SaaS Channel Compensation

Channel Compensation models

Channel Compensation modelsSaaS Channel compensation is one of the hardest things that software vendors are facing today. If you have a nice traditional software business model with good software maintenance revenue and mature channel, you are reluctant to change or touch it. Let’s dive into some of the difficulties that software vendors are experiencing.

I am currently running educational sessions in SaaS channel development where my audience is given the task to present the business case of a channel partner for a given software vendor. We are using Business Model Canvas to model the business. The task that I am giving to my students is to represent the software vendor leadership team that is trying to recruit a channel partner to become a reseller. The way this is done is to present a Business Model Canvas to the channel partner management team.  If the software vendor management team can’t convince the channel partner of the benefits, then the business model is broken.  I have done this exercise with many software vendors and it is one of the most powerful ways to get the software vendor to think about the partner, not about themselves.

I have bad news for you. There are no exact rules what kind of compensation models a software vendor should have for its channel, but what is known is how to calculate whether a business can be profitable for the channel partner using different compensation models. Why is this? The biggest issue that software vendors have is that many of the processes and tasks that the channel partner has taken care of in the past, have now moved back to the software vendor. One of them is the monitoring the cloud infrastructure, provisioning the solution, upgrading the software etc. In the end of the day, it is all about roles and responsibilities that the software vendor and the channel partner have to agree on. The more the software vendor moves responsibilities towards the channel partner, the more margin the channel partner expects to get and this is very typical in the traditional software channel model. The software vendor delivered the CD or download to the channel partner, but in the new SaaS world, the instance is provisioned by the software vendor and the channel partner becomes the “middle man” between the end user customer and the software vendor. Let’s review some of the industry “standard” commission models and some implications around them:

SaaS Channel Margins

If you look at the percentages, the one that is missing is the typical 10% which is really more of an opportunistic percentage that anybody will give out regardless of business model. If you call a software vendor and tell them that you have a lead, they will pay you at least 5%, but 10% is not uncommon.

When you add an additional 10% (now the total is 20%) it adds more interest to the channel partner. The software vendor can not expect any active sales with this percentage and can’t really ask the channel partner to do any serious account management. This is mainly lead generation activity and typically there are other products that the channel partner is reselling as well.

If we add an additional 10 % (now the total is 30%), this is still too small to be able to build an organization and requires the channel partner to have many different products that they are reselling. Larger reseller with deep pockets to build and maintain an organization, 30% is doable.

When the percentage is 40% or more, the software vendor can expect investments from the channel partner and reporting responsibilities on pipeline to the software vendor channel account manager. This type of percentage is also doable for smaller channel partners that want to build a business around the solution and build a dedicated team.

The biggest surprise that most software vendors are facing when we discuss about the roles and responsibilities is the amount of additional work that the software vendor has to take on. In a pure SaaS channel scenario, the border of responsibilities are blurred and the end user customer ends up in many cases in direct relationship with the software vendor. This has been a big no-no in the past for channel partners as they have wanted to “own the client”. However, the reality is that the cloud is changing the roles and channel partners have to make changes in their models as well. This is a behavioral change that is taking place and can be compared with the changes that are taking place how software sales people are compensated. Nobody wants to change the way things were in the past, but the market and competition is forcing the change and the ones that keep doing the same thing as before, will eventually be on the loosing side. We have already seen this in many organizations.

Before talking about channel margins, the software vendor has to decide what kind of role they expect the channel partner to play and then define how much they can afford to give a way of the margin. Some software vendors have even decided that a channel is not an option in their new business model and this is of course an option if the company has the resources to build its business with its own direct sales and internet marketing methods.

 

 

photo by: woody1778a

Complexity of Building a SaaS Software Channel Program

Complexity of SaaS Pricing

Complexity of SaaS PricingIn my previous blog entry, I discussed about the complexity of channel development and channel alignment. I recommended for SaaS software vendors to use Business Model Canvas to compare the business model with the assumed business model of its prospective channel partner.

