDF) available to gold- and silver-certified partners. In addition, partners are provided targeted sales performance incentive funds (SPIF), a trade-in program that allows partners to replace older storage units with the Nimble Adaptive Flash platform, discounts on not-for-resale (NFR) equipment used for lab and demonstration purposes, and a deal registration program that rewards partners with discounts for new sales opportunities.

Nimble is an example of a greenfield program, but even incumbent telcos are shifting their strategy to become more current and partner-centric. Celebrating its two-year anniversary of combining ACC Business and AT&T’s (News - Alert) channel program, the AT&T Partner Exchange for instance has rolled out new features for its more than 275 solution providers.

The program enhancements include access to investment development funds, a certification achievement program, ecosystem additions and a simplified program tier structure.

Investment development funds will be available for solution providers who invest in activities beyond marketing. This includes sales and operational consulting, contracting support, API development and systems enhancements to platforms like billing and service assurance. Funding will be available through a portal where solution providers can select from a list of third-party vendors ready to help meet their internal business transformation objectives.

The Certification Achievement Program helps solution providers build in-depth knowledge of specific product and service offerings in three technology tracks: Network, Cloud/Hosting and Mobility. The program includes an already-released prerequisite level – Core – and two certification tiers – Professional and Master, which are coming later this year.

The innovation ecosystem meanwhile brings in third parties to help solution providers evolve using value-added services. This includes billing-as-a-service (BaaS) tools from BluLogix, Omniware, OneBill and Profitec to ease the billing process.

“Two years ago, we launched an innovative business model centered around solution providers, and we’re moving fast as we build on our momentum. As we grow AT&T Partner Exchange, we will continue to make bold moves on behalf of our customers,” said Brooks McCorcle, president at AT&T Partner Solutions. “We’re committed to our solution providers’ success. And we’re constantly exploring opportunities to help strengthen their businesses and maximize their benefits within our program.”

Big Moves from Big Players

Some channel changes are being driven by larger industry happenings. For instance, HP will soon split into two to better reflect a more cloud-focused market. Hewlett Packard Enterprise will handle business services, and HP Inc. will cover the company’s traditional printer and other “personal systems” businesses.

Accordingly, HP has updated its channel partner programs to reflect the changes in the company’s structure. The HP Partner Navigator Program has been hatched to help HP partners through HP's upcoming separation into two companies. And the Partner One Alliance is designed to help partners continue to offer cross-portfolio opportunities across companies after the separation.

"As HP continues its path toward becoming two new Fortune 50 companies, we remain laser-focused on maintaining the same commitment to the channel that our partners have come to trust,” said Meg Whitman, chairman, president and CEO of HP. "HP is helping partners maintain business continuity and, at the same time, capture market opportunity through a services-centric, outcomes-driven approach."

The HP Partner Navigator Program contains a number of resources, including dedicated HP partner support centers. For HP's largest, most operationally complex direct partners, HP partner account operations managers will work directly with resourced partner navigators, who are named partner employees, to address each partner's unique operational needs.

Via the Partner One Alliance, both Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. will work together on partner activities and maximize participation in industry channel events. Dedicated teams in both companies will collaborate to build joint business and marketing plans around specific solutions in key areas of the portfolios.

New resources are planned for post-split, in the 2016 timeframe, including outcomes-based solutions, HP Consulting offerings, single sales certifications, learning credits and a Datacenter Care Add-On program. These aim to further enable the shift to a services-led, “cloudy” business model, the company said.

Positioning for the Global Cloud

HP’s channel changes are indicative of a much bigger macro-trend, towards making it easier for partners to provide access to cloud services and cloud business models. Equinix falls into this camp as well.

The data center provider has launched a global channel partner program to capture more revenue in the enterprise hybrid cloud market. Channel partners can tap into Equinix’s established ecosystems and products, such as Cloud Exchange and Performance Hub.

The Cloud Exchange provides direct access to multiple clouds and multiple networks from a single port. The Equinix Performance Hub meanwhile distributes a company’s data center infrastructure across multiple locations to accelerate application delivery to employees, customers and partners worldwide.

