Novell Throws Resources At Channel Programs

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The new initiatives, rolled out throughout this month, include the creation of a team of partner executives that will be assigned to work with top solutions providers in Novell's PartnerNet program. Those staffers, analogues to the client executives who manage Novell's top direct customer accounts, will work with a small portfolio of partners on building the channel partner's business, with their compensation directly tied to the success of the partners they guide.

Novell also raised the threshold for the accounts it will serve directly, potentially opening more midmarket deals for channel partners. A direct relationship with Novell now requires at least $1 million in spending, twice the previous minimum, according to Katie McAuliff, Novell's vice president of channels for the Americas.

Other changes include more money set aside for market development funds (company executives declined to say how much they're earmarking) and additional training and partner development programs.

"We are, in a very broad way, increasing the resources and spend on the channel," McAuliff said. "The company, from the top on down, is committing more investment."

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That message resonates with the strategic goals for Novell mapped out in its last annual report, on its 2006 fiscal year. "We are undertaking a major shift from direct to indirect sales coverage and capabilities," Novell said. "Additionally, we are investing in new, dedicated sales force training and specialization roles, which we believe will result in improved customer conversations regarding the benefits of our products.

Novell's specialization plans call for its channel partners to focus on one or more of its four product-based operating units: systems and resource management, identity and security management, workgroup (the unit for Novell's legacy NetWare and GroupWise software) and open platform solutions (anchored by Novell's Suse Linux).

Veteran Novell partner Paul Anderson, president and CEO of services firm Novacoast in Santa Barbara, Calif., said he's already benefiting from Novell's introduction of partner executives. Novacoast works with all of Novell's business units, and now has four partner executives assigned to assist the company -- an improvement on the days when it had to work with dozens of Novell representatives, who representative geographic regions instead of product areas.

"It's such an improvement over the past," Anderson said. "What I like about it is that the business units have a very specific focus. The conversations with these partner executives are very tactical. In years past, the positions were almost so generic that it was hard to do specific planning. I don't think I've ever had as many detailed conversations regarding how much money we're going to make doing Novell transactions."

Novell is still tweaking its channel-program changes, which were introduced in concert with the new 2008 fiscal year that began Nov. 1. Still to come: details on how the company will better reward VARs. In the past, license sales have been almost a wash, with the real money coming only from services, according to Anderson. Novell has promised changes to make license sales more profitable.

"It's not fully baked yet, but the conversations I've been privy to are exciting," Anderson said. "I think it's going to be a good year."