During the past few months I have spent time building a SaaS channel development educational program, a program that I wanted to be not only actionable, but providing information of all of the needed drivers that SaaS software vendors should be thinking about when building its channel strategy.  Call me old fashioned, but my  philosophy is to educate people of things that I have personal experience in. There are lots of consultants that “help” their clients doing things such as channel development, consultants that have never sold anything, but have read about it in books.  My strategy is to build something that is concrete and actionable (not academic) that my audience can use when thinking about their SaaS channels.

The way I initiated the development of the channel development alignment educational program in http://www.tellusacademy.com was to reflect on my own channel development experience (both as channel builder as well as reseller) and list the main things that I felt were crucial in getting channel partners to become excited. The way I started working on it was not from a traditional channel perspective. I asked myself a simple question: how is the channel partner going to make money? Once we identify this, we can worry about the software vendor (ISV) as without a profitable business model for the channel partner, there is no need to invest time and energy to plan something that will not work anyway.

If the financial success of the channel partner should be the foundation for the software vendor to evaluate the channel strategy, it is easy to assume that it is important for both the software vendor and the channel partner to understand how SaaS financial will change the business model and what kind of drivers each party needs to be thinking about. Therefore, I believe that every person working in the SaaS world needs to have a good and solid understanding in how the financial and operational model will change when running a SaaS business. I am sure that the CFO of the ISV and channel partner appreciates this.

I spent considerable time in reviewing the topics that both ISVs and channel partners should be thinking about. Besides having a solid understanding in SaaS financials, any vendor in today’s world has to be thinking about business model innovation and topics around that. How do we stay relevant today, tomorrow and next year? What is happening in our marketplace and what kind of actions do I have to take to ensure that my services or solutions are also appealing in the future? You would not believe how many organizations ignore this….it is amazing.

Another important factor to think about is to understand the expectations from the channel and ISV perspective. What can the ISV expect from the channel and what should the channel expect from the ISV? This is a also something that has changed in the last couple of years as channel partners have a tough time to adjust to the recurring revenue model from the traditional “one big lump sum model”. Besides this, traditional channel partners are not very good at account management and this is a huge issue for SaaS vendors as upselling and ensuring retention is a top priority to any SaaS vendor. The ones that have negative churn can say that they have been successful at least in the upsell to existing clients.

Channel roles and responsibilities is a topic that seems to be very unclear to both software vendors and channel partners. Basic questions such as “who is going to provision the cloud instance” is not clear and questions such as billing is also a question that many struggle with. Should the software vendor manage the billing or should it be the channel partner? What if the end customer does not pay the bills, should the software vendor still bill the channel partner and even take them to court for unpaid balances? In the traditional channel world we can argue that most of these types of questions could be easily sorted out due to known practices, but the SaaS/app world is still a bit unclear who does what.

Part of the channel profitability discussion should be a discussion of channel margins. In my course, I will give examples of a typical channel partner scenario where we will model one sales rep and his/her targets and what it means to the channel partner. This type of exercise is extremely health for any software vendor to see the reality of a channel partner and their desire to build a solid business. If you are a software vendor, have you modeled the channel partner business and how your solution might play in that space?

And finally, any software vendor will either become successful or fail and it is going to be based on the channel program that the organization is going to build and maintain. During my SaaS channel development course, I will also address the main drivers of channel management and key issues that an ISV need to be thinking about.

It was fun to create this course as everything is based on experience either from my own work or the teams that I have worked with for more than 20 years. As said, I do not believe in education of best practices if the person does not have any personal experience. This type of experience comes with blood, sweat and tears.

 

 

 

 

photo by: Sean MacEntee

Is the cloud killing your business?

Is the cloud kiling your business?

Is the cloud kiling your business?Cloud adoption is accelerating and it is also in the process killing many businesses. I read today an interesting blog entry “Are Cloud Vendors Cutting Out the Channel” and this article explains in great detail what is happening on the marketplace in respect to channel partners including value-added resellers (VARs) and MSPs. I remember vividly when Steve Ballmer suggested strongly a few years ago that Microsoft partners should really start adopting the cloud and a couple of years later, he stated that it might in fact soon be too late as the competition is already doing it. Pure channel partners with a business model to resell without adding any value will disappear from the markets.

