In March, 1993, Lotus Development's vice-president Don Bulens was charged with the responsibility of growing the company's Notes business throughout the world. When Bulens attended the recent Lotus PartnerConnect forum held in Leura, NSW, Australian Reseller News asked him about the success of Notes Business Partners program, and the specialising and partnering of resellersARN: What growth have you had with the Business Partner program?
Bulens: When we started the program in 1993, we had 500 business partners. At the beginning of 1996 we had 12,000. At the end of the year we want to see it get to 16,000.
ARN: Will that be the end of the expansion?
Bulens: No! We'll keep on going. The reason for this - and it's often a point of debate with some of our partners - is that what was one market for us is now three markets. Our market for Notes in the past was people buying or building business solutions on Notes, such as a customer management system, a sales-force system, or an ISO 9000 solution.
The second market now is client/server messaging. The third is the Internet and extra enterprise - applications which extend outside the organisation.
All three have different types of skill-set requirements and different types of organisations to support them. Some partners will play in all, but the capacity that's required in order to support the volume across all three markets is enormous.
Our committed business plan to IBM is to have 30 million seats of Notes by 1998. The supportive workforce for those 30 million is 135,000 equivalent full-time. And we believe that this will be dominantly driven by our partners.
ARN: There's a growing number of developers releasing Notes-based applications. What's your attitude towards those which are developed by non-Lotus business partners?
Bulens: First of all, we [at Lotus] are trying to "brand" those people who are partnered with us; offering them support and information which is not accessible to the general market. And we are guiding our customers to work with these partners. The reason for this is that our partners have our support. They know where our products are heading and they have access to our support and development organisations.
If other developers release products or tools - and they are - then that's great. But it's a case of "buyer beware".
ARN: How are you taking this message to your customer base?
Bulens: There are several ways. Partners are "threaded" through all of our marketing messages. We place calls to action saying: "There's an industry of over 10,000 partners who can develop solutions for you." We mention this in our marketing collateral and all of our presentations to customers.
In fact, when Lou Gerstner [president of IBM] delivers presentations and talks about Lotus, he also talks about business partners. In addition we do a lot of branding around "Certified Lotus Professional", "Runs With Notes", "Business Partners" and "Premium Partners" in order to provide a better impression.
We very much try to put our partners in front of our business messages.
ARN: What's your main message to Lotus business partners?
Bulens: Focus. Everything is focus. The more they focus, the easier it is for us to work with them.
ARN: Are you encouraging your partners to work together when something falls outside their area of core competency?
Bulens: This is what we're striving for.
ARN: How successful is it proving?
Bulens: It's moving forward, and it's a difficult journey. It's against nature.
ARN: Don't you believe though that business partners may be reluctant to partner with another organisation in fear of losing a customer?
Bulens: One of the presentations being given today by three of our partners is based on making money from Notes services. Their message is: "You must partner! We all partner and that's why we're the leading Notes partners in Australia. You must do this."
We see that all of our leading partners around the world, in every market, are partnering with each other - because they see the need to focus on their own area of core competency.
But, yes. In the [United] States there is a strong tendency for people to say: "No. It's my customer and I'm going to be very protective." Unfortunately though, it's those people who will go out of business.
ARN: How successful has the program been in Australia, in relation to the rest of the world?
Bulens: In some ways the people in Lotus Australia saw the need earlier than was seen back at headquarters. There was a very specific focus on building a partner program here that came about from Gerhard Rumpf [ex-Lotus (Australia) managing director] and the management team here. They recognised they didn't have enough expertise on staff to really succeed in the market with Notes, so they set about building alliances with partners.
So there was a Notes VAR program before there was the official umbrella of an official Notes partner program. As we built the program in the [United] States and began to expand it out, we were able to begin to deliver more than was able to be delivered here on a local scale.
ARN: Do you see your business partners forming second-tier relations with non-Lotus partner resellers?
Bulens: First of all, we have just announced that anyone can now sell Lotus Notes, any commercial reseller, and they don't have to be a partner. If you're creditworthy with Com Tech [Lotus Notes' distributor], then you're going to get Lotus Notes to sell to your customer.
The only drawback for those resellers though is that they don't receive the support and marketing material that our partners receive. What we see happening is that many of them, as they sell and continue to have success with Notes, will want to have support and pre-release products. So they will become Notes partners.
On the other hand, we believe there will be many times that they will form alliances in the fashion that you suggest. If their core competency is reselling - such as a dealer who deploys and installs PCs and software, or network equipment and software - they might build alliances with other partners who deliver services, or who have commercially ready applications. So, yes. We absolutely envisage that.
ARN: Do you see superstores fitting into this model?
Bulens: Absolutely. CompUSA for example actually has training centres now, where it runs Notes training classes. So it's become a business partner. The company is moving up the value chain by growing both its business and margins.
CompUSA saw that most training companies didn't run weekend training classes, so it introduced weekend classes and evening classes. But it also built relationships with other business partners in areas which aren't in its own core competency.
ARN: How important is it then for resellers in general and your own business partners to concentrate on their own areas of expertise?
Bulens: All the editors of the channel-specific publications in the [United] States are telling their readers to "specialise, specialise, specialise". If they don't . . . they'll simply go out of business some day!
For further information regarding the Lotus Partner Program, including the benefits provided to Partners by Lotus, contact Lotus Development on Tel: (02) 350 7700 Fax: (02) 299 8881