I attended Jeff Kaplan’s Cloud Channel Summit today. It was a very interesting conference. Clearly cloud channel sales is in its infancy, but there were some companies here with successful channel strategies including Salesforce.com (1400 partners and counting), Scribe and others. What follows are six tips that stuck with me:
Lesson 1: Think how you will compensate cloud channels
By: Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director THINKStrategies @thinkstrategies
Jeff opened the conference by highlighting the 4 Common Fears of the use of the Channel in Cloud: Cannibalization, Confusion, Disruption of the corporate environment and operations, and Channel conflict. After listening to most of the conference, I would have added to his list: How to compensate the channel to create a win-win relationship (as we discussed in our blog post on 3 Recommendations for Sales Compensation for SaaS from earlier today).
Lesson 2: Your job starts when you sign-up a new customer
By: Ron Huddleston, SVP ISV Alliances, Salesforce.com @Rhuddles1
Your job just begins when you sign-up a new customer: you need to focus on customer success (as a vendor and also working with your partners). With cloud and subscription based businesses, you have to build deeper relationships that last much longer. This is true not only for partners, but also for your relationships with your customers. Also in this context: don’t overestimate ramp & return, don’t underestimate initial investment.
Lesson 3: In the cloud, you have to earn your business on a daily basis
By: Gil Zimmerman, Founder & CEO of CloudLock @giljzim
This one speaks for itself and is re-iterating Ron’s lesson in different words. Customers can vote with their wallets and cancel their subscription, often on a month-to-month basis. I have written on this topic on this blog as well such as in my blog on Customer Engagement is Key for SaaS.
Lesson 4: The primary role of the cloud channel today is integration
By: Carolyn April, Director of Industry Analysis, CompTIA @CarolynAApril
In a CompTIA study Carolyn found that the primary role for channels in cloud today is integration, not sales. This makes sense considering many attendees and speakers felt that we haven’t figured out commission plans for channel sales yet. That being said, I believe there will be major opportunities for the channel in on boarding new customers as well as sales, both initial and up selling, that will increase Customer Lifetime Value and Customer Experience.
Lesson 5: Use the coloring book approach to onboard cloud channels (and customers)
By: Brian Anderson, Global Business Development, Dell
The best way to onboard new partners (but this could also be new customers): take the coloring book approach – give them direction, success stories and examples. I really like this analogy and plan to maybe write about it in the context of on boarding new SaaS customers.
Lesson 6: Let customer success own the relationship with the customer
Michael Blaisdell, The Customer Success Management Initiative
Who owns the customer: sales or support (customer success)? If customer success owns the customer it really changes the tone with the customer and creates much more trust with the vendor. In reality, customer success probably doesn’t own all of the relationship, but it should at the very least be responsible for the ‘farmer type sales’: renewals and incremental sales. Totango is sponsoring some of Michael’s research and we recommend you check it out. It’s fascinating stuff and an important area.
I am at the Cloud Channel Summit today.
A topic that seems to be coming up over and over again today is the need to come up with innovative sales compensation (commission) models that align with the subscription business model of cloud.
While this is mentioned as an issue, not too many solutions were discussed so far (we are only at lunch time) so I went hunting online for some good blog posts on the topic. Here are three posts to get the discussion started:
October 2011 – David Cummings on Inside Sales Rep Comp Model for Startups
Here are some ideas when thinking about the inside sales representative compensation model in a startup:
- Base salaries in the range of $25k – $50k
- Commissions in the range of $25k – $60k (e.g. $40k base salary and $60k in commission for an on-target earnings of $100k)
- Commissions would be 10% – 20% of first-year’s revenues (e.g. $1,000/month SaaS product is $12,000/year with a 15% commission would be an $1,800 commission)
- Commissions should be paid out after the customer’s payment has been received by the startup
July 2011 – Larry Steele (VP of SaaS at Savvis) Tips for Transitioning Your Business to SaaS
It’s not just about compensation: you could technically have a comp-neutral model for perpetual licensing and SaaS bookings. However, you need to examine how Sales is compensated on revenue or bookings. If you set up term limits (i.e., 12 to 36 months) in your subscription billing, then you will want to review your renewal process and make sure your sales team has the right incentives in place to keep the customers you have. Remember, it’s harder to find new customers than it is to keep the precious ones you have.
February 2011 – Joel York Cloud Channel SaaS Channel Compensation
In my post on SaaS Sales compensation, I made the claims that SaaS vendors should a) pay in proportion to the lifetime value of the deal and b) pay entirely up-front, because the SaaS sales rep should not be asked to bear any of the SaaS investment risk, or the rep is likely to just quit and find better work. The same basic ideas holds for the SaaS channel partner with the caveat that it is reasonable to expect the channel to absorb at least some of the risk, if not all of it. So, when it comes to SaaS channel compensation, SaaS vendors should a) pay in proportion to the lifetime value of the deal and b) pay disproportionately, but not entirely up-front because the SaaS channel partner should not be asked to bear a disproportionate amount of the SaaS investment risk, or the channel partner is likely to just quit and find better work.
Somebody also mentioned to me over the break that there may also be models we could learn from in other industries: for example, in commercial real-estate sales people are paid as a percentage of the monthly lease over the lifetime of that lease.
Do you know of any other good recommendations or posts? Please let me know in the comments!