Virtualized wireless LAN specialist Meru Networks is emerging from an extended period of channel evaluation and now plans to spend less time recruiting solution providers and more time enabling the ones building strategic Meru practices.
"If you're going to leverage the channel, you have to invest, have relationships that are meaningful and also be meaningful to the partner's business," Gary Abad, Meru vice president of worldwide sales channels, told CRN. "We're at that phase at Meru now where we do have an overall partner [base] but we want to put a concerted focus on our best and most meaningful partners."
With that in mind, Meru last week revamped its channel program to organize higher-performing partners into Authorized, Gold and Platinum tiers. Meru also is adding deal registration and sales and technical training, free to higher-tiered partners, to the program, as well as free demo equipment to Gold- and Platinum-level VARs.
Ten-year-old Meru has about 1,800 resellers worldwide. Abad said when he joined the Sunnyvale, Calif., company in February following channel stints at Kaspersky Lab, F5 Networks and Polycom, it didn't yet have a good way to sort and reward top-performing partners from baseline resellers and opportunist-type partners. It has since realized it needs to be more selective about its top partners.
"You'll see a paring down," he said. "We don't want folks out there who just sort of hang out in the program and won't work with Meru without real commitment. We need the partners to know that if they're working with us, they're offering customers a solution that really is an alternative to what's out there."
The wireless LAN space has once again been in focus thanks to big moves like Ruckus Wireless' IPO and Cisco's $1.2 billion acquisition of Meraki in November. Meru has staked much of its growth on customer embrace of virtualized 802.11n wireless technology and adjacent areas such as identity management.
Abad said Meru wants to enable partners to drive services opportunities around sales of Meru products, especially professional services related to network design and management. Meru's top partners -- about 5 percent of its total base -- collectively grew their Meru revenue nearly 60 percent over the past year, Abad said, meaning the company has lots to work with.
For the first time ever this past year, Meru invited 12 of its biggest partners to attend the company's sales kickoff. The goal was to bring strategic partners into deep-dive conversations with Meru's management, engineering and sales teams, Abad said, and share ideas on how to expand Meru's footprint in key wireless vertical markets such as hospitality and education.
The company has been slowly growing, although its stock price, two years after its IPO, continues to disappoint. Earlier this year, Meru's former CEO, Ihab Abu-Hakima, left the company and was succeeded by former Trident Communications CEO Bami Bastani.
Meru took in a $12 million round of growth capital debt financing in June, and in October, it reported solid fiscal third-quarter earnings: revenue of $25.4 million, up 7 percent from the year earlier, on a loss of $5 million, smaller than $5.2 million the year earlier. It also added 400 customers worldwide, for a total of more than 7,000.
Count Meru among the wireless LAN alternatives that see a golden opportunity in Cisco's Meraki acquisition, Abad said.
"Any time one of us is gobbled up at that kind of price, I think it absolutely validates what we're doing and how we're going about it," Abad said. "Our entry into the virtual controller market -- this validates everything we've done. But what also comes up is when you have a company like Cisco buying a small company like Meraki, what comes up is, who was right? Is it Cisco, or is it Meraki? How do they manage that program? When people start asking those questions, they look at what else is out there."
PUBLISHED DEC. 3, 2012