I have recently talked to quite a few channel partners and the common message that I heard was that the markets are getting tougher and having a business without having a specialty or vertical experience might in fact kill the business sooner than later. I am seeing this also among software vendors that are refusing to adopt the cloud model. There are thousands of new pure SaaS entrants that want to be new market leaders in their domain and many end user organizations are refusing to go with the old-fashioned model where IT departments are the only part of organization that will be buying software and services. Based on the blog entry today, Tiffany Bova from Gartner concludes that many IT consumers are now “front-office buyers” from departments such as sales, marketing, finance, and human services. These departments are bypassing the centralized IT and this type of “uncontrolled” buying pattern will continue going forward in my opinion.

Microsoft management has been vocal to its partner network that every partner should by now be looking at cloud transformation and Kevin Turner (Microsoft COO) expressed his concern during Microsoft Worldwide Conference in Houston (July 2013) that only 3 percent of the company’s channel network was actively selling cloud services and this included products such as Windows Azure and Office 365. These numbers will change with time and I am convinced that there will be many partners that will experience the pressure the hard way. If the channel partner starts too late with the transformation, it might become irrelevant and have the wrong type of personnel with skills that do not match what the market wants. I am sure that somebody reading this blog will not agree with me, but I have seen already now quite a few channel partners that do not know what to do going forward. There is a real need to reboot the business model and rethink how the company will be surviving in the future.

I forecasted a couple of years ago that Sony will not survive the competition of e-books and devices due to many factors, Amazon Kindle being one of them.  A few days ago, I read that Sony will be exiting the business. Sony had its own e-book format and I was one of the ones that spent hundreds of dollars in books, which now will be converted to Kobo Android devices. I have no intention to buy any new devices. The reason I am sharing this is that even large organizations are forced to change the business model every now and then and consumers make wrong bets on the horse that they should be riding.

When I look at the global markets and what is happening around us, the change has accelerated in software domain and it has taken many by surprise. I would not be surprised that we hear bad news from many large industry dominant players in the software space that the transformation into new generation solutions has failed and consumers and businesses have adopted technologies that are more nimble and easy to use. It is very dangerous to ignore the trends and even more dangerous to think that market leadership means anything without hard work to maintain it.

Does your channel partner program play a strategic role in your cloud business?

La Villette - 22-08-2006 - 19h32In preparation to my upcoming workshops and seminars, I am updating myself on multiple different things in respect to ISVs (independent software vendors) and one of the key drivers based on the workshops we have delivered the past 2 years is by far the question how ISVs should align themselves with channel partners. Today when doing some reading, I run into an interesting study by Forrester Consulting (commissioned by Avangate, September 2012) where 79% of the researched ISVs (53 US and UK SMB enterprise software publishers) feel that their channel partner program is of strategic importance.

One of the key concerns that ISVs had in this study was that channel partners are ill-equipped in changing their business model from front-loaded licensing model to a recurring model where partners are incented to renew customers as to acquire them. As much as 49% of the ISVs where concerned that channel partners are not going to be able to support new or evolving business models.

Another key finding in the study was that smaller software vendors are ill equipped to expand to new markets and this mainly due to support-related issues. Channel partners expect ISVs to help in marketing and generating demand, but smaller ISVs are typically not funded to be able to support this type of activity.

The study revealed many other factors that the channel partners were concerned about such as channel partners now been able to support end customer over the lifetime of the contract, inadequate efforts in renewing the end customer contracts and overall bad visibility over the end user customer. The roles are responsibilities are definitely changing in respect to ISVs and channel partners and this I have had the opportunity to run a bunch of channel alignment workshops where we map the ISV business model with the channel business model and if there is any misalignment between these, the results are typically miserable.

ISVs have a tendency to dream that their solution is the only solution on the planet that matters, but unfortunately there are others with the same belief. I like to use Business Model Canvas in the channel alignment exercise as it portrays extremely well potential issues that ISVs have to deal with such as giving the opportunity for the channel partner to become profitable. That is easier said than done.

What can we learn from SolidWorks Channel Program–Conclusions

This is the final blog about the case SolidWorks and the channel program and success that that David Skok describes well in his series of blog entries. SolidWorks grew their revenue from $135M to $400M in 5 years and one of the key elements was the channel. In my first blog entry, I described SolidWorks VAR development program, in my second blog I discussed the means how to grow your sales with the channel and in my third blog, I discussed about scoring your channel partners.

