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CRN Exclusive: Dropbox Investing Heavily In Channel, Prepping New Partner Portal, Programs

Dropbox has been slowly building a channel business, but hasn't invested as much as needed to build relationships with the businesses it needs for future growth. That is about to change.

Cloud-based storage and collaboration specialist Dropbox is stepping up support of the channel as the best way to build its business-focused market.

The move to invest heavily in indirect sales channels is being spearheaded by Simon Aldous, head of global channels for the San Francisco-based company, who told CRN that he joined Dropbox three years ago after channel-focused stints at Ingram Micro, Toshiba, Tech Data, and Microsoft to set up his company's channels from scratch.

After launching Drobox Business, the company realized that it needed to better reach out to potential business clients, and built a telephone-based direct sales team which saw success, Aldous said.

[Related: The 20 Coolest Cloud Storage Vendors Of The 2019 Cloud 100]

"But we became aware from customer feedback that many businesses bought all or part of their products from resellers, or used third-party companies for part of their business," he said. "So our channel business was born."

Dropbox currently works with the channel through two-tier distribution, including Ingram Micro and Synnex in the U.S., Aldous said. The company also recently added D&H as a distributor primarily for its SMB clients.

Dropbox is working with Ingram Micro for its cloud platform -- which also works with D&H -- Aldous said. "Ingram Micro's CloudBlue is the largest cloud platform out there," he said.

The common consensus is that it takes seven years to build a channel from scratch, and Dropbox is already three years into the process, Aldous said.

"It's been a good start," he said. "It's been a learning process. We've had lots of internal communications about how to add to the channel and minimize conflicts."

Channel partners in 2019 will see the results of those communications, Aldous said.

First, the company is looking to completely revamp its partner portal to improve how partners go live with the Dropbox offerings and gain access to tools and materials, he said.

"We'll launch a new partner portal at the end of this month built on the Salesforce PRM platform," he said. "This will help partners better gain access to benefits, improved deal registration, support tickets, and local language materials. This is a massive step forward. The portal will be the destination to address all things Dropbox."

Second, Dropbox is revamping its partner program with a couple new iterations planned in 2019, Aldous said.

The company currently has three levels of partners, including registered partners who sign up for the program and get some training; select partners who get more training, close more business, and bring in reference customers; and elite partners who focus on building services accreditations, he said.

"We want to redefine how partners can go between levels," he said. "And we want to redefine the benefits. There currently is no monetary difference for partners at different levels. We want to create a best-of-breed program for the SaaS world, and give partners what they need to be successful in selling Dropbox. We will address what we want to do to ensure different benefits between levels. We're still defining this."  

  Aldous declined to talk about how large the average partner is, although he said Dropbox's business has typically grown via smaller partners.  

"Most of our partners are serving SMBs are smaller themselves," he said. "We also work with larger partners like CDW, Zones, Insight, and so on."

About 40 percent of Dropbox's channel partners self-certify themselves as MSPs, Aldous said.

"We position Dropbox as their content and collaboration platform," he said. "Our message to their customers is, how do you manage your content? Dropbox can be the underpinning platform in that business."

Dropbox believes in customer choice, and so will work directly with business clients who prefer that style, Aldous said.

"Any customer from a three-man shop to a 50-seat department in a large bank can go to dropbox.com with their credit card," he said. "That's still our largest customer acquisition model."

For larger customers, Dropbox will talk direct to them with its outbound team to sell the value proposition of the company's offerings, Aldous said.

"For larger customers, if they have an outside partner, or need a partner for a project, our outbound sales team will engage partners for them," he said. "If the customer doesn't have a preferred IT partner, we can recommend one. If they have, we can sign the partner up and provide the training and support to bring that partner in."

Dropbox has been bringing more resources to the channel, which is an important move for the company, said Anoush D'Orville, CEO of Advisory, a New York-based MSP which has worked with the vendor for over two years because it came up so frequently in customer conversations.

D'Orville told CRN that the Dropbox partner council, of which he is a member, is made up of MSPs who have been trying to steer the vendor to be more responsive to business requirements.

"Dropbox has been assigning more resources to the channel, especially in terms of support," he said. "This has been an important move."

At the end of the day, the channel is a way for vendors to engage a larger customer base, D'Orville said. And, he said, working with a company like Dropbox is a good fit for driving MSPs' businesses.

"There are a lot of comparable products out there," he said. "But integration and support are important. It's hard for a vendor to directly go after smaller customers without several thousand sales people. So for the 60-70-seat customers, this fits our model."

MSPs are the best channel for bringing products like Dropbox to market, D'Orville said.

"MSPs will support the product, and will be the vendors' champions," he said. "We only have eight people. But we have an outsized presence in New York. Dropbox is a huge public company. We take the pressure off Dropbox to work with the smaller clients. We can be their champion."

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