ENTERPRISE STORAGE VENDORS have it easy. Close a few big deals with a few big customers and they’ve hit their numbers for the year. Buffalo Americas Inc. has chosen a tougher road to success: selling economically priced products in small quantities to lots and lots of small businesses.
“[We’re] really trying to go after the harder-to-capture, harder-to-work with, 10 to 50 end-user-type customers,” says Bill Rhodes (pictured), the Austin, Texas-based storage company’s director of channel sales. The only way to reach those companies, he continues, is through the sort of reseller that typically serves them.
“It’s usually not the nationwide kind of guy. It’s the guy that handles Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” Rhodes says. Buffalo has a lot riding on that guy too. “We’re 100 percent channel-based,” Rhodes notes. “If the resellers aren’t selling our product, we’re not making any money.”
Buffalo has built its entire channel program around that inescapable fact. The three-tier offering, which currently has about 4,200 U.S. and Canadian members, includes typical benefits like discounted pricing, plus access to market development funds for top-level Gold partners.
Rhodes has made a point of going beyond those basics, though. He worked for a small reseller himself in high school, college, and afterwards, and still remembers the kind of treatment he got from name-brand PC makers. “I had to get in line and wait,” he recalls.
Buffalo’s partner program, by contrast, is designed to shower smaller partners with the kind of perks and attention often reserved for bigger players. Resellers get free priority access to an exclusively U.S.-based 24/7 technical support line with average hold times under 90 seconds, for example, plus dedicated account managers. This year, a targeted list of 100 partners with untapped sales potential is also receiving custom marketing services.
“They’re busy running a business, doing tech support at night, installing new hardware in the mornings, all of the things that you have to do as a small reseller,” Rhodes notes. “They don’t have somebody to help them create a custom landing page.”
They’re often stretched too thin to accommodate inside sales operations as well, which is why telemarketing campaigns are among the ways Gold partners can spend their MDF dollars. “If they want us to call a list of end users, we can buy the list and run through the calls and provide them with the leads,” Rhodes says.
Didn’t know about that opportunity? Don’t worry. It’s just a matter of time before someone tells you about it. “I organized a very proactive sales team,” says Rhodes, noting that Buffalo’s account managers check in on partners regularly and that its support technicians follow up six months after every order to confirm the purchased system is meeting expectations.
“It’s not a technical telemarketing call,” Rhodes says. “It’s a support-led initiative to make sure customers are satisfied [and] that they’re seeing continual value from selling Buffalo products.”
Those products, like Buffalo’s partner program, are designed with the needs of smaller resellers in mind. The company’s TeraStation network-attached storage units, for instance, come with prepopulated hard drives and a complete set of installation supplies to help busy channel pros finish implementations faster. “Out of the box, our NAS systems are ready to go,” Rhodes says. “They can ship the product directly to the end customer and then just show up on-site. They don’t have to bring anything else.”
All the hands-on work Buffalo does with partners takes time, which is why the company has beefed up its sales and marketing team by a third in the last year. Rhodes’s partner recruitment goal for 2018 is a modest 5 percent expansion in program membership, so those added resources will spend most of their time supporting existing partners versus adding new ones, a strategy that’s worked well for Buffalo so far.
“We’re just really doubling down on that effort,” Rhodes says.