SugarCRM Adds Advisory Board, Certification Options To Partner Program

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Open-source CRM application developer SugarCRM is beefing up its channel program, adding a partner advisory board and launching a formal certification program for resellers.

The company, which held its annual SugarCon 2012 customer and partner conference in San Francisco this week, also unveiled a distribution agreement with Ingram Micro. Under that deal, the distributor's Advanced Computing Division will sell and distribute SugarCRM's applications to resellers in North America.

SugarCRM now has more than 400 VAR partners, including 39 who signed in the first quarter, said Nick Halsey, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of corporate development, in an interview.

[Related: SugarCRM Enlists Long-Time Sage Partner Blytheco]

Many of those partners are experiencing exponential growth, according to Halsey: Fifteen partners grew more than 300 percent in 2011 while more than 30 grew at a 200 percent rate and 70 grew 75 percent. SugarCRM is itself experiencing rapid growth: The company recently reported 118 percent growth in billings in its recently completed first quarter.

The new 12-member partner advisory board will provide SugarCRM executives with feedback and guidance from the partner community. "We need to have that feedback loop," Halsey said.

"The advisory board is evidence of SugarCRM's continued commitment to its partners," said Jim Ward, president and CEO of BrainSell Technologies and president of the advisory board, in a statement. The new body will encourage dialogue between partners and partners "about product development and new ideas for improving performance," he said.

The certification initiative will include a role-based curriculum with training for sales executives, pre-sales engineers, support consultants, service consultants and developers. Partners will be required to certify at least one person for sales executive, pre-sales engineer and service consultant roles.

Until now SugarCRM's SugarCRM Open+ Partner Program has ranked partners based on revenue and other informal benchmarks. "But as you grow, you need more structure and more specific criteria," Halsey said. Certifications will be the primary benchmark for determining program tier assignments for partners, along with revenue goals and other business criteria, he said.

"It pays off a lot with the branding," Halsey said. "The partners need to distinguish themselves in the market. It does raise the bar." The certifications also will improve the overall level of service and support partners provide to customers.

Halsey took pains to emphasize that SugarCRM is not creating the certification program to thin out partner ranks. "We want to grow the program," he said, adding that the company could have as many as 500 partners by the end of 2012.

The new requirements are in place now, but partners have until the end of the year to get certified.

SugarCRM has a strategic alliance with IBM, and the Ingram agreement is primarily designed to help SugarCRM better serve IBM channel partners, Halsey said. Those IBM partners don't require certification, although the executive said some might opt to do so.

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