To keep pace with the wants and needs of their customers, vendors must consistently tap into their partner communities, assess strengths and weaknesses, and provide the tools and resources they need to thrive.
AppRiver, a provider of email messaging and web security solutions, has seen a year-over-year channel revenue increase of 30% due to its increased focus on partner relationship management. Coupled with a growing relationship with Microsoft, AppRiver’s focus on driving partner engagement and loyalty has helped the company see the following results:
In the below Q&A, Justin Gilbert, Head of North American Channel for AppRiver, shares what makes the company’s partner program successful, and key areas of focus for 2015.
Channel Marketer Report (CMR): Why do you think your channel program has been so successful over the past year?
Gilbert: We treat our partners as extended members of the AppRiver team. We value their feedback and strive to not just sell them services but to “right fit” solutions for their clients. This customer service focused sales model increases the level of trust our partners place in AppRiver. These relationships built on mutual trust are the bedrock of our success.
Engagement is just as important as initial activation. Being “partners” means enabling a sales team to succeed.
CMR: The AppRiver partner program has been in existence since 2002. Were there any core challenges your organization faced while building up the program and maintaining partner engagement?
Gilbert: A common challenge in the industry is building and maintaining trust. We strive to earn our partners’ trust in every interaction and do this by consistently providing Phenomenal Care and protecting their client relationships. From white glove onboarding experiences to high-touch support our teams have strengthened our partner’s offerings to their clients. We’ve also been dedicated at protecting our partners’ relationships through deal registration and competitive price matching to help them win and retain clients.
CMR: What refinements have you made to the program over the past year that have driven the program’s substantial growth and success?
Gilbert: In 2014, we focused more on relationship management to ensure our partners could build profitable relationships with their customers. Not only are we committed to equipping partners with the right tools, but we’re also providing a cloud-based, comprehensive and affordable technology that protects businesses from the most sophisticated cyber threats. As part of our mission to strengthen customer relationships, in 2014, we began participating in the Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider Program. This allowed AppRiver to expand cloud sales opportunities by enabling partners to provide direct billing, sell combined offers and services, as well as directly provision, manage and support products and services.
CMR: Beyond your growing relationship with Microsoft, what else helped drive your tremendous channel growth?
Gilbert: AppRiver’s Phenomenal Care is a key differentiator for our business. We have great prices and great margins, but the Phenomenal Care is something you won’t find elsewhere. Our unique customer support creates a positive customer experience from first contact to “post-op” support. A customer-centric philosophy is a major advantage in the cloud services marketplace.
We treat our own employees a specific way, and we mirror this in our customer service approach. We work hard to extend the culture of a company consistently rated as one of the best places to work in Florida. This, in turn, drives employees to take the extra step in doing a little more for our partners. We go above and beyond with every call and every partner, no matter how small they are. Additionally, our channel reps are more geared to highly technical knowledge than most, and can answer most technical questions without engaging our technical support team.
The result of all of this? We have a partner community that talks to other partners about us — a real testament to our service when partners are often closed-mouthed about whom they work with.
CMR: Did you refer to partner insights and feedback to determine what changes needed to be made to the program?
Gilbert: To determine what changes needed to be made to the program, we started with a renewed focus on managing partner relationships and refining our partner profiling. The priority is on learning from our 2,500 partners. We make it a point to understand the health of their company, and we focus on what they’re currently doing, what they want to accomplish and what their customers are facing.
Since our goal is to build stronger relationships, we asked partners what they needed to succeed, and one answer that kept surfacing was “a lot more focus on training and certifications.”
To provide better training through AppRiver University and increase educational opportunities, we offered our partners discounts to business agility courses and IT certifications through CompTIA. We’re striving to offer more to the partners themselves through boosted incentives and making them feel like they are part of the team.
CMR: Based on your experiences improving and growing your channel program over the past year, do you have any key takeaways or lessons learned that you’d like to share with other channel players?
Gilbert: Finding a focus or a niche is important. You can’t be all things to all partners or to all customers. We built our business catering to the S part of the SMB sector, and it’s still our focus today. We’ve come to learn that a lot of our competitors have found it hard to get the attention of this business, but we have been able to refine our model of supporting this market and improving it. Although we do have larger clients, the SMB community and the partners who support them have a demand for a company like us, and we don’t see that going away.
CMR: How do you plan to further improve your channel program and boost partner engagement through the rest of 2015?
Gilbert: We have designed our technology to keep businesses productive and information secure and are helping resellers become trusted advisors to their clients. We have implemented a number of new partner perks that will help our partners sell more efficiently in 2015 and include:
We also will be offering partners various SPIFF rewards, including cash rewards and extended free trials in the Targeted Campaigns and Incentives program. We will continue to offer our award-winning Phenomenal Care, allowing partners to focus more on creating healthy profit margins in 2015.