High-Touch Cloud Partner Programs: CRN's 2019 Cloud Partner Program Guide

CRN’s Cloud Partner Program Guide highlights many companies that have created partnering strategies to attract new partners and further relationships with existing ones


In an ultra-competitive cloud market, the skill and breadth of a vendor’s channel can be a great differentiator.

Sure, cloud service providers both big and small are always competing on features, performance, availability and cost. But without a large base of highly motivated partners evangelizing their platforms and implementing cloud transformation initiatives based on their products, those elements can fall flat with potential customers.

There’s no sure-fire formula for nurturing a great channel ecosystem, and the dynamics of legacy hardware and software partner programs often don’t translate well to the new era of subscription services and recurring revenue.

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That’s why everyone from startups launching first-time programs to global giants revamping legacy ones are experimenting with structures and incentives that cultivate a new breed of cloud-savvy solution providers to bring their technology to market.

CRN’s Cloud Partner Program Guide highlights many companies that have created partnering strategies to attract new partners and further relationships with existing ones. For a complete database of all of the companies on this year’s list, go to www.crn.com.

Companies as storied as IBM see the need to keep adapting, which is why Big Blue is currently overhauling its longstanding IBM PartnerWorld program to be more responsive to partners in the cloud era.

David LaRose, IBM’s recently installed channel chief, took over that program midway through the aggressive transformation initiative.

IBM, Armonk, N.Y., is now in execution mode, he told CRN, and all the channel work it’s doing is coordinated with partners. That includes higher incentives on deal registrations and bid protection features, new partner tools, and an evolved approach to working with partners that embed IBM technology, like ISVs and MSPs.

“We listen and engage with partners in a consistent two-way dialogue in order to develop and maintain a channel program that resonates with and drives real value for partners,” he said.

Constantly refining, and sometimes overhauling a program is important, even for a company with a base of partners as large and well established as IBM’s.

La Rose told CRN it’s simple: “Without a thriving channel that is skilled, profitable and efficient, we can’t scale.”

IBM customers increasingly are operating in hybrid and multi-cloud environments, and they are looking to modernize their applications and migrate workloads across clouds. The channel is essential in helping with those hybrid cloud journeys, La Rose said, because they are different for every customer.

That’s why partner programs are so important. The components of those programs show partners where they can make money, communicate to them where the vendors believe they should invest, attract new partners and help them build their businesses with IBM’s technology.

“So we invest time and effort around core program components, such as strong incentives and benefits, technical and sales enablement, digital tools and partner marketing initiatives,” he said. “Channels enable us to reach new customers, increase sales efficiencies, and provide customers with end-to-end solutions that integrate our technologies with partners’ expertise and services."

But you don’t need to be a global enterprise giant to see the business value in introducing an innovative partner program. Agile startups that are thriving by serving niche markets are increasingly seizing their own channel momentum.

That’s the case with DigitalOcean, a New York-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider popular with developers. The company recently brought on Jeff Giannetti, and IBM veteran, to run its go-to-market organization as chief customer officer.

As a provider focused on the millions of SMBs expanding their digital footprints into the cloud, without a reseller and services channel, “it would be absolutely impossible to even skim the surface of customers where our value would make sense, that are good fits for us,” Giannetti said. “We just cannot reach them all and we never will.”

And a smaller provider can distinguish its channel from larger competitors with a high-touch model—building personal relationships with solution providers that would be too small to notice for the Amazons, Googles and IBMs of the world.

That’s probably why the new DigitalOcean Solutions Partner Program, in just its pilot phase, blew past a goal of 100 partners to some 400 signed, with barely any recruiting efforts.

“It’s our differentiation that makes us so competitive,” Giannetti said. “Some say, ‘I don’t want to be the ten-thousand-and-first hyper-scale partner, but I would rather disrupt with Digital Ocean.’”

The first DigitalOcean partner program launches this month, Giannetti said, and it is the key to reaching new heights for the company.

Like IBM PartnerWorld, that program will almost certainly continue to evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing market. Channel leaders like La Rose and Giannetti understand they continually need to break the mold and strive to be as creative as the partners they’re looking to support in the market.