NetApp Tweaks Channel Program, Aims For Consistency

Changes to the program include a new portal, better ways to generate content and marketing programs, and a new name to reflect the vendor's diverse partner base, said Julie Parrish, NetApp's vice president of worldwide channel sales.

The changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary, as NetApp has a pretty stable channel program, Parrish said.

For instance, NetApp just went through its annual leveling activity, where it looks at its 2,800 partners worldwide to see what changes need to be made in their relationships. "We didn't kick anyone out," she said. "Less than 10 percent of them went up or down a level."

NetApp has changed the name of its program, dropping the VIP, or Very Important Partner, moniker in favor of NetApp Partner Program.

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"VIP was synonymous with 'VAR,' " Parrish said. "But all partners are important partners. The new name is better for all the types of partners we have, including IBM, and the increasing number of MSP and ISP partners we are working with."

The new NetApp Partner Program has been changed to make it easier for solution providers to use, Parrish said.

For instance, it includes a new field portal that provides the same marketing and sales content and tools to partners that NetApp personnel use. Also new is a dynamic content generator for helping partners develop their own marketing materials, including case studies and product information that can be sent directly to customers via the partner Web site, Parrish said.

Also new is Campaign Express, which helps partners build marketing campaigns with ready-made materials that can either be sent as is with the solution provider's logo or can be modified by the partner for its own look and feel, she said.

The company also is now offering on-demand videos and various books and CDs to help solution providers learn what they need to get certified or accredited without taking formal classes.

"I don't care if partners sit in class or go online," Parrish said. "I want them to pass a test."

Hayes Drumwright, CEO of Trace|3, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and NetApp partner, said he is not surprised to see the vendor take a conservative approach to tweaking its channel program.

"NetApp has always had the best channel program of any vendors we either work with or have heard about," Drumwright said.

For instance, NetApp is a pioneer in providing market development funds on a per-project basis, Drumwright said. "That's good," he said. "If you can show ROI on a project, it's a big plus. A lot of us are looking for new customers, making that a big plus."

NetApp also is very open about making MDFs available to partners who run end-user events, even if NetApp is only one of several vendors, Drumwright said.

Consistency in NetApp's programs is important during a time when many vendors are pulling back on channel support, Drumwright said.

"NetApp is trying to make things more predictable," he said. "This helps us build up longer-term plans up front. With many vendors, we might have to wait four or five months before we know if we are getting funding. NetApp is predictable, and I know I don't have to wait a half-year to make plans."

Meanwhile, NetApp has been focusing strongly on getting partners to take on more professional services responsibilities.

Over the last year, NetApp has added about 100 partners to its Authorized Professional Services Partner program, and NetApp's professional services revenue through the channel has grown about 27 percent faster than it has through its direct reps, Parrish said.

Just last month, the company said it will no longer compensate its direct sales reps for professional services they sell to commercial accounts. "This shows we are not competing with our partners," Parrish said.