As part of an effort to strengthen its ties to the reseller community, Novell is in the final stages of re-engineering its reseller accreditation scheme. Goodbye Platinum and Gold resellers. Hello NetExperts and NetProviders.
"Over the last year, our reseller base told us the Gold and Platinum accreditation process was getting rather tired. End-users weren't seeing a lot of differentiation between the two and it all became fairly vague," said Nick Jackson, Novell's channel manager. "So rather than trying to 'polish' up the Gold and Platinum schemes, we decided, together with our Reseller Council, to create an aggressive sales and marketing scheme that focuses on resellers' requirements - not vendors' wishes. As a result, we came up with two new tiers - NetExpert and NetProvider - with an emphasis on technical expertise within the network operating system market."
Out with the old, in with the new
"Whereas the old scheme was in many ways focused on revenue requirements, the new one focuses on technical ability," he said. Jackson reports there is no longer a revenue figure included in the accreditation criteria. Instead, reseller organisations are required to have a master Novell-certified network engineer (CNE) on staff, in addition to sales staff who have completed Novell sales training courses.
George Neophytou, technical sales and marketing manager for Connections, a Sydney-based, high-end reseller and systems integrator, welcomes the new scheme. "The old setup became diluted. There were too many parties getting accreditation and it ended up being meaningless," he said. "In the early stages, they only expected a handful of resellers to achieve Platinum status, but it soon became evident that anyone who did a certain level of volume could get it. They didn't necessarily have to exercise any great technical expertise, they just had to sell a certain amount of Novell products. It became an accreditation for volume, as opposed to expertise."
Learning the ropes
Part and parcel of the two new accreditation schemes is Novell's PerfectSell training program, designed to help resellers increase their level of service to clients and thus increase sales. "It's not just a Novell initiative, it's something that the resellers have been crying out for," Jackson said. "Over the years we've heard resellers say, 'You guys are involved in technology training, but you don't do much for our sales people.' So, we've come up with PerfectSell to make sure resellers are well armed to present competitive pitches and understand all the features and benefits of our product range."
Although training for PerfectSell accreditation can cost between $150 and $400 - depending on whether one opts for self-paced training or instructor-led courses - Jackson stresses this is not a money-making venture for Novell. "We're putting this program into the market at cost, it's not a revenue generator," he said. "It's very much of a business-growth initiative to ensure that our resellers have the ammunition they need to compete."
Leading the way
Another strategy Novell has employed on the reseller front is its ManageWise sales lead program. Novell made ManageWise, a networking management product aimed at businesses of all sizes, available free of charge (for 60 days) to 1,200 end-users. At the end of the 60-day period, the users could elect to purchase the software, or return it. The 1,200 end-user accounts were distributed as sales leads to resellers, with the goal of converting trial end-users into confirmed sales.
"The ManageWise promotion is the first real initiative that is being tied to our channel restructure, and we've had an outstanding response," Jackson said. "One thing we've learned from it is that you really do have to follow up leads. We've found that some of the end-users who had trial copies had not been contacted by resellers, and that sort of defeats the purpose of the promotion.
"A company that is a top-level systems integrator with lots of networking expertise may want leads for sites that have many hundreds of end-users, but may not follow up a lead for a smaller company with perhaps 20 or 25 seats," Jackson said. "What we're trying to do with our lead generation program is define who among our reseller base is prepared to follow up leads of what size and what technology."
David Goss, network manager for Adelaide-based reseller and systems integrator MicroBits, said the ManageWise promotion has been beneficial, but has a couple of suggestions. "One of the confusing things about the mechanics of the promotion was that the end-user actually had to generate a purchase order to get the trial copy. That can create a lot of hassles for certain end-users, especially government agencies. Generating a purchase order for what is, in fact, a demo product can present a number of problems," Goss said. "We also found that we stood a much better chance of converting the trial users into sales if we installed the product for them. It's fine for them to take the software on trial, but if they can't install it properly, they won't be able to use it properly. For us, installation led to sales."