Channels—With or Without Support?
"My company is about to take on a few resellers to supplement
our enterprise sales force. Some of my colleagues argue that
our resellers should provide support, while others here want
us to provide all support directly. A third group says we
should leave the choice up to individual resellers. Any advice?"
—Norton from Nantucket
Your question doesnít indicate what types of products and market
your company plays in, so my response if pretty general.
It is my experience that you will likely see a mix of resellers
that 1) have the capabilities and desire to provide various levels
of support, 2) others will want to do all support, and 3) yet
others will not have the capabilities and/or desire to provide
-Value for your company-
Your company most likely wants to do this to increase sales for
your company, through sales opportunities in account profiles you
are not currently able to crack, additional geographic locations,
or simply more sales feet on the street. Enabling qualified
resellers to provide support will either bring you to parity with
other vendors that already provide this capability or give you a
competitive advantage over vendors that do not.
-Value for the resellers-
The resellers likely want to add your product to their product
portfolio and some will want to augment their revenue and margin
opportunities through the delivery of support services. I assume
the resellers want to provide the support so they can sell their
own support contract (thereby capturing the revenue and margin).
This also embeds the reseller deeper into the customer accounts.
Itís understandable that different groups in the company have
different views and proclivities depending on their stake in the
In general, I believe you want to be able to accommodate the
requirements of the resellers (to establish allegiance and
preference for doing business with you) by having a defined
program with a number of levels of participation they can qualify
to provide without ending up with too many support models.
My advice is to:
Embrace this opportunity to increase sales but do so carefully.
Not doing it will be seen as impeding sales.
Determine what level(s) of support is feasible for resellers
to provide. This will depend on the complexity of the products,
availability and robustness of support tools, training available,
Try to build reseller profiles so you can determine how many
there may be and their support capabilities and desire to support
Establish minimum support capabilities criteria. (Must have
call handling capabilities, have sufficient number of
qualified/certified support staff, etc.)
Establish training criteria and possibly certification tracks.
Be careful with this as it cannot be cost prohibitive for the
resellers to complete but must ensure they have the knowledge they
need to provide the support they are committing to.
The resellers will need ďbackline supportĒ from your company
for problems/issues/updates they cannot resolve themselves. You need
to determine if and more likely how much you will charge them for
that support and how the fees are determined and paid. (This assumes
of course that they sell their support contract to the end user).
Develop a financial impact analysis to understand the
incremental sales potential and the burden on, and financial impact
to your support organization.
You didnít say what types of products are involved. There are
certainly other aspects of enabling resellers to support your
products depending on whether the product(s) are hardware, software,
require/offer Professional Services, whether your support
organization is a profit center, does service/support requires
feet-on-the-street service people, parts delivery and logistics,
obligation for warranty terms, etc.
Hopefully this should give you a good starting point to stimulate
thinking and develop more questions to promote internal discussion
in order to understand the potential impact on the support
organizationís operations and business.
One last note... Timís response [see below] suggests you sell your
support contract rather than the reseller sell theirs. While I agree
that is preferable and easier to implement from your point of view,
most of the resellers Iíve dealt with want to sell support on their
own paper. I expect this may vary by industry and market segment.
Norton, some suggestions on this one...
1. Keep control of the revenues—invoice the customers
directly and pay a fee back to the resellers. That way you control
the cash flow, rather than having a reseller who may delay payment
to you. This also enables you to be 100% sure of who is current on
a maintenance contract.
2. Ensure there are strict guidelines on what they should
do—define the first line support criteria, including headcount,
how they should reports possible bugs, what actions they should have
taken prior to sending a bug report etc.
3. Define the knowledge level required by the resellerís support
team—ideally they MUST be trained / certified by you.
4. Define the hours you expect them to provide support to the
5. Ensure your own team is able to handle second-line support
for the dealer.
6. Mirror your own service levels and ensure the agreement
allows you to periodically survey the customers to gauge customer
satisfaction with the resellerís performance. Reserve the right to
take back support if they consistently under-perform.
Vice President International Support
Epicor Software (UK) Ltd.
+44 1344 468286
[If you have any other advice on this question, please send an
email to membership director Jane Farber at email@example.com,
and we'll post your feedback.]