For a company like Eicon Technology, which relies solely on its channel to move its products, good relationships within that channel are essential for generating sales. So while Eicon may seek to remain on friendly terms with its partners, a more proactive approach is needed if it is to maintain their mindshare.
Hence the Eicon Business Partner (EBP) program was established in Australia in April. Eicon has set about building a program that revolves more on cooperation than sales volume.
And according to a number of Eicon's EBP members, it is also an approach that works.
For network integrator JNA especially, it represents a chance to consolidate a relationship that goes back over ten years. JNA was the first company to introduce the Eicon product line into Australia, and remained its sole reseller up until two years ago.
JNA itself began life back in the 1960s repairing analog telephone line filters, but has grown into a company that provides network services for many of Australia's top businesses. In doing so it has entered into relationships with the likes of Bay Networks and Cisco Systems, and Eicon.
Manager of marketing and products at JNA Bill Hayne is high in his praise of the partner Eicon model. "While we have good working relationships with a whole range of suppliers, the Eicon channel model is probably the best one. It's very clear, very clean, and there's very little conflict.
"We were their first reseller in Australia and for the following ten years, and it's very clear that over that time the whole distribution model was going to change. Eicon changed with it, and therefore our relationship with Eicon changed. But we see it as a well structured channel model for both technical support and supply."
This absence of conflict results from Eicon having appointed only small numbers of partners in each state - a definite advantage, according to JNA product manager Andrew Eaton. "It's cleaned up the channel - we don't have 1,500 resellers trying to knock the door down on the customers. There's not a lot of overlap, so Eicon is focusing on our strengths, and there's more of an emphasis on support and marketing, generating leads and partnering."
Eicon has designed the program to free up 60 per cent of its marketing attention for end-user awareness and education programs. Hayne is confident this will have flow-on benefits to JNA's customers. "It's a managed focus of both JNA and Eicon's resources to deal with the customer's position. They know when dealing with an EBP that they've got a skilled supplier. I think it will be easier for the customers to find the appropriate partner through Eicon's marketing part of the program, and they can have confidence in the support arrangements that are in place, because they understand that the EBP resellers have the technical skills and the support of Eicon. And I think that also demonstrates a commitment to the marketplace. All these things add up to confidence. "This partner program is a good thing for customers, it's a good thing for Eicon, and it's a good thing for JNA."
JNA isn't the only network integrator singing the praises of the EBP program. Support at Melbourne-based solution provider Praxa is just as enthusiastic. Senior account manager in enterprise solutions Ian Tait says the new program is a chance for Praxa to formalise the interest its clients have shown in the Eicon product range. "It's been coming up in a number of systems integration solutions, and Eicon has always been mentioned as the best-of-breed in that type of solution. And so we had a number of major bids where Eicon was put forward as being the sensible solution. We got to the point where Eicon said: 'Why don't you become a member of the EBP program?' And it seemed a very sensible thing for us to do."
Tait said that as Praxa's involvement in the program is only months old, it is too early to determine the practical benefits of being a member. "What it has done is increase the focus within what we do here, and there's a lot more awareness of the Eicon product. It's very early days to say if we've leveraged a great deal more sales yet, but it's strategic, in that Eicon are investing more for the long term rather than the short term sales gain."
The long term is where Tait sees Praxa reaping the rewards. "I think there will be some significant tenders where our credibility will be stronger because of our tie-up with Eicon. When you put forward a multimillion dollar bid the credibility needs to be there, rather than a package of short term partners. It's much better than if you've got some installed base and a strategic relationship in place."
Overall, Tait says he sees the EBP scheme as the kind that Praxa needs. "It's based on a cooperative model; they seem to understand the way we work. To a large degree they will do the lead generation and expect us to follow up. We're not seen as the primary lead generators, unlike the old sort of reseller model where they said to go and sell it, and if we didn't make the numbers they'd take that away.
"It's a nice cooperative model - a part of the networking solution where we can offer the best- of-breed. And that model works very well."
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