Google Gets Serious About Channel, Launches Partner Program For Enterprise Tech

Google is ramping up its push into businesses with an updated partner program and margin boosts for top partners selling Google Apps For Work, but partners are skeptical it will make a difference in the market battle against Microsoft.

The new partner program, which goes into effect Jan. 1, combines seven previous product-specific partner programs under a Google For Work and Education Partner Program umbrella. The new program will be broken down into Premier partners, and everyone else. Partners that put in the significant skill investment in technical certifications to gain a Premier status will get an extra 10 percent margin on Google Apps sales, bringing their total margin cut to 30 percent.

The changes signify a push by Google to grow its channel with an eye on quality over quantity, said Murali Sitaram, director of global partnerships and strategic alliances for Google Work,

"If you're representing Google to customers, you have to have that depth of skill," said Sitaram, who joined Google from Cisco in February.

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The program will have three tracks. The first is a sales track, aimed at distributors and VARs who don't maintain a long relationship with the customer. The second is a more traditional program for services partners, such as born in the cloud companies and systems integrators, that have an ongoing relationship with customers. Finally, the third tier is for ISVs and hardware vendors that add value to the platforms through additional features and functionality, requiring a significant skill investment.

[Related: Google Changes Channel Program Branding, Wants Partners To Diversify Beyond Google Apps]

Google has made huge strides for Google Apps in education with its Chromebook and Google Apps for Education offering. However, businesses have been slower to break away from industry stalwart Microsoft Office.

However, in recent months Google has ramped up its efforts to bring Google Apps to the corporate environment. Most recently, the company ditched the "enterprise" label for its business products, changing the name to Google For Work. At the same time, Google simplified its partner program, categorizing all resellers to businesses under the same label.

With the most recent margin changes, Google hopes to incentivize its resellers to bring more of its business customers into the Google Apps ecosystem and knock Microsoft, and its Office 365 cloud applications, down a peg in the enterprise, Sitaram said.

However, reseller partners said they don't think that raising margins will be the blow to Microsoft that Google is looking for.

Craig Hickman, vice president of sales at Bloomington, Ind.-based ProBleu, a Google partner, said that rising margins might be helpful for a larger reseller, but it "makes no dent" for a small business reseller. ProBleu usually steers clients towards the program they are more comfortable using, regardless of margins, he said.

"We do not sell either service based on price or commission. Both have very negligible returns in my opinion," Hickman said.

Christopher Alghini, principal consultant at Austin, Texas-based Coolhead Tech, a Google for Work Certified Premier Partner, said Google's move "can hardly be seen as a swipe to Microsoft." Instead, he sees it as part of a larger trend of vendors recognizing the importance of resellers.

"I think it's more part of the entire industry realizing the value and importance of channel partners. Perhaps the additional margin can be attributed to Moore's Law and Google is sharing the extra margin with partners. We're seeing a lot of eco-system partners also updating their programs to the benefit of resellers," Alghini said.

He doesn't think the changing margins will have much of a direct impact on partner sales, however.

"I don't think resellers base decisions on margins but I do think it, along with channel conflict, margins in the cloud are a big challenge for vendors and partners," Alghini said.

He expects to see both major and minor iterations to Google's Partner program through 2015.

"Change is what Google and partners do best," Alghini said.