Building Channel Partnerships Takes Work, Panelists Find

During a panel session at the recent ISPCON trade show in San Jose, channel partners discussed the best approaches to building successful channel programs and strategies.

The channel is becoming much more involved in providing managed services to business customers. But managed service providers, ISPs and hosting providers agreed at the recent ISPCON trade show that managing successful channel programs can require a delicate balance.

Peter Radizeski, president of RAD-INFO, and moderator of a panel exploring how to build successful channel relationships, noted that the typical Internet Service Provider lacks a dedicated sales force that works within the traditional channel vendor model. That creates a unique challenge. "How do you help your channel partners sell?" he asked the panelists.

Douglas Pollei, vice president of internet strategy and corporate development for IKANO Communications, a Salt Lake City-based ISP, noted that webinars are part of the answer, one tool his company uses to help channel partners reach customers. "We're helping the channel educate end users," he said.

Joel Silberman, vice president of business development, North America, for Optenet, a Spanish filtering company that is building a U.S. channel program, pointed out that a pure software product competes well with hardware security vendors by enabling flexible pricing and revenue sharing instead of a rigid pricing model based on licenses

Stephen Cho, director of product management for Google Apps, noted that with the rise of SaaS, ISPs are now able to provide services that used to be the exclusive domain of  VARs. "If you're the technology expert," Radizeski said, "people will go to you."

One thing all channel partners like to hear is what Silberman of Optenet told his channel audience: "Optenet has no direct sales. It's all channel sales. We'll never compete with you."

One attendee asked Silberman if Optenet provides a portal for partners like IKANO. Silberman said it is not is in place yet, but it will be added if channel partners demand it.

Another attendee said that immediate pricing incentives were less important to channel partners than the long-term relationships. "We worry about your pricing power," he explained. "We're in it for the long term, and we're also letting go (of) our control. We are looking for APIs. We like Google Apps, but we want to customize them. For example, we'd like to allow our users to sign on directly and not require they have a separate Google password."

Pollei pointed out that IKANO has a Google Apps channel program and said IKANO can help with single sign-on.

Radizeski pointed out that there are already some VARs putting people on Google Apps for free and making money on the support.

The long-standing issue of channel conflict also came up during the discussion. "Channel conflicts are insidious," warned one attendee. "I remember at WorldCom that there was no commitment at the top to the channel."

"The difference between Google and WorldCom," said Cho, "is that we don't have a big sales force."

"Bad things happen when ours is not the favored channel," noted another attendee.

(This article was edited by Al Senia and written originally for by Managing Editor Alex Goldman.)

TAGS: security,Google,SaaS,ISP,managed services

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