AppRiver Exec: We Had Our Best Year Ever, And It's Because Of The Channel

AppRiver had a banner year in 2014, and more than ever before in the email and network security vendor's 12-year history, its success was driven by the channel, the company's channel chief told CRN Tuesday.

The Gulf Breeze, Fla.-based cloud software developer notched a 30 percent rise in channel revenue in 2014, which pushed it, for the first time, past the tipping point of more than half its sales coming indirect. AppRiver's evolving sales model illustrates an industry trend in which cloud vendors are recognizing the importance of solution providers to drive business.

In addition to the record-breaking channel revenue, AppRiver's network of active partners grew 21 percent, with 16 percent more customers coming through partners and a 350 percent spike in partners engaged to sell its Office 365 bundle. The SaaS vendor expects to see channel sales grow another 40 percent this year.

[Related: AppRiver Readying Partner Program Changes]

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"It was a massive year for us in the channel," Justin Gilbert, the company's channel manager, told CRN. "This was the first year that the channel finally surpassed the retail side."

Several factors contributed to the company's channel success, according to Gilbert, starting with a renewed focus on managing partner relationships.

"We started last year by refining our partner profiling. We have over 2,500 partners and we're not done learning from them by any stretch of the imagination," Gilbert told CRN. "When we go out there we ask all sorts of questions regarding the health of their company, see what they're doing and what their customers are facing."

Determined to build stronger relationships, AppRiver asked partners what they needed to succeed. The answer was "a lot more focus on training and certifications," Gilbert told CRN.

AppRiver provides partner training through a program called AppRiver University. To increase educational opportunities, however, the company offered its partners discounts to business agility courses and IT certifications through CompTIA.

In partnership with CompTIA, AppRiver also made available specialized one-hour training sessions over lunch and new webinars.

AppRiver also boosted incentives, with plans to offer its partners additional cash rewards and extended free trials.

"Right now, we're starting to offer a little more to the partners themselves," Gilbert said.

Another, more intangible piece of that puzzle, was extending the culture of a company consistently rated as one of the best places to work in Florida, which strives to offer employees a fun work environment and great benefits, to its relationship with partners.

Employees were driven "to do a little more, take the extra step, and make our partners feel like they are part of the team," Gilbert said.

The vendor also offers assistance with marketing, from providing co-branded or custom materials to help funding marketing campaigns.

"We offer the whole spectrum there," Gilbert said. "It's actually pretty awesome when a partner asks us for those kinds of things."

Because most of the company's successful partners are either managed service providers, or moving in that direction, AppRiver has tailored its products and certifications to that business model. By the end of the year, AppRiver wants to offer them a single portal from which they can manage all the services provided by the vendor, according to Gilbert.

Many of those MSPs are enjoying tremendous success with Office 365, and the expansion of that side of the business was "due in no small part to the type of partner we cater to, which is the small business partner," Gilbert said.

While most competitors have shied away from solution providers that sell to small businesses, AppRiver has found that Office 365 empowers those partners to compete with much larger companies, according to Gilbert.

"Cloud has become synonymous with something you have to do as a company," Gilbert explained, and customers using Microsoft's SaaS suite want to work with someone who will answer their calls.

Eric Montague, owner of Executech, an MSP based in Utah, has been an AppRiver partner for nearly eight years, and he's not surprised to learn the vendor has crossed the threshold to more than 50 percent indirect sales.

"They have been a phenomenal partner for us. They are by far one of our favorite partners," Montague told CRN, adding AppRiver's trademark, Phenomenal Care, isn't just lip service.

"Those guys do give phenomenal service. They give an enormous amount of support to us and our customers when it's needed. Someone always picks up the phone," he said. "Technology works most of the time but when it breaks, that's when companies shine."

As the largest IT provider in Utah for municipalities, Executech relies heavily on AppRiver's archiving service, according to Montague. And the vendor's spam filter has the lowest amount of false positives and highest catch rate of any product he has seen.

"Email is email. Anyone can provide email. I can go direct to Microsoft to buy 365, but if I do it through AppRiver, I'm getting that direct support you don't through Microsoft. Email security, then spam, archiving, encryption. Each adds to those email needs," Montague said.