Infor Americas Partner Summit: A Definite Crispness in the Air

It may still be the middle of summer, but earlier this week at the Infor Americas Partner Summit, there was a feeling of crispness in the air. I’m sure the beautiful weather in San Diego didn’t hurt, but that sense of crispness really resonated from the clear, crisp and confident messages being delivered from the main stage at the event and seemed to permeate throughout. This was the second one of these Summits I have attended. My first was a year ago. The vibe was definitely different this year.

Much of this new vibe results from the very significant progress the Infor team has made in addressing channel issues and delivering on promises. It was just two short years ago (June 8, 2011) that it announced its new Infor Partner Network (IPN), “a global network of people, systems and services designed to deliver the highest quality support for channel partners.” The goal was to achieve double-digit growth and to double license revenue from its channel partners by 2013.  That goal was achieved, with partners now contributing about 25% of license revenue. In addition the average revenue per year per partner grew 75%. What has been the secret to this success?

Back in 2011, channel chief Jeff Abbott (Senior Vice President, Global Alliances and Channels) saw three basic but inter-related elements of the program:  channel expansion, partner growth and investment in the channel. Having inherited multiple autonomous channel programs spread across different product lines, loose market segmentation and product-centric channel coverage, he and his team set out to transform this into a professionally managed global channel program, with well-defined channel-only sales zones and solution-centric channel coverage. To achieve this, he knew he needed to:

  • Involve the partners in designing the program
  • Clearly define roles and rules of engagement
  • Invest in certification and training
  • Provide the channel with new and more products to sell
  • Enable the partner network with cloud based tools

By the time last year’s Partner Summit rolled around, progress had been made. Rules of engagement and segmentation were defined, as well as product strategy, including a focus on microverticals. The pace of innovation was accelerating. Much had been accomplished in the back office to streamline business booked through the channel, including a “deal desk” to expedite the processing of high volume, low value, low complexity orders. Configuration and pricing tools were announced as planned, along with the proposed roll-out of Salesforce.com. Partners were beginning to see a new Infor. This new Infor listened and took action. But they weren’t quite drinking the Kool-Aid. There was more to done, seen and heard.

Now that Infor management was listening, partners were speaking up. While I wouldn’t call the tone of last year’s event negative or accusatory, partners were still in a “wait and see” mode. They were challenging Infor to do more and the jury was still out as to whether Infor would really deliver. This year, the mood lightened and there was a general sense of trust and belief, largely because it was clear Infor was delivering.

Jeff Abbott’s opening keynote set the stage to prove that. He began by describing IPN program enhancements delivered over the past year, prefacing his comments with, “We listen.”

Here are some highlights:

  • Infor has opened an executive visit center in NYC which is available to all partners. These are impressive new digs for Infor coproate HQ and a visit to NYC will likely include a meet and greet with Charles Phillips, CEO or Stephan Scholl, President. Partners that have availed themselves of this opportunity boast a 90% close rate after such a visit. However, I have to believe the hard part is getting the prospect to commit the time for this, so the actual visit could just be the frosting on the cake.
  • Education was big focus, and Infor admitted it had some catching up to do here. But the team has been steadily building content and certification programs. Infor now offers classroom training (at their education centers, or brought directly to larger partners), as well as online options, including both self-study and virtual, instructor-led classes. The curriculum is only now being extended beyond product and tools training, and some of the long-time partners already know as much, if not more about the products than Infor does. But all can benefit from training in new technology including ION (lightweight middleware), Ming.le (collaboration tools), Motion (mobile platform and development tools). In fact, all must participate in order to become certified.
  • Infor has also delivered implementation accelerators – pre-packaged content for faster time to value, lower cost, reduced risk. This IP is also available to partners. Partners can engage Infor consulting services to assist with 1st engagements on new solutions.
  • In the past getting opportunities “registered” with Infor could be tricky. This was less of a problem within channel-only sales zones (e.g. prospects with annual revenues under $100 million in the US), but there is also a “zone” of opportunities where direct and indirect channels overlap (revenues between $100 and $500 million). This “zone” was extended largely at the request of the partners, but also creates the potential for channel conflict. Infor will extend licenses of Salesforce.com to the channel community, starting in September 2013, in an effort to continue to streamline processes and gain visibility. Salesforce was rolled out internally this past year and Infor is commited to bring the same level of increased transparency where partners are involved.
  • A microvertical partner program will provide more opportunities. Here’s how it works:
  1. Plan: partners will present to Infor what they intend to build. Infor will review and in fact might reject some ideas if they conflict with what Infor is doing to the core.  At the same time, Infor has ideas that it might present to partners
  2. Build: partners sign up to the Microvertical Product Program to gain access to the technology stack and more. And of course then the add-on’s must be built.
  3. Profit: In a bit of a role-reversal, Infor becomes the channel for the partner. Once complete, these will be sold on Infor paper; Infor pays a royalty, and Infor has first right of refusal on purchasing the solution.
  • Infor is just now in the process of developing and rolling out a “Master VAR” program. This will be an “invitation-only” program limited to gold level partners that want to continue to grow. Master VARs will recruit “affiliates.” These affiliates won’t be reselling the product or competing directly with the Master VAR. Think of them more as influencers that can bring more business to the Master VAR and be compensated for that influence.

In addition to these program enhancements, from which the current channel partners can benefit, Infor has also been quietly recruiting a new type of partnership they call “alliance partners.” Alliance partners are typically leading consulting firms and systems integrators, that are key influencers in what can be quite large deals. Joining the program requires a commitment to an annual license agreement. They don’t resell software, but Infor will measure the license revenue achieved through their influence. In return, the partner gets first refusal to the associated services. It’s a synergistic relationship. By working together, both parties are able to close more deals.

These partners might also participate in some co-development, but not all will choose to do so because Infor will own the resultant IP. While a smart move on Infor’s part, this can be a deal breaker when dealing with this type of firm.

These types of partners are best known for partnering at the high end of the market with the likes of SAP and Oracle. They like to serve large enterprises with deep pockets and they like long term engagements. That’s not Infor’s bread and butter. Its sweet spot is more in the mid-market. So it is a major coup for Infor to have grown the number of these partnerships from one  to 25 in a year. In fact, just yesterday, it announced two new ones: CFO Solutions LLC and Inavista Solutions.

 Summary and Key Takeaways

Yes, the vibe from the partners this year was refreshingly positive. The consensus is that Infor management is actively listening, and when they listen, they take action and they produce results. Since the most successful of channel partners typically bet their business on a single solution provider, this can be a risky undertaking. Selling ERP solutions is tough. It’s a major expenditure and commitment of resources. Closing a deal is hard. But getting into deals is even harder. So the biggest fear partners may either secretly harbor or openly admit to: Infor’s successful partner programs might attract too much strong competition.  But the rules of engagement, the performance metrics, the goals and objectives are all clear and crisp. And while many software vendors get a lot more from the channel than they give, Infor understands the give and take. They understand the value of helping their partners grow their businesses. Infor has done that with accelerated development of solutions and technology, and commitment to the success of its partners.

If you are interested in learning more, I would suggest you visit http://www.infor.com/partners/

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