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How an ISV Revamped Its Partner Program To Strengthen Its Channel

As more VARs, MSPs and SIs build their intellectual property and expand into the realm of ISV, they're seeing potential in working through partners to resell their solutions.

Building a channel, even if you only work with a handful of select partners, requires thought, planning and follow-through. Based on the experience of one ISV gaining momentum with Microsoft partners, a clear program with two-way expectations provides the foundation for strong channel partnerships.

After joining Episerver in 2015, Karen Chastain, director of strategic alliances and global partners, was tasked with revamping Episerver's partner program, as well as strengthening its strategic relationship with Microsoft. Chastain sees that dual role as an important factor in the program's success.

"On the technology side, a tighter relationship with Microsoft is beneficial because our solution, built on Azure, helps our partners go to market quicker," said Chastain. "Azure helps them sell against the competition, giving them an easier platform to develop on -- more efficient and more cost-effective for their customers."

"And from a marketing perspective, it's a shared responsibility for lead generation," added Chastain. "Episerver does lead generation, our partners do lead generation, and we expect Microsoft to help us do lead generation, as well. Sometimes that could be through joint marketing efforts, and also it could be through helping us with brand awareness."

In an effective channel partner relationship, each tier of provider can leverage the different relationships it builds within customers and prospects to the benefit of all. Microsoft, ISVs and service providers generally work with different roles inside organizations, so cross-pollination opportunities flow up and down the partner chain. 

Resources for Different Levels of Partner Relationships
While Episerver -- an ISV that provides a single platform for managing digital content, commerce and marketing in the cloud -- has approximately 800 partners worldwide, the depth of those partnerships varies.

"We build deeper relationships with very active partners," said Chastain. "For example, we have about 20 to 30 U.S. partners that we're working with on a very, very frequent basis, and 50 that are coming to us with something every year."

Like most ISVs, where something like the 80-20 rule holds, partner relationships are not all created equal. Partner programs need to be designed to support active partners who include the ISV's solution in every proposal, as well as those partners who stumble on opportunities from time to time.

"It's important that we put in place a lot of the tools and resources to help our partners be self-sufficient so that we could touch a broader community," said Chastain. "For example, putting together a partner portal, with tools like a marketing plan to help them from a marketing perspective. We show them how to tailor and customize it for themselves."

To rise to the top as partners choose their ISV partners, simplicity is the differentiator. "If you're not easy to work with, if you don't communicate, if you don't help them ... it's very basic things but if you don't make it easy for them to work with, they're not going to work with you," cautioned Chastain. "They're going to the path of least resistance, the path of 'Where I can get my revenue the quickest.'"

To build out an effective partner channel program, Chastain recommends that ISVs take a systematic approach, including:

  • Build a solid partner program framework. Partners want to know that everyone is operating under the same requirements with the same benefits. Establish goals and milestones for partners to achieve to move through levels of benefits. It may take a couple of revisions to get the program right, but you need a well-defined framework.

  • Communication is key. You have to be open and honest with partners and keep communication flowing. Episerver sends monthly newsletters to partners and holds quarterly webinars to keep partners in the loop. A partner advisory board keeps provides direct input from their channel to support two-way communication. 

  • Share your partners' success and leverage their expertise. Partners can submit their case studies for posting on Episerver's Web site. "We post it as a reference under their profile so it's attributed to the partner," said Chastain. "We'll also post it elsewhere on the Web site and may use the case study for blogs." Episerver also promotes the industry expertise of partners through joint marketing programs.

Chastain recommends that ISVs look at how Microsoft supports its channel for ideas on how to build their own partner programs. "Microsoft is a great resource for me. I've worked with them for a long time and they're a huge company but they do have a great partner program. I modeled a lot of what I wanted in my partner program from what Microsoft offers," said Chastain. "For example, you go onto their partner portal, you see all the sales and marketing resources that they have available. Obviously, we don't have the money to create all those marketing resources but it's a great source of ideas and ways that I can provide additional benefit to my partners."

As more service providers package their intellectual property to create ISV solutions, the natural path is to allow other partners to sell those solutions. For partners ready to tap the potential of a reselling channel, clear expectations and established rewards set the stage for mutually beneficial relationships. As Episerver has found, a strong partner program can deliver exceptional results.

How are you supporting your reselling partners? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.    

Posted by Barb Levisay on September 21, 2016