The debate of “partner quality versus partner quantity” has been constant in the channel ecosystem. While it is easy to garner a network of thousands of partners, developing a solid community of loyal and profitable VARs is an entirely different story.
That is why Metafile, a document management solution provider, takes a crawl-walk-run approach to channel sales and marketing. By providing two tiers of partnerships — a referral program and full VAR program — the company can ensure that partners are aware of expectations, and deliver upon their promises.
In the following interview, Steve Gregory, Partner Channel Manager at Metafile, shares his observations on channel marketing, as well as how Metafile ensures partners are empowered to go to market effectively.
Channel Marketer Report (CMR): What changes and trends are you seeing in the channel marketplace? Are there any consistent pain points you’re recognizing, not only in Metafile, but in other organizations, as well?
Gregory: One consistent challenge is attracting mindshare from your channel. There always are distractions and competition within the organization, from others in the ecosystem, as well as from other ISVs trying to increase their own mindshare. So the question becomes: “How do you stay in front of your partners?” The answer comes in the form of consistent communication. However, remember not to be annoying in your frequency and messaging. Frankly, even if partners delete an email from you without reading it, they see and begin to recognize your name, which contributes to your relationship with them.
CMR: How does Metafile tap channel partners to drive sales and overall market penetration, and what types of partner programs are you currently offering?
Gregory: We offer two levels of partnerships at Metafile: referral partners and a full VAR program. Most partners begin as referral partners, in which they are doing lead generation and joint marketing with us and bringing us new opportunities. In return, we educate them on Metafile and how to look for opportunities. A VAR partner is responsible for sales and delivery. We help partners until they are fully ramped up, then provide co-marketing and collateral, enabling the partner to take on a majority of the sales role and gain more margin and service business.
We currently are not running incentive programs. We’ve found that incentive programs based on closing deals do not drive enough incremental revenue to make them beneficial, because it’s the customer who determines when closing happens. While partner incentives may help drive more leads, closings are largely beyond partners’ control.
CMR: Why did Metafile find these types of programs to be beneficial?
Gregory: The partner benefits from having a solid product, coupled with a proven track record that increases the bottomline through additional software revenue. Having evolved for more than 30 years, Metafile can work with many different ERP systems, so partners who supply more than one ERP platform can offer one document management solution that works with each of them, instead of needing to maintain many offerings.
CMR: What makes Metafile’s approach to the channel different from others? How do you effectively communicate to potential partners the facets of your channel programs?
Gregory: We use the crawl-walk-run approach to educate potential partners on how we operate in the channel. On day one, we will not sign new partners as full VAR partners, even though they would like to obtain the higher margin. We have expectations that, first, our partners will get fully trained, know us well and live up to commitments as referral partners. We use a tiered-margin structure in which the more deals a partner closes, the higher the margin they receive. After a referral partner closes two deals, we then talk about becoming a full VAR, but we need to know everything is working well before committing to work with a partner as a VAR.
CMR: What role does your company have in your partners’ sales and marketing activities?
Gregory: As much or as little as we need to, but generally we do the heavy lifting. We will provide the collateral for marketing and will do demos with our regional managers. We’ll handle sales until the partner is ready to take on the full VAR role. In this way, the partner learns how the messaging works and what to look for, say and do on the sales calls.
CMR: What forms of marketing and sales training, education and collateral do you provide to partners across the channel? How do you ensure they’re using all materials correctly and effectively?
Gregory: We are employing technology for training more than ever before. We generally are not holding classroom training or traveling all over the world. Instead, we do live webinars to educate people on how to use the tools. Demos can be downloaded by our partners. The only classroom training is to help full VARs understand technically how to implement the product.
Most of our collateral is online, and we don’t need a portal because virtually all of it assets can be shared with customers, except for a price list. The research we’ve examined indicates that portals are used 80% less than ever, because content is more readily available via unsecured sites. Through our web site, we provide partners with white papers, ROI documents, demos, social media posts and other resources, and we seek to mutually link to the partner’s site.
CMR: Based on sales results and partner sentiment, what kinds of content and/or marketing strategies are most effective, and why?
Gregory: We like to work with partners to produce low-cost, high-impact webinars. This gives us an opportunity to send an email to current and prospective customers, suggesting they look at our capabilities. We also participate in our partners’ events and communications, encouraging them to add us to their e-newsletters and to give us a chance to communicate on their blogs. I especially like to participate in partners’ user group conferences, because we have a chance to meet customers face to face while also strengthening relationships with the partner.
CMR: What can we expect from Metafile during 2013?
Gregory: I’m currently researching the value of a MetaViewer mobile app for our partners. While portals have gone away, a cost-effective mobile app would provide channel partners with access to collateral in mobile fashion. They would be able to view and show customers our white papers, case studies and other materials on their mobile device. That could set partners apart from their competitors.
CMR: Will you be seeking any new partners during 2013, and how will they be on-boarded?
Gregory: Right now, we are looking for the right partners not only in the U.S. but also in the UK, Australia and potentially other English-speaking countries. On-boarding will involve them making the commitment to us through educating their employees and customers, sharing the MetaViewer message. They also need to understand our competitive positioning and our true differentiators such as the fact that MetaViewer has OCR as part of the base package. We seek to help our partners understand what distinguishes us and make that message as simple as possible.
Alicia Fiorletta is Senior Editor for Channel Marketer Report. Working closely with industry analysts and experts, Alicia reports on the latest news, technologies, case studies and trends coming to forefront in the channel marketing world. With a focus on emerging marketing strategies, including social, mobile and content for demand, Alicia hones in on new ways for organizations to market to and through their partner networks. Through her work with G3 Communications, Alicia also acts as Associate Editor for Retail TouchPoints, a digital publishing network focused on the customer-facing area of the retail industry.