When I reflect back on the SolidWorks growth with the situation today with a strong cloud drive, I will draw some conclusions of things that are still valid when building your channel. Lets look at what David Skok concludes in his summary of SolidWorks channel program.

The fallacy of thinking that Channel gets too much money

ISVs tend to forget, that the ISV do not finance the building of the channel partner from a cash flow perspective. If the channel partner hires a couple of sales reps and technical people, the sales of the solution better to work. According to Skok, ISVs fall very easy to the trap thinking that channel partners take too much money from the transaction and that it really should be the ISV that owns the customer relationship. But is it really this way? I hear this more and more from ISVs moving to the cloud where the ISV wants to move the customer relationship to itself and let the channel partner to become more or less the lead generator. I think this is a dangerous proposition from the ISV side specifically in the enterprise side as most end user organizations still expect to have support from the organizations that know the locals and these locals also kind of “own the relationship”. What was interesting that some of the competition had the direct sales force compete with the channel and this is never a good way to grow the business.

SolidWorks took the channel as the route to market, believing and investing in the channel. This investment meant that the SolidWorks had to believe that the channel would bring the needed growth and that SolidWorks had to gain trust in the channel. Without trust, there is no channel. Some organizations have even thought that the channel is loyal to the vendor, but that is just a dream. The channel is loyal as long as they make money. End of discussion.

Building a channel requires hard work – there are no shortcuts to success

The management team picked the strongest and most experienced senior managers with strong operational experience to build and develop a channel. This team had not only seniority, but were also experienced operationally. If the channel person has never sold anything, how do you expect the channel to believe in this person? I would not. I mentioned this in in my previous blog posts that I got reminded this in my younger days when becoming CEO in young age. The SolidWorks VAR channel managers became coaches to the channel, helping to build the business.

It was not easy for the VAR team and the pace was challenging to keep up with and some of these people still had other things to do besides being coaches. According to Skok, one of the learning’s was to understaff the VAR team and reward the success and this also led to a behavior where the VAR managers invested their time to relevant tasks.

The management needs to make a commitment to lead by example. If the management “walk the walk”, how can you expect the line management to do it? Lead by example is the key and this has applied at least in my career. The collaboration between the top management and the VAR team was ongoing with immediate access for discussions and reviews. That is a powerful concept and unfortunately many organizations forget this. Management stare purely on the amount of calls and not asking the right questions why something does not work. If you have a broken model, how can you expect to work in the future?

Building a channel is a road that requires ongoing reviews, changes in direction and deep understanding of the target markets. If the ISV does not have this touch, how can one expect them to lead the channel partners to success? I do not think it will ever work.

The question that we have to ask is whether you need to be a large ISV to afford this type of channel program that SolidWorks created. The answer according to Skok is that the team does not have to be big as long as they are dedicated and know what they are doing. You also have to pick the measurements that you want to track, metrics that apply regardless of geography and culture and this helps everybody to get aligned and speak the same language.

You have to have a long-term view on your channel partners

You should take a long-term view on the channel partner. Do not create “incentive of the month” kind of initiatives. This drives the wrong behavior in your channel partner. Your channel partners should be strategic and this will always require a long-term view.

Would the SolidWorks VAR Channel model work with cloud business?

In the beginning of this blog entry, I said I would reflect if the VAR channel management will change anything when building a channel for cloud VAR channel partners. The answer is no. The same basics will apply, but what needs to change is to get alignment between the ISV and the channel partner and this should be done by comparing the business models side-by-side, looking at the drivers for both sides. In the cloud business, there are multiple new factors that will change and one of the biggest factor is revenue model and this could be a prohibiting factor for the channel partner. Building an organization from recurring revenue streams in the beginning could be challenging and it is also challenging for the ISV.

This concludes the series of blog entries of SolidWorks, a successful ISV that was able to create  strong channel.

Is a Solid Channel Program the foundation for increasing your sales?

