It's been a busy month for Unica: Just a little more than two weeks after reporting $33 million in third-quarter revenue -- a 46 percent year-over-year increase, and an 8 percent rise over the previous quarter -- and a few days after landing the top spot in the Marketing Automation category in CRM magazine's 2008 CRM Market Awards, the Waltham, Mass.-based provider of enterprise marketing management solutions has unveiled a new Partner Program. The arrangement -- the first phase of which is set to launch on October 1 -- is designed to provide partners the support they need to complement Unica’s continuing growth, according to Dan Burton, the company's senior manager of global partner marketing.
Unica already has an existing network of partners, Burton says, and they are categorized as belonging to one or more of the following five groups:
- marketing service providers;
- systems integrators;
- resellers and distributors;
- complementary technology providers; and
- marketing agencies.
From there, each partner is assigned to a particular tier -- platinum, gold, or silver -- based on the extent of its business, sales-and-marketing, and technical investment with Unica. Burton explains that, like any traditional tiered system, partners receive more benefits as they progress to higher partnership levels; that said, Burton is quick to note that many of the individual benefits are also on a tiered system, ensuring that even silver partners will find the program “very attractive.” Some partner benefits include:
- free training days;
- an assigned partner manager;
- a discount to attend Unica’s Marketing Innovation Summit (MIS);
- quarterly partner newsletters; and
- access to Unica’s partner portal.
In addition, gold and platinum partners will share monthly calls with product management.
The new partner program is designed, in part, to help expand Unica’s worldwide presence, Burton says -- enabling the company to make inroads into regions where its own sales force has yet to penetrate. Burton stresses, however, that geographic expansion isn’t the company’s top priority. The main goal, he says, is to find partners that have strong marketing-domain expertise that will contribute to Unica’s own growth. Still, he says he sees the partnership being particularly beneficial in the Asia-Pacific region, where Unica’s solution is sold and serviced primarily through partners. The company doesn’t break out the share of its revenue derived from partners, but Burton says that those partners are a strong contributing factor to, as he puts it, “getting us where we need to be.”
Ellen Carney, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, says she was particularly impressed by the meticulous development of the program. “There’s some real skin in the game for the partners,” she says, addressing a common problem of partnerships: In the months following the fanfare of an announcement, some so-called partnerships fail to produce any tangible results -- or, worse, any support at all for the smaller partner. One circumstance that develops when no real “investment” is made, she says, is evident in the dynamic between a large partner and a smaller one: Despite the ongoing cost to manage these partners, smaller ones are sometimes put on the backburner until there’s a use for them.
Carney describes several situations in which smaller partners can be shortchanged: They may have been unaware at the start that the partnership only entitled them access to one part of the business, or in just one region, or that competitors were involved in a similar contract. “The unfortunate thing when you’re dealing with a larger partner is that you can’t necessarily control all parts of the organization,” she says, despite the fact that partners may be committed through program fees and licensing revenue. As long as everything's properly spelled out, though, she says that what these smaller partners really get in return is a “terrific amount of support" that helps them develop into better businesses.
There are a variety of exchanges that benefit partners, Carney says, including:
- branding opportunities;
- joint account planning;
- business and technical support;
- education and training;
- shoulder-to-shoulder marketing and selling;
- joint value proposition;
- new solutions and new revenue; and
- entrance into new markets and new geographies.
Indeed, Burton says that Unica spent between six months and a year determining what partners wanted to see included in the Partner Program. At the end of the last MIS conference in April, partners stayed on for an extra day of one-on-one and group discussions. In addition, he says, the company spoke to many industry analysts -- Carney among them. In fact, she says she recalls Unica speaking to her about the program about five months ago, and even then the program seemed to her to be, as she puts it, “round enough to roll.”
As mentioned previously, the first phase of the program will kick off on October 1 for marketing service providers and resellers. A month or two later, Burton says, the systems integrators will join in, followed by the complementary technology providers, and, eventually, the marketing agencies. He explains that it’s typical for partner programs to roll out in phases, though usually on a geographic basis, for reasons such as bandwidth concerns -- it’s a big undertaking, he says, which requires the alignment of resources from every department in the organization. Today's announcement gives Unica about six weeks to get the word out and to attract the attention -- and commitment -- of partners worldwide. Moreover, with a handful of partners already in the midst of beta testing, Unica is working to ensure that when the doors officially open, the partner program will run as smoothly as possible.
No matter how good the plan may look on paper, Carney says, there’s only one true measure of its quality: “The ultimate arbiter of whether a partner program is successful or not, frankly, is the end user,” she says. It all comes down to one simple question, she adds: “Did we work well together?”
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