Adtran Inc., a global provider of networking and communications equipment based in Huntsville, Ala., continues to invest in its channel, and recently broadened the benefits offered to all partners. Ted Cole, vice president of channel sales for ADTRAN, discusses the goals for the enhancements and some challenges VARs face.
ChannelPro-SMB: What are the key challenges in the networking market?
Cole: We've seen competition come down into more of the SMB space that we were recognized as a value leader in; and some smaller competitors have come up. It's become more competitive for us, and as a result for the VARs. Probably the biggest challenge on both sides is the fact there is change occurring. If you're just going to resell products you're not going to survive long term, so more partners are looking to managed services and host services, and we're working with them, especially with virtual wireless LANs. We introduced multitenant capability so partners can run a hosted offering without having to do individual installation.
ChannelPro-SMB: What are some steps ADTRAN has taken to enhance the partner program?
Cole: Two years ago we started creating new partner engagement tools. And beginning last year we created partner development managers to focus on partner development. What we're doing now is a continuation of that investment. We're looking to influence partner behaviors earlier in the relationship, which leads us and them to better participation and higher engagement, so both sides win.
Then we decided how to reward partners taking advantage of training. It really is an investment. It's not just the cost of attending class, but the cost of taking time away from my job and lost revenue opportunity. It's critical to recognize this is not an insignificant undertaking for them. We see our specialized partners have become more successful - those that are trained - and better able to sell value.
ChannelPro-SMB: Talk about the latest program enhancements and the goals.
Cole: What probably stands out most, and we're already seeing it have an impact, is in the past, nothing was offered to registered partners. They'd sign up, have an affiliation, be on the email list, but we didn't give any direct benefits. That's changed. Now we give them access to deal registration, support from an inside account manager, discounts, free online training, portal access, sales and marketing tools. Most significant, they now have an opportunity to become specialized. They can take the training, gain specialization, and that gives them more benefits - they can participate in demos, get access to sales leads, have representation in our partner locator, and discounts are enhanced. The goal is to advance them up the [partner] levels.
The other thing we did for partners, in the past we didn't publicize to all partners the various discount levels; we gave them insight into only their level. Now we show them everything, so they can see what they would earn if they were at another level.
ChannelPro-SMB: Are there new incentives exclusively for your top tier?
Cole: At the top level [ADvantage Plus] we're putting in place performance incentives and setting goals. As they achieve them they will be able to earn incremental rebates. So you won't just get product acquisition discounts but the chance to earn incentives as you grow.
The other thing with ADvantage Plus is access to refurbished products. Partners have been asking us to do refurbishment and make that product available to them. We trialed that last year and it was successful. Now we're trying to keep up with demand.
ChannelPro-SMB: What are some future plans for your channel program?
Cole: We believe the key to success with our partners is making them successful. As partners become specialized there are two things we know are incumbent upon us. One is to provide them with remote support as they do their first few installations; we do now but we will provide some number of hours as part of their specialization. That is coming soon.
Next, again as part of enablement, we recognize the need to give support in their first sales, especially for virtual wireless LAN. We're looking at putting that in place [within months].