This is the fourth blog posting about VAR Channel programs.In my first blog entry I claimed that the ISV needs to realize that it works for the channel, not the other way around. In the second blog entry, I initiated the discussion of why it is important for an ISV to really pay attention for its channel program and educate the channel specifically in the cloud transformation as that is what the channel is saying is needed.  In the third blog entry I explained the channel program developed by SolidWorks and what type of findings that this ISV found out as reason for its successful channel development and results.

In this blog entry I wanted to portray the VAR Development Program modules that SolidWorks developed with some comments around these. The program “Channel Capabilities Assessment” is divided into four separate areas in following way:

VAR Channel Program-003

When you review the areas above, there isn’t really big surprises as such, but what is interesting is that most ISVs neglect many of these areas and this will hurt the ISV in the long run. If the ISV does not know its channel and its partners well, how can the CAM estimate anything in respect to forecasting or even the skillsets that the channel partner has in the sales process itself.

What David Skok explains in this blog entry is that to really understand the channel, SolidWorks had to put a “social scientists” hat one to really study the behavior of the partner and to understand their capabilities and what was really needed from the ISV. It is so easy for us to ignore to reach out to our customer/partners/prospects to ask: “how can I help you guys to become successful”. If you are working with a channel, ask yourself how much you really know about your channel partner business? I would bet that not much. To be transparent, I have had the same issue myself, still have but have tried to really dig into my customer case and understand what is needed. It is an ongoing battle and challenge.

In the SolidWorks case, a survey of 65-questions was created with six categories: Business Planning, Finance, HR, Sales, Marketing and Technical Support. Two person teams where trained to do face-to-face interviews and each interview took an entire day.  What I find fascinating is the way these VARs where ranked. Two dimension was created, one that portrays “Vision and Execution” and the second was based on “Willing and Able”.

The process was not only good for the ISV to achieve better understanding of the VAR channel, but it was also interesting for the VAR channel partner to understand its needs and also to get a better understanding how the ISV can help the channel to become better. SolidWorks used a modified or variant of GE Market Management model to categorize the VAR channel partners and I will present this in my next blog entry of this topic.

The conclusion that we can make of this blog entry is that an ISV needs to put time and effort to understand its channel and this will take time and money. Besides this, it is imperative to rank and categorize the business partners so the ISV can allocate its resources to the partners that are “Willing and Able” to perform and invest in the joint future.

Stay tuned for more….

A Case Study – Creating a VAR Development Program

This blog entry continues on my first blog entry where I concluded that the channel does not work for the ISV, it is the ISV that has to ensure that the channel has the tools to become successful with the solution itself.

In my second blog entry I highlighted a case study of a successful ISV that was able to grow its business by doing the channel development by identifying an impactful approach where the VAR channel felt that it was a win-win situation for both sides.

In this blog entry I am high lightening the VAR development program (Phase 1) that SolidWorks created for its channel and as I stated in my previous blog, this program was almost like a mini-MBA where the ISV wanted to facilitate and help its VAR channel to run its business more effectively. The program that David Skok highlights in his blog entry as phase 1 of the development program is divided into two main areas: Business Management and Sales Management.

VAR Channel Program-001

From the picture above, the channel assessment was reviewed from these two perspectives and each of these perspectives are divided into smaller components that have relevance specifically when running a VAR business.

Cash is king as they say and I have also experienced this as an entrepreneur. What ISVs tend to forget is that somebody has to fund the activity to build the funnel of the solution that the ISV wants to sell. So lets review the typical steps that we expect to happen when an ISV signs up new channel partner:

  • The ISV wants to ramp up the activities immediately once the deal is signed, which means that VAR technical and sales team needs to be trained and educated of the intransiences of the product and learn how to take objections from the target prospect market segment.
  • The ISV expect the VAR channel marketing team to dedicate resources to start building the funnel and sometimes forgetting that there are other products that they might have in their portfolio.
  • The ISV Channel Account Manager puts effort in getting things going as he/she is the one that will have the pressure of getting first deals going and to ensure that he/she meets the budget.

With all of the effort that has been put into the joint effort, the VAR finally signs its first deal and now everybody can be happy. On top of this, the deal is very sizable and this makes the VAR a bit nervous as there are some financial risks that it now has to carry as it carries the paper with the end user organization.

