Samsung Overhauls Partner Program, Looks To Boost PC, Printer Sales

Samsung's new program, dubbed Partners In Innovation, restructures the partner membership levels, introduces new incentives, and offers a host of training and education resources. Samsung also introduced new online sales and marketing tools via a new partner portal called Partner Central, which is now live. Richard Hutton, senior manager of channel marketing at Samsung America, said the Partners in Innovation program is built on three elements: enhanced communications, more relevant rewards, and more valuable content such training Webinars and online marketing and sales tools. "This is about improving our content and improving our communications with partners," Hutton said.

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Partners in Innovation replaces the existing Power Partner Program, which was last updated in 2007 and introduced a tiered membership system with Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinium Level Partners. The new program replaces those levels with a new tiered system that has three membership levels that are divided by "annual points" rather than actual revenue.

The first membership level, dubbed Select Business Partner, is for VARs that have less than 50,000 annual points. Signature Business Partners, the middle level, must have between 50,000 and 600,000 annual points and in return receive a dedicated internal sales representative, MDFs, demo units and an authorized service provider certification.

The top Strategic Partner Level must have more than 600,000 points. Those partners receive dedicated field sales representatives, priority product roadmap access, lead generation opportunities, and on-site training, among other benefits. The program also supplements partners' dedicated sales representatives with additional support personnel for key verticals and solutions, such as health care, education, public sector and digital signage.

The Partners in Innovation annual points are determined by the products that a partner sells. For example, a dollar sold with display products equals one annual point. However, a dollar sold with PCs, printers, memory or storage products earns partners four points. Samsung is giving its non-display product categories weighted value under the new system to encourage partners, who may have traditionally sold only Samsung monitors, to carry additional products. "We aren't as well established in those product categories," Hutton said, "so we wanted to put extra emphasis on them."

However, Samsung said that its Galaxy Tab line of tablets are not considered PCs under the Partners in Innovation program and therefore partners won't receive bonus points for selling them; the same goes for Samsung's line of smartphones. Hutton said the company felt these products were more consumer-facing devices and therefore didn't feel they needed to be incentivized for channel sales.

The launch of the new Partners in Innovation program comes as Samsung has raised its profile recently, thanks in large part to products like the Galaxy Tab, Galaxy smartphones and the new Series 9 notebook. The company is looking to capitalize on that momentum with a renewed focus on its indirect sales channel and partner program.

"In the past we haven't paid the requisite attention the program needed," Hutton admitted. "To a certain degree we've taken our eye off the indirect channel in recent years. This new program will address some of those lost opportunities."

But even with that lack of focus, Hutton said, Samsung's channel sales have steadily increased in recent years even through the economic downturn. Partners are hoping Samsung's increase brand awareness and new partner program will accelerate that climb.

Rob Sakat, CEO of Full Circle Media in Pleasant Ridge, Mich., has partnered with Samsung since 2005 and primarily sold its LCD displays but has recently branched out into notebooks. Sakat believes the new tiered membership structures and rewards system will benefit partners, as will the new portal. "Partner Central is great. I use it every day, it's easy to navigate and it's great to be able to access the different tools and content," he said.

George Pashardis, regional vice president of sales at ePlus in Herndon, Va., said Partners in Innovation is a step in the right direction. "The new program is very much in line with what other top vendors are doing," Pashardis said. "It's a big improvement from where Samsung was before. Now it's more clear on where you stand as a partner, what you need to do to achieve certain rewards or membership levels, and where to find critical information."

Hutton said Partners in Innovation is still a work in progress and that tweaks and changes will be made along the way as the company gets feedback from partners. Samsung says it has a roadmap of additional features and components for the program, including a mobile version of Partner Central as well as a new partner/reseller locator for Samsung's main Web site that are scheduled to roll out next year.

"This is a journey – not a destination," Hutton said. "We'll continue to add more features to this as time goes on."