The program extends across the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, and deepens the company’s joint selling engagements to include managed service providers, network service providers, system integrators and solution providers. Partners can leverage Equinix to design and deploy cloud and IT solutions for enterprise customers, acting as resellers, referral agents, or cloud technology platform partners.

“What we are trying to do is enable customers and partners to get to the cloud,” said Pete Hayes, chief sales officer at Equinix. “In our data centers, network service providers and cloud service providers are going to be the motivating factors to get the enterprise customers to move workloads out of the basement.”

The initiative is a marked shift in strategy for the company. “In the past, Equinix had more referral types of partners,” said Christopher Rajiah, vice president of worldwide channel sales and alliances. “This expands [the program] to support different sales motions, resale, or technology partnerships. We’re taking different ways to partner and taking it to a global level. Channel is a key strategy going forward.”

Equinix isn’t the only one looking to offer partners a global opportunity. NTT America (News - Alert) has debuted its Global Solutions Channel Partner Program, and has signed up master agency Advantage Communications Group as its first announced partner.

Advantage agents, sub-agents and agent partners from The Alliance will be able to sell a fully integrated solution set – cloud, network and data center services – from the telco, and can use the partnership to strengthen their international presence.

“Our goal is to customize this partnership to support the Advantage team in their plans for global expansion,” said Kevin Goodman, director of channel strategy and marketing at NTT America.

“We are confident in committing to a team with extensive technology, channel and strategic partnership experience, and expect we can utilize NTT America’s entire portfolio on a global level,” added Mike Saxby, vice president of business development at Advantage. “Leveraging the reach, financial stability and assets of one of the top three telecom companies in the world will have a significant impact on Advantage and the partnership community at large.”

And for its part, HP has rolled out the Helion Partner Marketplace, a public services cloud marketplace that enables resellers to sell, provision, maintain and invoice a comprehensive suite of public cloud services for small and medium businesses. It’s available now in the U.S., but later this year it will roll out in EMEA and Asia-Pacific, offering global reach to domestic partners.

Portals and Support

Hand-in-hand with better, more modern marketing support is a trend toward offering more self-service opportunities. The old-school approach of offering static and often outdated online resources is slowly giving way to a more interactive portal approach with near-real-time updates and mobile dimensions.

Master agency Telegration for instance has boosted its partner support portal strategy by joining Convey Engage, an online agent engagement platform designed to bridge the communications gap between vendor partners and the agent community.

Convey will power Telegration’s TelePortal, a cloud-based solution that hosts and delivers content, training, promotions and events provided directly from vendors and suppliers to their agents and distributors. So, TelePortal will consolidate all vendor content, training, promotions and events into a single location, making it easier and more convenient for the Telegration agent community to access and use.

“The telecommunications industry has continued to become more complex. New providers and service offerings emerge almost daily in our business. TelePortal will allow our employees and agents to access all of our voice, Internet, data, cloud, VoIP, cable and mobility providers’ information immediately for the latest on products, services and support to better serve our customers,” said Denis Raue, president of Telegration. “I really believe that this is a game-changer since our sponsored providers have a vested interest in updating the information. Ultimately, they will be responsible for keeping marketing information current. TelePortal is cloud-secure and all the information will be housed in one place — immediately available for all our agents and employees at any time. TelePortal is keeping us leaders in our field, where information and knowledge is paramount to succeed in an ever-changing marketplace.”

Nimble has also made a partner portal strategy a central focus for its new channel program. The portal is a centralized repository for all partner-focused content, including sales and marketing tools. Partners can log in to the portal and gain immediate access to specific sales data generated from Salesforce.com (News - Alert), including how many deals are registered and the pipeline associated with deals specific to that partner.

It also offers access to customer-facing presentation materials, competitive beat sheets, call scripts, demonstration tools, marketing collateral and the latest information on incentives and promotions.

For broader accessibility, Nimble has launched a partner mobile application—a downloadable application that includes the foundational information found on the partner portal, including deal registration and technical specifications for Nimble solutions. 




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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