The project starts, everybody is working hard on getting the client happy but sudden and unexpected issues comes up in the implementation. The customer tells the VAR that it is unacceptable and they will not pay until the software has been fixed. The VAR tells the customer that they do not have the means to fix it as it is the ISV that carries that responsibility. The customer tells the VAR that that is not their problem, the responsibility is with the VAR as that is whom they bought the solution from.

As the invoicing relationship of the solution delivery is between the VAR and the end user organization, the VAR runs into issues as an invoice has already been issued from the ISV and they want to get paid.  This puts the VAR management to sweat and now they really understand the consequences of this and need to do something about it.  The ISV wants to get paid, but the channel partner has not got paid yet. Worse than this, the software included bugs that the VAR can’t do anything about and has to wait for a fix. The ISV still wants to get paid, no matter what as its view is that this issue has nothing to do with them. I am sure you get the scoop of the vicious circle.

If the ISV is reasonable, they will work with the VAR and the end user customer to get it right, but unfortunately I have seen cases where the VAR has really run into a wall. I can’t imagine how that feels as I run my own business every day and have to consider risks and rewards when conducting the business. In large organizations with huge cash piles, this might not be a problem, but for the majority of ISVs, SIs and MSPs, this could be a huge issue.

The scenario above describes some of the areas where the VAR has to pay special attention when running its business. The number one in business management side is cash flow and how to manage it when dealing with ISVs and purchase management overall. I have run companies with high growth and one of the most pressing issue seems always be cash flow. People want growth, but with growth you need cash flow. Sales in your books does not mean that you have money in your bank account. Having lots of receivables might feel good, but you can’t feed your family with receivables.

The second area is “Sales Capacity” where typically small VARs become the victims of their own success. Skok concludes that a typical successful VAR is where the business owner is number one in sales, but one person does not scale up to grow the company. There needs to be more than one to scale the business. If the owner becomes the gatekeeper, then that becomes the bottleneck for the growth for both the VAR and the ISV.  What a VAR needs is a strong sales manager that can scale the sales, follow and create processes and the owners should keep away from that (my observation).

Also, what is typically undervalued among VARs and ISVs is market research and what sales people tend to use as an excuse for poor sales is that the “market segment is saturated’. Good research includes information about market size, market share, historic customer growth rates and sales coverage etc..

According to Skok, one of the most difficult task that VARs are struggling with is the requitement. I can really believe this. The key for success is to build an interview process to identify the right candidates and even if you become good at this, you will still fail. I have.

What an ISV might see with its channel is that VARs are hiring new employees, but there are more leaving the company that coming in. So what will happen is that the VAR has new people that are learning “the ropes” and then the ones that have learned are leaving for different reasons. The VAR ends up having a situation where the skills don’t meet the demand of the market.

One key thing that is often ignored is to ensure that the employees have a good view of their professional development,  like sales people having strong  product training, presentation training, and  sales management training.

And finally, and probably one of the most difficult tasks: how to manage and review the pipeline that everybody presents to the management. How should the VAR and ISV ensure consistency in the pipeline? One of the key things for both ISV and VAR is to create a standardized view on the pipeline, not based on each and every sales persons personal definition which is typically biased to his/her own preferences.

The question is what kind of deliverables can an ISV and VAR expect from both Business and Sales Management exercise? The way Skok defines them is in following way:

VAR Channel Program-002

It is obvious that each one of these need to be worked on and each ISV will have to estimate how much to put effort into this exercise. Also, what something might work for one organization, could be very different for another.

The next phase of this case study I will discuss about the way that the case study ISV segmented and categorized its VARs and their ability to grow. Stay tuned for more.

How to become successful with your Channel–a case study to learn from?

In my yesterday’s blog entry, I gave a few hints of channel development and what kind of things the software vendors should avoid.

Today, I thought to share some perspectives on a case study that David Skok gives in his excellent blog entry.  Like in my previous blog entry, I will give my perspective on the findings of this case study.

