Ruckus Wireless Details Channel Changes With Upmarket Push

Ruckus Wireless on Wednesday plans to announce major changes to its channel partner program in a bid to reward and nurture its most strategic VARs as it moves upmarket toward wireless enterprise deployments.

It's a continuing push for the vendor, which, thanks to aggressive channel recruitment that began two years ago, now enjoys a partner community of about 1,200 VARs worldwide, but is still principally known for the SMB sweet spot that helped make its name.

That all changed earlier this year when Ruckus updated its ZoneFlex Enterprise Smart Wireless LAN product lines to appeal to enterprise-level customers at reasonable prices. The next step, said Ruckus' top brass, is to convince some of the country's top regional VARs to come aboard -- and that their days of being tied to traditional wireless networking vendors are over.

"Loyalty to big brand has gone straight out the window," said David Callisch, vice president of marketing for Ruckus. "People want value for their money, and that's opened doors for Ruckus at the higher end of the market."

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Ruckus, which has 143 employees and did $32.9 million in revenue in 2008, expects its wireless LAN revenue to triple this year. According to Callisch, Ruckus has reached a critical mass where its ZoneFlex wireless product line has significant value proposition for larger enterprises but many VARs still sell Ruckus with "the SMB message stuck in their head."

The new program, which Ruckus will unveil to partners at the vendor's Big Dogs partner conference in San Francisco Wednesday, will establish an elite partner level, Top Dogs, through which Ruckus hopes to generate at least 75 percent of its overall enterprise revenue in 2010 and beyond and cement Ruckus' status as a player in the value-added channel.

"We don't do direct sales to enterprise accounts like Meru and Aruba," Callisch said. "We want the middle tier, too."

The new classifications of Ruckus' Big Dogs channel program are Top Dog, Super Dog and Big Dog.

Big Dogs are the basic partner level, for which Ruckus offers a discount through distribution partners Synnex and ScanSource. Big Dogs also have access to the Big Dogs partner portal and Ruckus NFR kits.

One level up is Super Dog, which gives a 5 percent discount beyond the established discount and access to deal registration for an additional 10 percent discount. It provides limited market development funds (MDF) with Ruckus approval, access to the Big Dogs partner portal and a preferred invite to the Big Dog conference. To qualify for Super Dog, VARs must have a minimum of one trained WiSE Guy -- a certified solutions engineer trained in Ruckus Wi-Fi products -- and must purchase Ruckus' NFR kit.

"It's very important that deal registration is rich. It can't just be a couple of margin points here and there," said Ron Gill, Ruckus director of enterprise network sales, North America. "VARs need to be fed. A couple of points doesn't get it done in terms of separation between top-tier partners and lower-tier partners. We have to help VARs build confidence in our organization, and we need to give the best some separation from the guys who are just snipping deals."

Finally, the elite Top Dog class adds a 10 percent discount onto the established discount and deal registration access. Top Dogs receive dedicated MDF as well as a lead generation and a spiff program, and have the option to become Ruckus Big Dog trainers, plus receive invites for themselves and customers to Ruckus' conferences.

The Top Dog requirements are intensive: Top Dogs must have a "Ruckus Champion" -- at least one person in the organization who serves as an evangelist for Ruckus products -- have at least three trained WiSE guys and must hit $100,000 per quarter within 12 months or do $400,000 in annual sales of Ruckus gear. At the Top Dog level, Ruckus collaborates with partners on business plans and custom marketing activities.

Callisch and Gill further describe ideal Top Dog VARs as being networking-centric with staffs of 30 or more people and annual revenue of $25 million-plus, with multiple field offices and strong knowledge of Wi-Fi and value-added services, with some level of vertical focus.

Next: Partners Like The Wag Of Top Dog

The hope, Callisch said, is to draw major regional VARs into its stead to attack the enterprise. Ruckus plans to bait those larger VARs by also guaranteeing quarterly rebates on all products regardless of price support, and a dedicated MDF stream and special promotions reserved only for Top Dogs.

It also wants to develop Top Dog VARs that specialize in the vertical markets -- hospitality, health care, education and retail -- Ruckus wants to dominate.

One of those is Gary Patrick, president of Hotel Internet Services, an Agoura Hills, Calif.-based solution provider that specializes in hotels, ocean liners and other major deployments in the hospitality industry.

Patrick said he gained access to Ruckus engineers and sales support immediately.

"Many times you call to look at becoming a reseller of a product and you get the feeling they are really not interested in new resellers and are only interested in how much business you might be able to bring to the table," Patrick said. "Ruckus was different. They had a nice, streamlined site with lots of product brochures, videos, product information, site survey simulation software, lead capture database, etc."

Patrick said he sees Ruckus' Top Dog classification as a natural step in Ruckus' channel growth and a sign it's serious about the enterprise push.

"I believe the 80-20 rule applies here," Patrick said. "Eighty percent of their revenue comes from 20 percent of their VARs. So it only makes sense that as their company expands, they expend their funds and efforts in the area that is going to be the most productive use of those funds and efforts. The more sales and support our company receives, the more business we will be able to bring to Ruckus. So it's a win-win situation."

Ruckus also is hoping to build out its support for partners through its ongoing WiSE Guy program -- certifications cost $350 a person -- and other programs such as Pimp My Wi-Fi, a nationwide seminar series. For Top Dogs, Ruckus also is adding to its lead generation program, promising those elite VARs 10 hard leads every quarter that according to Callisch have "been scrubbed" (i.e. vetted to make sure they're useful). The company is further urging VARs to leverage specialty wireless vendors it partners with, such as AirMagnet, AeroScout and Vocera.

Solution providers told that Ruckus talks a good game about both its products and its channel outreach, and for the most part, they've backed it up.

"We just believe it's better Wi-Fi with them, across all verticals, and we haven't been proven wrong yet," said Tom Gobeille, president of Network Computing Architects, a Bellevue, Wash.-based solution provider. "We're looking at school districts, companies that have campus environments, retailers with large warehouses -- all places that have gone from doing wireless as a 'nice to have' to wireless as a necessity. With Ruckus, it appeared to us there was a combination of both passion around technology and people that had had success in it before. They've attracted some really top RF people."

Gobeille likes the sound of a more focused program for the top-tier partners; NCA itself is a Top Dog Ruckus VAR.

"I think there's a real incentive. They've been very careful and very thoughtful around what they want to do with MDF, deal reg and incentives," Gobeille said. "What I also like about Ruckus is that they established themselves early on as a global company. They didn't try to win North America and then try to branch out to Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. There are some things they need to work on related to making the products even better and more manageable for larger accounts, but all of my expectations have been met."

All of which is helping to broaden Ruckus' profile, too, in the crowded and tightly competitive wireless industry.

"Ruckus has a technologically superior solution," said Brian Young, president of Invision Networks, a Burr Ridge, Ill. solution provider. "That's what's different. To us, Cisco has had such a poor product for the last five or six years, but it's there because it was so popular and no one gets fired for buying it. It worked. It worked well enough to answer a need for the solution. Ruckus has an understanding of how we can build wireless properly, and they really respond to the channel. They're interested in more than just elevating VARs to do certain stuff or do more deals and put more logos in their cart. People are still 'Who's Ruckus?,' but that's changing, too. Talk to hospitality and education market people. They know who Ruckus is."