As an ISV, you have lots of choices when it comes to how you take your product to market. For some, building an IT channel and recruiting VARs (value-added resellers), MSPs (managed services providers) and other IT resellers is a top focus. Others may prefer the direct approach — working with the end customer and upselling their software sales by bundling hardware and services to create comprehensive solutions. These are both viable choices, but there’s another avenue that you should also consider — partnering with a hardware OEM.
A hardware OEM partnership allows you to offer your clients a pre-certified or pre-loaded solution, without the additional costs, overhead, and logistics associated with sourcing and carrying the hardware directly. By outsourcing hardware production and shipping you can offer a more full-service experience for your customers at a fraction of the cost and work of trying to stock hardware inventory yourself.
So, how does a software provider enter into a partnership with a hardware OEM, and how does the relationship work? I reached out to industry experts from Epson America and Zebra Technologies to get answers to these questions, and more.
Where To Start The OEM Evaluation Process
When you think about all the potential hardware vendors that could be a fit for your software it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start. “First, I would say that the product fit is a necessity,” says James Pemberton, global ISV & developer strategy director, Zebra Technologies. “If the vendor’s products are incompatible/unsuitable for the ISV’s software, then there’s little point in pursuing a partnership. So, a basic product check is needed first.”
However, a vendor with the best products, but no interest in ISVs or lacking an established ISV program is something ISVs need to watch out for, he says. Epson America’s Luis Artiz, group product manager, business systems group, concurs and adds, “It’s critical to take the time to find the right vendor company to forge a partnership with. The hardware vendor will need to have a strong support structure to meet the ISV’s customization requirements and to collaborate with the ISV during product development. The vendor of choice should also have a strong position in the market, a long history of producing quality products and services, and offer specific skills and services that keep the ISV from overburdening its internal resources.”
Which Hardware Contacts Are Most Helpful
It’s important to note that when you explore hardware vendor products and programs, who you talk to is an important part of the equation. There’s a good chance, for example, that a product specialist may be very knowledgeable about the workings of a particular product line, but may know little about their company’s ISV program. “Ideally, if the vendor is serious about ISV partnerships, it will have at least one ISV manager who would be the main point of contact,” says Pemberton. “In the absence of such a contact, a sales manager for the same vertical/region/customer that the ISV targets would also suffice, as there should be a level of curiosity from the sales manager to have an initial call to discuss the potential for collaboration.”
The ISV should also be well connected to the account manager, the engineering team, and the product marketing group, advises Artiz. “This trifecta is important because in a strong company, each group already collaborates to develop products and brings them to market. This group will also be able to bring the ISV the maximum amount of exposure and can provide access to additional services offered by the vendor’s organization.”
Signs Of An ISV-Friendly Hardware OEM
To minimize time wasted trying to weed out hardware vendors that aren’t a good fit, the experts offer the following advice: “Clear signs on the vendor’s website that the company is actively working with ISVs is a good indicator,” says Pemberton. “This might be an easily found ‘ISV-Partner/AppFinder’ search tool where they are actively promoting their ISVs or the apps from their ISV community. It could also be a partner section of the website, with an invitation to join the ISV program and a description of benefits offered.”
One of the key signs of an ISV friendly company is a vendor that takes the time to get to know the ISV and makes personal relationships a priority, adds Artiz. “Another sign is that they bring the ISV into the vendor’s family of support services. Providing direct access to key members of the marketing and technical services team is a must as well. It’s also important to look for a company that has an account team dedicated to ISVs. Additionally, they should have a marketing development fund and offer ISV specific incentive programs.”
Hardware OEM Red Flags And Pitfalls To Avoid
One area that’s critical for ISVs to look out for are situations where vendors make big promises before starting to build a relationship, says Artiz. “ISVs should also be wary of non-established vendors with knock-off products, vendors that don’t offer marketing or incentive funds, vendors that have no dedicated account team and those with a weak technical services group,” he says. “Finally, a big red flag is when ISVs have no direct access to the vendor’s internal support teams.”
Pemberton adds that ISVs need to have realistic expectations when it comes to hardware vendors bringing them into deals right away. “Seeing a list of famous names on the vendor’s customer reference list might imply that the vendor can walk the ISV into a customer to pitch their software, but that is not going to be the case until some ground rules are established,” he says. “First, a vendor’s sales rep values his customer relationships, so he will be wary of unknown ISVs. Second, with a large ISV partner community in place, clearly not all can be lined up in front of existing customers. The best approach for a new ISV is to come with some solid customer wins in the vendor’s market to show credibility, and ideally some live prospects where there could be a joint sales opportunity. That will get the sales manager’s attention and trigger a much higher level of interest from the start. Partnerships need to be of mutual benefit, so engaging hardware vendors with that in mind is the best approach.”
One final word of advice Artiz has for ISVs is to not assume that hardware OEMs only know how to build hardware. “ISVs should let the hardware vendor help them during the integration process so that they can focus on optimizing their software on the partner’s hardware.” When that happens both partners win because they create a solution that solves customers’ business challenges, which is the big picture that must be kept top of mind throughout the partnering and go-to-market process.