The case study software company is SolidWorks and this company is specifically known within modeling for mechanical design. This company grew rapidly and one of the key reasons was an effective and well-managed VAR channel. According to the blog, the success of the channel was based on three distinctive phases:

  1. Hiring an executive that had been part of the channel in the past, so this person really understood the channel and how a VAR business works.
  2. Understanding that the success of SolidWorks
  3. Realizing that the VAR channel as an un-optimized  resource and how decide that it was worthwhile for SolidWorks to educate its channel on business skills. This meant every aspect of the business, almost like a mini-MBA

During the spring/summer 2012 I did some research in the VAR/MSP channel and one of the findings was that a key obstacle for many VARs and MSPs specifically in moving the cloud business is lack of expertise and the business model was seen to be unclear like can be seen in following picture (Source: CTTA 2012):

Obstacles in moving to cloud-2012

The latter is specifically relevant to the discussion of SolidWorks and what they did to make the channel successful. What happened in the case of SolidWorks was that the channel account teams became business mentors for the VARs and educating them to run a better business. In retrospect, I think this is exactly what ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini is trying to do with its resellers in its annual User Group Meeting IT Nation in the beautiful Orlando, Florida in November 2012.

He even brought in my favorite author Jim Collins that has written many bestselling business books and the latest book “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All” was given to all conference attendees.

I had the opportunity to hear Jim Collins keynote and I think it was one of the best speeches I have heard in my life. He brought up things in an interesting way and without every loosing the audience in the session.

In the next few blog entries, I will review what a good VAR channel program should look like and what kind of VAR development program did SolidWorks have to run its VAR business. I will also give my own add to this by looking it from a Business Model Canvas perspective which we use every day for everything we analyze in respect to Business Models. Stay tuned for more!

The Channel does not work for you, you work for the Channel

pentagons and negative stars - CPBuilding a channel is not an easy task and there are many things what one has to think about when building one. I have had the pleasure to building channels for more than 20 years in enterprise software space, specifically in business intelligence,  collaboration, document management and integration software.

Today, when doing some preparation work for a channel related gig, I found an amazing link of a case that describes a successful channel development initiative and also some of the common mistakes that software vendors do.  The author of this article (David Skok from Matrix Partners) is definitely an authority in many areas (specifically SaaS related things). He lists a few very important points for software vendors to remember and I am now listing them here with some additional comments based on my own experience:

  • You (ISV) have to figure out the sales model first and then using this to teach your channel. I have heard many naïve comments from ISVs where the management explain that “we don’t have to do anything, the channel will take care of that…” Well.. I have not experienced this in my 20 years…..
  • Building a channel takes long time and ISVs forget that the channel has different priorities to what the ISVs have. The channel is focusing on products that are paying the bills and if you have not been able to demonstrate your capabilities to sell, why would they want to take the risk with you? I will never forget when a good friend of mine in California asked me once when I had become a CEO for a software company in the US and recently emigrated from Europe (from from a technology role). He asked me: “ How many have you Petri sold yet…. Call me when you have some stories to tell…”. I closed a few deals, called him and he was a man of his word. We closed large deals together during our collaboration. I had to show my friend that I could sell myself and show by example how enterprises would buy my BI solution.
  • Resellers need ongoing education on your solution, how to handle objections and how to differentiate your solution from the fifty-nine others on the market. You will have to provide marketing material, PowerPoint decks, PDF White Papers etc. And please do not say that there is no competition for your product. Give me 2 minutes and I will list 20 for you….
  • Do not expect your resellers to do lots of marketing, because they expect you to participate and expect you to pass some leads as well. You are expected to help in the channel demand generation efforts by working together with your channel partners.
  • Try to identify a pre-existing channel that supports your solution or your solution can be sold as an add-on. Business Intelligence is a good example where you can sell a collaboration solution as part of the value-added delivery. When you do this, you have to customize your messaging in a way where the channel partner realizes that that your solution together with the other solution is more than 1+1, it is in fact 1+1=3.
  • When ISVs build a channel and have an existing direct sales model as well, there will always be conflicts between the channel and the direct sales force. This can’t be avoided and if the ISV is committed to the channel, the channel will always come first. It is not easy and there are some rules that the software vendor has to apply. These rules will have to be emphasized from the top management of the company. Skok also states that one should expect the direct sales execs have an issue in moving to the channel sales model. Channel people know that with good channel management and right type of partners, the channel will give much higher leverage than trying to grow with direct sales.

