Most software companies that are interested in growing beyond “lifestyle business” status consider selling through the channel (e.g., VARs, integrators, MSPs, solution providers) at some point. If your business is thinking about selling through the channel, Linda Sudderth, Epson’s North American Sales Manager of OEM, VAR and ISV channel partnerships, has some timely advice for you. With more than 20 years’ experience working with Epson’s channel partners, she’s learned several valuable lessons and offers these five tips to help ensure your program’s success.
1 — Grow Slowly. “Don’t try to bring on 50 VARs at once,” she advises. “Slow methodical growth is better. Know your software, know the VAR business model that best fits your solution and identify VARs that fit your required business model. Start by defining the key VAR attributes that complement your product. For instance, some resellers don’t have the bandwidth or desire to do on-site support. If your product is deployed on premises, you should identify VARs that can provide on-site installation and support; otherwise, you’ll end up in a support role that you may not be able to accommodate. On the other hand, if your software is cloud-based and designed to be self-installed, you may want to focus on other important partner traits, such as mobile computing expertise or cloud service experience.”
2 — Provide Sales & Service Training. “Although your product may seem intuitive to you, don’t assume it is for a channel partner. You should provide sales training on your product’s features and functions: educate your partners on the top five issues your software solves for your target market, what differentiates your software solution from your competitors and be able to articulate your value proposition. Your resellers should be selling just like you do. Providing pre- and post-sales technical support training is imperative to your success, also. Your channel partners will become independent and service their respective customers if trained properly. Your reseller partners are an extension of your company and reflect positively — or negatively — on your software solution.”
3 — Define Your Hardware Platform Requirements. “To avoid being in constant software development mode and certifying a large number of peripherals, select a short list of devices to support and stand by your selection, provided the devices continue to be reliable, affordable and available. Select peripherals that provide the best total-cost-of-ownership (saving $25-$50 on acquisition cost goes out-the-door after one service call). Select the peripherals that have the best combination of product features, performance, reliability and support from the manufacturer for channel partners as well as ISVs.”
4 — Clarify Your Route to Market. “One of the biggest threats to a channel program occurs when resellers find out their vendor is ‘taking a deal direct.’ You don’t have to sell 100% through the channel, but you do need to define the rules of engagement ahead of time and make sure all partners clearly understand your route to market. Some vendors define specific territories for their partners; others work directly with end-users above a specific revenue threshold. If you’re going to implement a geographically-based program, be sure to take into account chain businesses that might expand into another partner’s territory. The more scenarios you can plan for and define ahead of time, the easier it will be to show consistency and integrity to your partners.”
5 — Communicate Regularly. “One of the best ways you can distinguish your software offering from your competitors is by being responsive to and transparent with your channel partners, especially when they need support. It’s also important to keep your partners up to date on your product roadmap. What new features or fixes are you planning for your next release? What other changes are happening at your company that partners may want to know about?
In summary, to have a successful channel program you must be willing to form partnerships with VARs, which requires more effort than a mere ‘distribution agreement.’ With adequate planning and proper execution, your prospects of success are much higher than if you only sell direct. Your reseller partners are an extension of your sales force and reach in the market.”