Trapeze Networks: Revamping Channel, Rewarding Partners

Trying to gain an advantage in the increasingly cutthroat wireless space, Trapeze Networks is bulking up in at least one key area: channel prowess. The company earlier this week launched a revamped channel program that it said brings its most loyal partners closer, better aligns resources to serve VARs and cuts loose those partners that haven't made a strong commitment to the brand.

Structurally speaking, Trapeze's VAR partner program now includes three tiers instead of two, adding a Platinum level of partnership to the existing Gold and Silver designations. In addition, its distributor partner program is now two levels (Gold and Silver) instead of one.

Trapeze VARs are evaluated on 17 performance criteria, and VARs gain status with the vendor based on how they meet various sales, training and marketing requirements on Trapeze products and products made by Belden, Trapeze's parent company. What Trapeze is describing as more thorough deal registration has been installed at all three levels of the program.

The Platinum level was created to reward those Trapeze partners that "have really been producing for us," said Ray Glynn, vice president of channel sales, the Americas.

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According to Glynn, Trapeze took 11 of its existing Gold partners and raised them to Platinum status, leaving about 30 Gold partners and 30 Silver partners in the U.S. and Canada. The Platinum partners were selected based on input from wireless sales managers and, according to Glynn, he met with the principals of each company himself to discuss Trapeze's strategic direction.

"We didn't want this to be, 'OK, Trapeze has come up with this strategic direction and now you have to live with it,' " he said. "We want to make it more collaborative, and get them involved and create more discussion. They had their own ideas of what worked and what didn't work and what would help them prosper, and I wanted to get those experiences to try and incorporate as much as we could into the program."

At the same time, Trapeze cut 40 partners from the program -- folks, Glynn said, who were "poseurs in the program and just not accomplishing" -- to arrive at its current strategic mix.

"So we're talking in the U.S. and Canada about 75 total partners," he said. "It doesn't mean we don't add additional ones going forward; it means we'll be more strict about partners adhering to responsibility, and Trapeze will deliver on the things we promise by giving them more resources to deal with."

The other major change is that Trapeze's channel sales force is expanding thanks to how the company is now leveraging Belden. Trapeze is still a separate P&L under Belden, Glynn explained, but with a sales force 10 times the size of Trapeze's, it makes sense to use Belden's marketing and inside and outside sales apparatus to assist in Trapeze deals and channel engagement.

"We had to at some point make the break and say, 'We can't keep saying that Trapeze is different,' " he said. "We need to transition to the more mainstream of the Belden organization."

NEXT: Winning Partner Loyalty

Trapeze's moves come as many solution providers see wireless market share won and lost not only on the strength of products, but on the strength of channel engagement. With so many vendors in the hypercompetitive space -- and so many products that fundamentally aren't all that different from one another -- it's the vendors that create a true support apparatus that win partner loyalty.

That's a theory to which James Vaughan subscribes.

Vaughan, vice president of sales and marketing at Preferred Technology Solutions, a Richardson, Texas-based solution provider and Trapeze Platinum partner, leads with Trapeze for most of his indoor wireless accounts and credits Trapeze with doing "a lot more for the channel than 80 percent of the vendors I do business with."

"Customers are very pleased with the product," he said. "They came out with their Platinum program, bought me some more margin, and I'm not sure what else they could do right now to make me happier. They do all the hand-holding necessary. We deal with a lot of vendors in this industry and with a lot of them, it's, you sign up and then you never seen them again."

Vaughan said Preferred Technology Solutions first came to know Trapeze through OEM relationships but was interested enough in its wireless capabilities to contact Trapeze directly. The company has grown its Trapeze sales by 80 percent since signing on with Trapeze three years ago.

"I can go to any other wireless vendor; I get calls from all of them on an almost daily basis," he said. "But as long as things are taken care of, you stick with what you like. Most of these products are competitive, and in a lot of them, there's not two ounces worth of differences. They say there is, but when you lift the covers up, generally there isn't. If someone's taking care of you and growing your business, well, if it's not broke, you don't fix it."