These are some of the statements flavored by my own experience and I could not agree more with Skok on these. The good news according to Skok is that with the “right channel, the right people, good product/market fit and with lots of patience, the channel sales model can be one of the most profitable business models.” I echo with this!

Stay tuned for more in this topic and love to talk about it as I happen to have million different scenarios that I have been exposed to.

An Independent Software Vendor (ISV) moving to the cloud – what are the financial implications of this?

I have to say that I am living in a nirvana from a researcher perspective (even if I am an entrepreneur on daily basis working with practical execution). Nobody of us will have the chance to experience too many profound transformations in our lifetime. I was asked to write a report on ISV transformation from traditional software business to cloud business from financial perspective and I loved the nights and weekends that I spent on the Internet doing research. Coffee, music in the background, two large screens side-by-side and the feel of really learning and assembling pieces of information together is a feel that is hard to explain. No wonder I like to write books, dissertations, and reports…

My personal background is that I came from school when minicomputers such as HP3000, VAX/VMS and later UNIX computers where the ones that software was built to. The next era was the move towards client/server architectures where I really made my personal career in product development. Then we all remember the short period of web-enabling solutions and the huge investments in hosting facilities which many have now disappeared. This new cloud/SaaS era is much more than just making your solution web-enabled. It will change not only the way you build software, but it will change the way you run your business. Let me explain how by reviewing the picture:

The Cloud ImpactI will start with the business model in this blog entry and continue with the others in later blog entries. The change from perpetual software license model to subscription-based model will change the way the ISV sells its solution and it will change the way the ISV structures its partner channel. It will also change the way the ISV markets its solution. The main driver for this is that the ISV will not be able to sustain its cash flow with a traditional sales model as the sales team needs to keep much higher pace in sales when moving to the cloud environment. The sales model for an ISV has to be either fully automated with customer self-service or it can be highly transactional where you can have some human elements but the amount of transactions will cover the cost of maintaining people to close the deal. The ISV has to be able to control the Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) as that is one of the key drivers to be able to achieve break-even point and start generating pure profit. This does not typically happen in less than a year, whereby the ISV has to maintain a happy client so they sign up for a new contract period assuming that the contract period is 12 months. I will analyze the metrics in my later blog entries. This just gave you an example of the operational changes that an ISV will experience.

How does an ISV manage to plan appropriate scenarios that it can take when moving to the cloud? Obviously, the assumption is that the Board of Directors have made a decision that the ISV has to make the move to survive in the new global competition where anybody from anywhere in the world can enter the competitive field. There are no geographical borders that will keep the ISV from competition. If you are an ISV from Italy, you can expect to get somebody to enter your territory from France, Germany, Brazil or Bolivia. Once the strategy has been set, you will have to use a model to operationalize your strategy and I am used and thrilled about Dr. Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas that provides all of the needed elements to analyze and “paint the picture” on a high level. I have witnessed several experienced senior management team members to become enlightened of the power of the canvas and it really has become our number one tool when working with ISVs. The Business Model Canvas consists of nine building blocks: Value Proposition, Customer Segmentation, Revenue Streams, Cost Structure Key Resources, Key Activities, Channels, Customer Relationships and Key Partnerships.

Business Model CanvasThe power of a business model framework such as Business Model Canvas is that the management is compelled to take a position on each of the nine building blocks on a Business Model Canvas. Each building block can also have its own key metrics and these can become the foundation for a dashboard that the management team tracks on the monthly basis.

Besides the question whether the ISV has the right core competence to move towards a cloud business, the key question that any ISV has is how this change is going to impact the financial model and the canvas above shows how the Revenue Stream building block has to be in balance with the Cost Structure block. In the perpetual software business model the metrics on the cost structure and Revenue Streams are completely different.

To summarize, the ISV and its management has many different questions to answer in its journey to the cloud. The first is to make sure that the owners, the management team and the Board of Directors have a common understanding where to go with the strategy. The role of the Business Model Canvas is to help the ISV to lay out a few possible operational scenarios that it can take in its cloud transformation. In my next blog entries I will explain in more detail the financial impact on an ISV when moving from traditional perpetual software license business to subscription-based business model. Stay tuned for more.