Google To Pay $15 Per Seat For Google Apps Customer -- Not Partner -- Referrals

Google has launched a new Google Apps Referral Program, giving coupons and credits to companies who refer Google Apps to their peers even if they don't add any technical or services expertise to the package.

The Referral Program, which will work alongside its reseller program, will give a $15-per-seat reward to the first 100 users that a current user refers. The newly signed company also will get a $10-per-seat coupon for being referred instead of buying independently.

The program is designed to help those businesses who have benefited from the Google Apps share the program with their colleagues, and collaborate better with them, Google wrote on its Official Enterprise Blog. The companies only need an email address, tax identification and bank account to start making money on Google Apps.

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"No IT experience required, no systems to manage -- just an interest in helping people experience a better way of working," the referral program states on its website.

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[Related: CDW Disses Microsoft With Blockbuster Google Apps Partnership ]

Not all solution providers are buying into the new Referral program, however, saying that customers' needs still come first.

The new program is a "double-edged sword," said Allen Falcon, CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based Cumulus Global, a Google Apps Reseller. Falcon said that the discounts, coupons and referral fees put a lot of pressure on his business to prove to clients that there is value behind the professional services his company adds on top of the solution itself.

"This is one of the first acts Google has taken that is not clearly supporting its channel strategy," Falcon said.

On the bright side, Falcon said that the Referral Program might help more companies consider Google Apps as an option, which spreads awareness in SMB businesses.

Lane Campbell, CEO of Syntress, a Morton Grove, Ill.-based Google Apps reseller, said that he doesn't expect the changes to affect his reseller program. He said that while the referral program might be appealing on the surface, because Google lacks quality support functions, anyone other than a very small company would not benefit from referring over reselling.

"Google has the worst support. At the end of the day, some people will sign up this way, but no large customers are going to," Campbell said.

Even if the margins were equal or better, Campbell said that he wouldn't consider switching to a referral-based program over the reseller program in which he currently participates.

"From my perspective, I'm always interested in how to increase revenue and drive sales, but I wouldn’t be as interested in getting a commission check," Campbell said.

Robert Anderson, principal at New York-based ingenuIT, said that the referral program would appeal to him if it were a lot easier to navigate than the reseller program, which he said is very "complicated to deal with and frankly not worth my time." He said that he often goes through another reseller to provide Google Apps to his clients to avoid navigating the reseller program.

Anderson agreed with Campbell, saying that even if he could make another $15 on Google Apps per seat, he would still focus on the needs and requirements of his customers over the margins he could make.

"It might get consultants who are focused on the bottom line, so to speak. We all are, of course, but our primary focus is our customers' needs," Anderson said. "Fifteen a user, so what? My reputation is worth a lot more than that."