F5 Strikes With 'Lightning' Partner Program

According to Dean Darwin, F5's vice president of North American channels, who recently made his return to the company after a year away, F5 took a hard look at the application delivery networking vendor's channel program upon his arrival to look for areas to improve.

"When I came back I took a look at the channel and asked where we should be going," Darwin said.

What he came up with is an all-new channel program: the F5 Lighting partner program. The goal of the new program is simple -- reward partners for delivering greater value and boost their profitability in a struggling economy, Darwin said.

At its core, Lightning comprises four key areas: enhancements to deal registration, new service renewal programs, application delivery-specific programs to open up new application opportunities and removal of partner audits in 2009 to let partners focus their attention on driving revenue.

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"I've always had a bee in my bonnet about the way the industry does deal registration," Darwin said.

In the Lightning program, F5 has launched a three-tier deal registration structure, called Deal Registration 2.0 with Partner Value Discount. Essentially, this model defines how partners can add value. According to Darwin, too many vendors leave partners in the dark when it comes to deal registration, leaving them wondering where and how to add value or why deal registrations are given a thumbs up or thumbs down. F5's new deal reg program differentiates between fulfillment opportunities and value-add activities by adding a third tier to deal registration called Partner Value Discount (PVD), which features specific rules to define how partners add value. The three tiers are the base discount, fulfillment discount and PVD.

PVD can be achieved if partners fulfill the required criteria, which includes providing evaluation gear, providing engineering assistance or if a partner takes the deal from beginning to end, whether F5 finds the deal or not.

"If you find an opportunity on your own, it qualifies for PVD," Darwin said, adding that adhering to one of the three criteria also earns partners PVD, which results in extra margin on top of standard deal registration. "There's a difference between fulfillment and value. Too many vendors have looked at deal registration as on or off. We're keeping it on with a common set of rules."

Additionally, the Lightning program adds a new set of application delivery programs designed to help partners sell into new application deployments, such as VMware and Microsoft solutions.

The programs will introduce F5 partners into new deals through the Microsoft Solution Provider Referral Program, letting F5 partners get in on Microsoft deals. F5 also will offer partners that sell into new or existing VMware environments additional incentives. F5 also is launching new education, services and marketing programs to support partners. For example, F5 is working with Westcon to enable partners to offer customers support for Microsoft application environments.

"What we're trying to do is get an ecosystem built around applications and our partners," he said.

And to help VARs stay focused on business, Darwin said F5 is waiving audits for all of 2009 and "will not penalize any partners for having a bad quarter." He said audits are suspended until 2010 because "right now is not the time."

Finally, Darwin said F5 had enhanced its service renewal programs, allowing specialist partners to transact service renewals with special incentives. In the future, the program also will offer exclusivity for partners that routinely sell into existing accounts. Darwin said that 18 months ago, F5 reduced the discount for service renewals. He's brought that discount back up.

Along with programmatic changes, F5 also is altering its partner structure, changing the tiers that partners fall into. Now, the four partner levels from top to bottom are expert, specialist, qualified and authorized. In North America, F5 has roughly 500 partners.

Overall, Darwin said, the goal is to build a partner program that can be read as a "single sheet of music."

"We want to offer better profitability for our partners within a defined value and educate and give partners the ability to make money selling into application delivery environments," he said.