Ready To Run: Dot-Coms Woo Channel

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EBay, Yahoo and Google have posted sizzling sales growth, strong share-price appreciation and widespread customer acceptance in the past three years. But their inroads into the partner and channel communities have been, well, more modest.

Each has approached partner-building with measured enthusiasm. But not one has set the partner community ablaze with red-hot proposals or business opportunities. At least not yet. That may change this year as each company steps up its efforts to recruit, train and engage partners of all stripes.

To date, eBay probably offers third parties the most robust opportunity; not only do thousands of companies, including many IT organizations--resellers, white-box builders, equipment remarketers and even gray marketers--rely on eBay's auctioning service to sell their goods and services, but a growing number of third-party ISVs develop applications and tools to help consumers and small businesses sell products and services on eBay in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. That has spawned something more than a cottage industry of developers who build on the eBay "platform."

Those efforts date back to 2000, when eBay was growing quickly but wasn't optimized for power sellers; third parties built software applications that helped sellers more efficiently market their goods and services and automate processes and procedures. This, however, was at a time before open APIs and Web services had taken off, so developers spent countless hours cobbling together code, often without much help from eBay. Problems erupted whenever eBay made internal software changes, rendering third-party apps unusable.

Not surprisingly, developers clamored for a formal API from eBay, which started to look at having a platform strategy as a competitive advantage, says Greg Isaac, director of eBay's developers' program. Once it had that API ready, it began to recruit ISVs aggressively.

Today, eBay boasts 22,000 developers in its program. That includes EarthLink and SAP, which, for example, has built-in integration between eBay and its myCRM application. From a metrics perspective, sellers who use those third-party applications drive 22 percent of eBay's listings. Developers typically host the applications, which are downloaded by the seller when needed.

This year, eBay has asked developers to write more buyer- and search-type applications for eBay inventory. For example, if a user types "iPod Nano" on the Verizon SuperPages Web site to learn about the product, then later buys the product on eBay thanks to what was found on SuperPages, then eBay will give a percentage of the revenue to Verizon as the ISV that helped facilitate the transaction.

As for Google, it, too, is taking a stab at building a robust partner community, with modest success. One reason: The advanced tools and applications that Google offers have not been as mature as third parties wanted, until recently. Another reason is price. Companies that join Google Enterprise Professional Program must pay a steep membership fee of $10,000.

The program is designed to attract companies interested in using Google's tools, applications and services to build new solutions for customers. Companies that join receive tech support, training and some business support (they can use Google's certified logo, for example).

Matt Glotzbach, Google's senior manager for enterprise products, says the partner program, launched in September, is gaining momentum, and the company is negotiating with some key integration partners, as well. "The nice thing about being Google is there's no shortage of interest," Glotzbach says.

To date, only a few dozen companies are identified as Google Enterprise Professional Partners. Several have Web and/or software development expertise. LTech of Hoboken, N.J., for example, touts itself as the "Northeast's leading technology integrator specializing in Microsoft's .Net enterprise platform." Its specialty: best-of-breed technology solutions to New York/metro-area-based enterprise customers in the financial services and pharmaceutical industries.

Bristlecone of San Jose, Calif., also has committed to Google. Experts in enterprise applications and collaborative solutions for supply chains, the company leverages both onshore and offshore talent to make its customer solutions a success. Adding Google's enterprise products to its portfolio lets the company's customers improve access and manage their internal data more effectively, according to the company.

Yahoo also has partners and is enjoying significant traction with third-party developers interested in extending Yahoo's Messenger client. Those include Akonix, FaceTime and IMlogic. Considering that Yahoo Messenger is used by more than 50 million people worldwide, the relationships have opened doors for many solution providers to show clients how instant messaging can be a serious business tool.

In addition, Yahoo also boasts a slew of partners that work with individuals and companies to help them establish robust storefronts on Yahoo. For example, All Web Promotion, a division of Malcom Group of Chicago, helps third parties build Yahoo stores and obtain search-engine promotion. The latter is fast emerging as a core skill set that is as prized today as basic Web design and hosting was in the late 1990s.

Watch for more companies to embrace Google, eBay and Yahoo, especially as they refine and expand their programs. We'll keep you posted.

Carolyn A. April and Jeffrey Schwartz contributed to this story.

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