Google Apps Resellers: Referral Program Actually Helps Our Business In The Long Run

When Google unveiled its Google Apps Referral Program in early March, giving a $15 per seat award to current Google Apps customers who refer other businesses to the applications, the channel was left wondering how it would affect their business.

More than a month later, licensed Google Apps resellers don’t seem to be sweating.

Allen Falcon, CEO of solution provider Cumulus Global, Westborough, Mass., told CRN he hasn't seen any impact on his business, and he doesn’t expect to. The reason, he said, is that a channel partner brings so much more to the table: requirements and priorities assessment, migration plan, deployment of services, employee training and ongoing support.

"We work with them to make sure they get the most value out of Google Apps, not just as a great integrative suite but as a platform for their business,’ Falcon said of his customers.

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In theory, it would seem the referral program might give potential customers a reason not to call Cumulus Global, Falcon said. But what the company is seeing in the field is that the new program actually benefits partners by raising market awareness about the capabilities of Google Apps and its diverse applications that can benefit enterprise customers.

And Falcon said he already has seen customers who were brought into to the cloud ecosystem through a customer referral later realize they need the help of professionals.

’We have customers that started direct, and then contacted us for assistance as they got their migration or deployment effort under way,’ Falcon told CRN.

Michael Cohn, senior vice president of marketing at Cloud Sherpas, Atlanta, a premier Google reseller and three-time Google Enterprise Partner of the Year, said if there was a potential conflict between the referral and reseller programs, Cloud Sherpas executives would probably have the most reasons to worry.

But they’re not, Cohn said. The referral program hasn't in any way undermined the business, he said.

"We work with enterprise customers at all stages of their cloud adoption, from the front end where we often help businesses develop an overall cloud strategy, to vendor selection, to system implementation, integration, training and support," he told CRN. Customers who choose to migrate to Google Apps on a referral aren't going to get any of those benefits, he said.

Charles Edge, CTO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based 318 Inc., told CRN that the MSP is happy with the changes Google has made over the years with its cloud programs.

"Google has matched the method with which we work with customers and allowed us to take on a much more comprehensive role with our customers," Edge said.

And the referral program can be beneficial to resellers as well by "helping to spur further adoption of the Google platform," Edge told CRN. For that reason, Edge sees the referral program as something that "helps all of us involved in that ecosystem in the long run."

The value proposition of the channel is professional services, Falcon said. It’s about what customers get before deploying their new Software-as-a-Service suite of products, as well as after deployment.

Falcon said he wouldn’t be surprised if some resellers were angry about Google creating an incentive for customer-to-customer referrals. But he also suspects other third-party vendors are pleased they can cash in on Google’s products now through referrals without having to go through the rigor of actually becoming licensed Google partners.

Like Edge, Falcon believes in the long run the referral program will prove a benefit to channel partners.

"The more market acceptance and awareness, the more mainstream [Google] Apps becomes, the easier it is for us to work with companies and convince them to move. The easier it is to establish the value proposition with our service," Falcon told CRN.