Focus On The MSP: 5 Recent Partner-Friendly Changes At Axcient

Under the leadership of David Bennett, who early this year joined Axcient as CEO, the company has made significant changes including making its technology easier to sell and to try and revamping its channel team to bring more focus on customers, not sales.

Simplifying Life For The MSP

David Bennett in February joined Denver-based Axcient as CEO after a nine-year run at Webroot. Three months before he joined, Axcient, a developer of data protection and enterprise file sync and share technologies, had just completed its merger with MSP-focused eFolder.

Bennett Thursday told CRN that his goal from the start was to make working with his company as easy as possible for MSPs, something that was not always a priority.

"We made it hard to use our technology," he said. "And when you used our technology, it was really hard to understand how do I price it for my end-user. [But by] the end of the year, I believe, if you went out and asked MSPs, they would say, 'Axcient is the easiest vendor to deal with, [one] that truly understands my business."

Bennett told CRN about multiple initiatives aimed at helping MSPs more easily engage with the vendor and more easily work with clients. For a look at those initiatives, check out our slideshow.

Simplified SKUs

Axcient now has a technology stack integrated end-to-end with a unified look and feel, and one that is fully automated, as well as a simple product line, Bennett said.

However, it wasn't always so simple, he said. "When I joined, we had 1,500 SKUs," he said. "We have 11 now. If you're a small service provider, how the Hell do you work with a company that has 1,500 SKUs?"

Axcient cut all those SKUs from the product line card in a number of ways, Bennett said. This included eliminating SKUs related to pricing, as well as cutting out tier-based SKUs based on data retention times, he said.

Simplified Pricing

When Bennett joined Axcient, he said, he asked partners what are the main pain points related to buying backup technology, and found pricing to be a major issue. Most vendors bill for storage based on the number of users or on total capacity, both of which lead to overages, he said. Most storage companies also charge based on how long information is retained, with different pricing for tiers like two-year, five-year, 10-year, or 20-year retention, he said.

"I said, what about if we killed the notion of overages or storage capacity," he said. "What about if you priced it by the number of, say, [servers] you back up. It doesn't matter how big they are. So if you on-board a legal firm that has millions of documents, you know you've got the same price because you're backing up 50 servers. It's a defined price point."

The easiest way to think about price simplification is to look at how MSP contracts with Axcient have changed, Bennett said.

"Before, you could get one contract, and on one contract, the pricing could be based off of four or five different elements to give you that price," he said. "The problem with that, particularly for an MSP, is, how do you charge the end-user? ... It's really hard. So how can they understand if they are even profitable selling our technology? It's easy now to say, you have 30 servers, it's this price, and it's unlimited storage, unlimited retention. It should be really easy for them to say, 'OK, now I know what I need to go and charge my end-users.'"

One Portal

Starting in October, Axcient will bring all its offerings to MSPs via a single portal, for now called the Business Availability Portal, Bennett said.

"It's not very easy to remember," he said. "We should probably think of a better name."

There will be a single portal where MSPs can log on to manage all of Axcient's technology with the same look and feel, Bennett said. "There'll be the ability to see all of your invoices, all of your billables," he said. "You'll have all of your training elements in the same place. It has an automated marketing portal where we can set up campaigns to the end user. One log-on for everything."

Free Trials

Prior to Bennett joining Axcient, the company had trouble working with the smallest MSPs in large part because it did not offer them free trials of its offerings. "You couldn't try any of our technology," he said. "Speaking of dumbest things, that's clearly one of them."

Six weeks ago, Axcient started offering free trials, Bennett said.

"Now you can go on our site and trial our Office 365 solution, our secure sync and share solution, and our BDR (backup and disaster recovery) solution on-line," he said. "What is interesting is, before, when you didn't have a trial, you had to jump through like 100 hoops to get a trial. We did maybe three a quarter. We're averaging now about 120 a month. And we have been ramping it up."

The free trials in just six weeks have already resulted in conversions to sales, although Bennett said he wasn't sure the exact number.

"The best thing is, we're getting direct feedback from people interacting with the technology who know what's good and what's bad," he said. "So if you think about the whole simplification thing, you can understand, if you've got a bad on-boarding thing, well, we need to check how we on-board someone. If the UI (user interface) is hard to use, the trial process is a great way to get the feedback."

Axcient wants to get its technology into as many hands as possible to try it, Bennett said. "Even if [the customers] don't buy it, that's immensely useful for us to understand usability, where does it fit, what market segments, is it appropriate for here. It gives us insight without having to go do customer interviews all the time."

Investing In The Channel

Since Bennett joined Axcient, the company has changed its entire marketing team starting at the top with the appointment in June of Angus Robertson as chief revenue officer. Robertson, who formerly served as Axcient's chief marketing officer, is now the company's channel chief, Bennett said.

Robertson controls four go-to-market functions including sales, marketing, sales engineering teams, and partner success teams, he said.

"When eFolder and Axcient came together, both companies had very different kinds of go-to-market strategies," he said. "eFolder was all very much channel-centric, MSP-focused. The old Axcient was much more of an enterprise kind of team. ... As part of this whole simplification processes, [we said,] who's our customer? How do we engage with them? How do we go out and do business with them?"
Axcient has since changed its whole selling process so that it is now more focused on inside sales, net-new customer acquisition, and an expanded account executive team to look after accounts, Bennett said. This includes looking less at how much business a customer is doing and more at that customer's maturity.
"[Our sales reps are] paid on business expansion within that account," he said. "So if once you get on-boarded as a customer, you then get an account exec. Every account exec then has a partner success manager as well that's there to help around on-boarding, enablement, training, how to use the piece of technology end-to-end. And so you've now got a cohesive team that's purely focused on customer success, not [on] getting a deal done. Because if you do the right things, well, more customers are going to buy from you, right?