3Com Weighs Value Over Volume Program

Instead, 3Com wants to reward partners for their expertise in vertical markets and technologies such as VoIP and security, Nick Tidd, vice president of Americas channel sales at the company, told CRN. "We have been negligent in not presenting our partners properly to customers and are taking very big steps to improve that."

As it stands, a broadly focused Gold partner is not necessarily a better fit for a customer than a Silver or Bronze solution provider with a strong vertical or technology practice, he said.

The company is in the midst of a channel overhaul that began in September with a dramatic increase in volume requirements for Gold and Silver partners. At that time, Tidd promised future changes that would add rewards for value.

"3Com is in chaos," said one partner who requested anonymity. "They're grasping for the right chemistry to bring to partners."

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It's a sentiment 3Com is working to address, Tidd said. "We're establishing today an architecture and a framework that lends itself to have add-on modules so that it stays consistent within the portfolio," he said.

The Marlborough, Mass.-based vendor's plans to eliminate the familiar partner categories riled some partners, who are concerned that the changes could nullify the time and money they've invested in the program.

"It reminds me of Woodstock. Those who bought into it suffered most," said John Graven, COO of solution provider Telephony Concepts, Mentor, Ohio, referring to the legendary 1969 concert which pre-sold tickets but opened the gates for free to throngs of mobbing fans.

After being encouraged to broaden their portfolios to hit volume requirements, some partners said pressure to focus on verticals might be too limiting.

Tidd said he's tapping partners to help 3Com shape the new categories. The elimination of the current monikers is at least a year away, he said.

In the meantime, 3Com is increasing its channel group budget by 12 percent sequentially this quarter. Channel spending has increased over the past four quarters and will continue to rise, Tidd said.

Some partners said they are reaping the benefits, particularly from an MDF program launched in the fall. "I'm feeling more positive about 3Com now than I have in a long time," said Steve Marks, president of Starnet Data Design, Westlake Village, Calif. Last quarter, Starnet reaped $20,000 from the MDF program, money the solution provider is using for marketing and advertising.

The company also launched 3Earnings, a program that provides rebates to partners for meeting criteria such as revenue growth and staffing more certified personnel than required around key technology areas.

At next month's 3Com Live partner event in Las Vegas, the company plans to extend the program to security partners, following a "soft launch" to VoIP partners two months ago, Tidd said. The program later could expand again to include wireless technology, he said.