Long viewed as the doyenne of online transactions, Netscape Communications is hitting the streets in search of resellers, as the company rolls out a fully-fledged channel program.
While the company was probably as responsible as any for building the acceptance of downloading software over the Internet, channel sales manager Greg Howard says such a model is not suitable for Netscape's needs.
"Our approach is to clearly establish a strong distribution base," said Howard. "We need organisations that have the systems, the strong financial backing and the capacity to service the reseller channel."
To this end Netscape recently appointed i.t. connXions as a national distributor [see story Making new connXions March 19, 1997], joining Express Data. Howard said this was a right-sizing decision, and one also driven by the changes within Com Tech. "What we were attempting to do was respond commercially to the change in their business model, and to provide our reseller base with choice and competition."
Factors such as the decreasing margins on hardware and software products and need to integrate complete solutions mean the downloadable software model is simply not sufficient, Howard said. "We're very cognisant of the services, support, training and consulting opportunities for the channel."
Hence, the company has moved away from the direct sales model it once pursued both here and in the US during its start-up phase. "We have really changed the focus of our business. It is channel driven - that's where the energy of the organisation is now focused, and that's largely been in recognition of how our product sets have changed," said Howard.
He stresses that the company is serious in its intentions. "We will be without doubt the strongest channel advocate in the country," said Howard. "Being put to the test is what we're looking forward to."
For resellers and integrators, Howard sees the opportunity for coming through being able to add the Netscape range to what they already do. And because the Netscape product set is based on industry standards, he says these opportunities will be greater than with Netscape's competitors. "Open standards mean business to business communications, it means internal communication like it hasn't been before, and it means resellers for the very first time have the capability of truly delivering a business solution," he said.
Howard says resellers will also benefit from the significant mindshare Netscape has already won. "We have a tremendous install base out there. Today we have over 75 per cent corporate market share of organisations using our browser. And you'll see that the browser itself is delivering a range of additional services - it is becoming the universal client from that sense."
Netscape will operate a two-tier program, said Howard. "What we're looking for is a small number of strategic resellers that we'll refer to as Netscape Intranet Integrators. The message behind the name is that we want to tell our customers who we feel they need to deal with from a national support point of view."
The second tier is made up by Netscape Intranet Providers, primarily smaller companies but with rapid development capabilities.
"The real opportunities for our resellers and systems integrators is to come on board and invest in what is undoubtedly going to be the next wave," said Howard. "We're not opening the floodgates. Our focus is to invite targeted players to participate. And frankly the response has been a little overwhelming."
Once resellers sign on with Netscape, Howard expects they will show their commitment, through attitude, business development programs, and training. "These are the fundamentals that we are going to ask our channel to comply with," said Howard, "and they have - they want to. We're not putting in vendor-centric hurdles.
"We view training as a clear sign of commitment from our channel," he said. "But we're very cognisant with the time and the cost of having an engineer out of the field. So a lot of the education that we'll be providing will be done online."
Howard said Netscape has already commenced a series of sales, technical and hands-on training sessions, talking about intranets and the competitive advantage they can deliver to business.
"Netscape is building a dynamic channel business," said Howard, "and we've put in place a business and marketing framework. Our goal is to be vendor of choice, and the way we'll do that through our reseller channel is to assist them in their capability to provide service and support, training and so on."