For a startup looking to rapidly scale its channel, it helps to have a heavyweight enterprise technology vendor and one of the largest channel distributors at your back.
Nimble CRM, based in Santa Monica, Calif., has forged such alliances with Microsoft and Tech Data, and is leveraging them to penetrate a crowded software market.
The company's CEO, Jon Ferrara, understands the power of a vibrant channel in driving sales—resellers were the key to the success of his previous venture, GoldMine Software, a pioneering CRM developer. Soon after founding Nimble, Ferrara struck up conversations with Microsoft about how to build integrations with its products, from Office 365 to Dynamics to the Edge browser, that would be natural value-adds for the cloud giant's channel.
"We're now signing Microsoft partners at scale," Ferrara told CRN.
As one of the first ISVs to enter Microsoft's Third Party Offers program, which connects solutions to distributor marketplaces, Nimble further enabled Microsoft partners to bundle its software, which integrates social platforms and CRM data into popular office productivity suites like Office 365 and G Suite.
"Microsoft is recommending us, saying their partners should go to market with combined solutions with Nimble," he said, because Nimble can be a gateway into products like Office and Dynamics, and make them stickier for customers.
Microsoft's channel chief, Gavriella Schuster, told CRN via email: "The cloud has enabled unprecedented partner-to-partner collaboration opportunities for companies like Tech Data and Nimble, and we are delighted that when bundled with Office 365, SMB customers get more flexibility and choice than ever before."
The relationship with Microsoft paved the road to a distribution deal with Tech Data.
The distributor is more inclined to put in front of its global network of channel resellers a fully integrated solution that enriches the experience of using Microsoft's productivity tools, Stacy Nethercoat, Tech Data's vice president of Americas Cloud Computing, told CRN.
"The close relationship Nimble has with Microsoft makes it very easy for Tech Data to engage and take those products to market," Nethercoat said.
But the strength of a product, and its fit in a larger ecosystem, is just the first step to onboarding a new ISV, she said. The deal with Tech Data had been almost a year in the making.
"By the time we bring on a small ISV like Nimble, we've spent a lot of time getting to know their product and preparing to go live with them," Nethercoat told CRN.
The distributor plays almost a consultancy role with ISVs, she explained, helping them fill gaps in their channel strategy.
"It's also important that the ISV is actually ready for this step in their evolution," Nethercoat said. "That’s where we spend a lot of time before we get to the point of onboarding. You definitely don’t want to move too quickly and create an experience for our partners and their end customers that isn't superior."
Tech Data has even developed a tool, based on its experience and best practices, for onboarding new ISVs that focuses not only on the technology, but the company's strategy.
"Working with many ISVs, some that have been successful and some that haven't, we've honed this into a predictable model. If working with an ISV we can step through all of these elements, then we're quite confident we're going to be successful together," Nethercoat said.
Ferrara mastered the intricacies of developing such relationships at GoldMine, a channel-centric company that was on the vanguard of the category in the 1990s. He introduced a structured program to Nimble early to provide training to partners on the product before they went out to resell it.
In addition to Tech Data, his company recently signed a deal with Giacom, the largest Office 365 distributor in the UK.
"We're going after these types of partners. We're interested in partners at scale," Ferrara told CRN.
The powerful distributors in its corner come as Nimble upgrades it product to deliver social sales and marketing capabilities across platforms.
The company recently released an upgraded mobile solution that added several capabilities, including sharing of customer information through email, calendar and contact apps, or outside apps like LinkedIn. The latest mobile release can also add contacts from scanned business cards, synchronize contact histories and manage multiple deal pipelines.