How many high-tech vendors can still claim great channel relationships with some of their original VARs? Ones that have been with them since the very beginning of their channel program. Well, Autodesk just feted seven resellers that each recently celebrated their 25th year of doing business with the 26-year-old software company, which logs $2 billion in 2-D and 3-D design product sales every year. Roughly 85 percent of that amount goes through its roughly 1,768 channel partners.
I spoke with both Steve Blum, vice president of America sales (note, he doesn’t have “just” a channel title) as well as one of the VARs in question, a Premier Solutions Provider called Kelar Corp., for perspective on what has given this relationship staying power.
One of my observations, after speaking with both sides, is that channel marriages aren’t conducive to the “opposites attract” philosophy. If a reseller’s sales objectives are diametrically opposed to that of their vendor partner, that doesn’t make for a great long-term combination. “Besides the fact that Autodesk has a topnotch product, we are very much alike technically,” says Mo Mansouri, president of Kelar Pacific in San Diego. “The ideas that we have go along with what they’re doing.” (Incidentally, while Mansouri hasn’t been with Kelar for the full 25 years, he has been with this relationship for 17 of those years.)
Which is not to say that Autodesk doesn’t encourage its resellers to think for itself. Blum says that the seven companies that were recently recognized — Applied Software Technology, Autodraft, CADD Centers of Florida, IRISCO, Kelar, KETIV Technologies of California, and Robotech CAD Solutions – shared a passion to grow and evolve along with Autodesk’s product line. “These folks have all been able to evolve based on market conditions,” Blum says.
One program that Autodesk put in place for partners to keep ahead has been an education series called Foundations for Success, which encourages its partners to focus on business development activities for their employees as well as ideas for how to run their businesses better from an entrepreneurial standpoint. The latest twist to that initiative, which started Feb. 1, focuses on helping resellers develop first-time sales managers, Blum says.
Autodesk also continues to carefully stage its product releases, working with top-tier vertically oriented solutions partners first when bringing new software to market and then opening it up to other partners over time. In a sense, the first set of VARs are Autodesk’s evangelists in the field, and they are recognized for taking risks within Autodesk’s deal registration program. Volume partners are encouraged to focus on a different set of skills and challenges. “Volume means very different things to me here at Autodesk than it might to another company,” Blum says.
The final equation comes down to commitment on both sides. Autodesk has actually invested, at least in terms of resources, in helping a reseller explore a new practice area, according to Mansouri. “They commit to a dealer if they see potential in your growth. They invest in the partnership,” he says.
How unique is Autodesk? What other vendors are worth the investment? E-mail your thoughts to Heather Clancy, a long-time channel observer and communications strategist for SWOT Management Group.