Atlassian Revamps Channel Program To Drive Stronger Partner Engagement

Atlassian, an enterprise software vendor that's always opted for a uniquely straightforward approach to distributing its suite of cloud-based developer collaboration tools, Tuesday introduced a revamped channel program to make it easier for customers to find the best implementation partner for their needs.

Atlassian's channel program will take on a multitier structure, and partners will be identified by a new moniker, Martin Musierowicz, Atlassian's channel chief, told hundreds of partners who gathered Tuesday morning at the company's Summit conference in San Jose, Calif.

"We want to focus on the customer value and specifically their aptitude," Musierowicz told CRN of the partner community. "So we're going to go with the more traditional Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers, based on the partner's technical certification level."

[Related: SaaS Vendor Atlassian Recruiting Partners To Help Take Its Agile Development Game To Next Level]

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The new structure will help the vendor direct customer inquiries to the most qualified solution providers, he said.

"Atlassian is seeing larger and more complex deployments," he said. "We want customers to see the value of our channel and understand what partner is right for them."

Atlassian entirely distributes its issue-tracking and team collaboration software online — a model, born out of necessity, that's more commonly associated with consumer products.

Founded more than a decade ago in Australia, Atlassian was far removed from major financing sources.

But the company's Jira issue-tracking solution, with discovery, evaluation and purchasing all transacted through the website, enabled the company to bootstrap a global expansion.

Under that model, sales agents weren't needed to negotiate terms and prices -- they were always the same. And forgoing a traditional sales force allowed Atlassian to focus more investment on R&D.

Because Atlassian never built out any field operations, partners became instrumental to larger, custom deployments -- doing everything from presales, to on-site demos, reselling licenses, integration and services.

As the portfolio diversified beyond Jira, customers became even more reliant on that expanding partner ecosystem to deliver personalized, high-touch implementations.

The channel component of the business has seen accelerated growth since the company went public last December, Musierowicz said.

The new tiered structure reflects externally how Atlassian has long classified its partners in-house, he said.

Technical capabilities, far more than revenue, determine how partners rise in the tiers and increase their margins, Musierowicz said.

"We want partners to train their sales and engineering staff to make sure all have deep understanding of the products, how they integrate with each other, and the competitive landscape," he said.

"Customers care about the engineering excellence of that team and their ability to deliver versus how much they sold for Atlassian."

Atlassian will also make a larger investment in training, enablement and certification to complement the other program changes, Musierowicz said.

Beyond the tiered structure, Atlassian introduced a new nomenclature.

The company's systems integration partners were long called Experts -- a term that could confuse customers by invoking an impression of internal staff, rather than third-party implementers.

The simpler term, Solution Partners, will be in effect going forward, Musierowicz said.

The revamped channel will enable Atlassian to better on-board new partners and ramp them in the tiers, Musierowicz told CRN.

Last year, Atlassian signed almost 200 new partners.

"But we are very picky," Musierowicz said. "We need to make sure these partners have some kind of experience directly with the Atlassian stack, or solution areas we service and customize" such as agile development, DevOps and developer collaboration.

Zubin Irani, CEO of cPrime, a Silicon Valley-based systems integrator, told CRN his company partnered with Atlassian a few years ago when it saw that Jira was the de facto standard in issue tracking -- 80 percent of cPrime's clients were using the tool.

The solution provider rapidly scaled that practice, becoming one of Atlassian's largest global resellers, Irani told CRN.

In the first year of the partnership, it wasn't always easy to understand the complexities of the large product suite, the integration points, and to get access to pricing and enablement resources. Since then, Atlassian has significantly upped its game, he said.

"They've been investing year over year in the program," Irani said. "It's matured significantly since I joined four years back, and you can tell by the talent they've brought in to run the program, rolling out more training, requiring partners to have more validation."

Raising the bar on certifications is a positive development for partners serious about investing in their capability to implement the Atlassian product suite, he said.

"Having a lot of people say they're partners, when they don't really add value, that just hurts the brand of calling yourself a partner," he said. "I think it's important that they're putting more rigor to have a stronger enablement program to get partners up to speed."

"Atlassian is a platform, and in order to sell a platform, you have to understand all the components of it," Irani told CRN.