SAS Institute Shakes Up BI Space With Reseller Effort


Granted, SAS is wading into a crowded channel. Its business intelligence (BI) rivals, including Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion Solutions, boast longstanding VAR alliances. But SAS has its brand name to trade on.

It also is bringing a trump card to the table: It is offering its partners margins not only on initial product license sales but also on the recurring revenue stream it derives from annual maintenance renewals. If partners meet criteria such as certification and customer-satisfaction goals, they will receive 25 percent of the renewal fee each year on deals they landed, SAS executives said.

They believe that carrot is essential to building a channel program that works within SAS's historical sales model.

"The only way we've been able to see year-over-year revenue growth even in tough years like 2001 is that renewal base. We had to come up with a model that wouldn't cannibalize that existing annuity," said Jim Davis, SAS's chief marketing officer. "This way, the reseller is incented to maintain the relationship instead of doing a dump-and-run on the first-year fee."

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Claraview COO Eric Driscoll said he would love to see more vendors follow SAS's lead on renewal fees. Claraview, a Reston, Va.-based consultancy, resells SAS along with products from Business Objects, Cognos and MicroStrategy—none of which give partners a cut of the maintenance revenue stream, partners said.

"If I'm given a chance to pick up an account where SAS will pay me renewals vs. rainmaking new projects, I might take the SAS sale," Driscoll said. Two dozen resellers have already signed on with SAS since the program's April launch, at a quicker pace than anticipated, SAS executives said.

Express Analytics CEO Hemant Warudkar said his company, an Irvine, Calif., VAR specializing in BI, previously tried in vain to strike up a partnership with SAS. He was delighted when the software vendor got in touch to pitch its new channel program.

"We said, 'We've been waiting years for you to do something!' " Warudkar said. "We want to distinguish ourselves with high-end analytics, and SAS is at the top."

SAS, based in Cary, N.C., is privately held, but it reported $1.7 billion in revenue last year. All of SAS's sales to date have been direct, but the company would like to drive at least 15 percent of its revenue through the channel by 2008, Davis said. That effort is backed strongly by company founder and CEO Jim Goodnight, who was involved in the planning, he said.

Next month, SAS will hold its first reseller summit, chaired by new hire Miles Mahoney, SAS's general manager of strategic alliances and channels. Prior to joining SAS, Mahoney developed channel programs at Borland Software and Crystal Decisions (now part of Business Objects). "What I've learned is that channel conflict seemed to be inevitable," Mahoney said. "That was our challenge here: how do we create channel neutrality in a way that allows this channel program to get off the ground?"

SAS wants its resellers to target midmarket companies with less than $1 billion in annual revenue. The company's internal sales team will be compensated very competitively on deals done through the channel, receiving commissions on 50 percent of the software's list price, Mahoney pledged.

Davis said SAS is taking the midmarket plunge now because it wants to cash in on midmarket growth but doesn't have the capacity to adequately reach the segment itself: "Our direct channel is flat-out full," he said.

SAS aims to sign up 50 partners this year and 150 by the end of next, concentrating on selling to midmarket customers with revenue of less than $1 billion. It is recruiting from the ranks of its rivals' VARs.

Partners say SAS is moving in at the right time—the BI market is in a cycle of rapid consolidation and product overhauls.

"Cognos made major changes to the product in the last release, as did Business Objects and Hyperion," said Claraview's Driscoll. "If you're an existing customer, it's not an upgrade anymore; it's a migration discussion."

One area where SAS is vulnerable, though, is price, partners said. Driscoll said he's waiting to hear what SAS is willing to do in competitive deals: "The reputation of SAS's tools is that they're expensive, and you either respect the value or you don't." Annual maintenance fees on SAS software run around 33 percent, among the highest in the software industry.

SAS reseller Mainline Information Systems, in Tallahassee, Fla., sees SAS as a fit for midmarket customers that are willing to pay more to build a more enterprise-scale solution.

"SAS is not a shrink-wrapped type of sell; there are cheaper solutions that are more low-end," said David Lasseter, Mainline's vice president of sales. "It's really a value sell. You're upselling more functionality."