I got an email a couple weeks ago about a new-ish CMS that was looking for partners. “Partners” in the CMS-world usually means integrators, like Blend, who specialize in a particular CMS.
CMS vendors like these relationships because their partners sell their CMS to clients, generally promote the market penetration of the CMS, and the vendor can call the partner in to help close a deal. If a deal is teetering on the question of integration services, the partner can swoop in, inspire some confidence, define a number, and help close the deal.
So, this vendor contacted me for a demo to see if we would sign-on as a partner. We went though a demo and the system was undeniably impressive. However, we we started taking about the partner program…there really wasn’t much there. While their system would have been fun to develop with, there didn’t seem to be much advantage to becoming a partner.
In the end, as a businessman (not a CMS fanboy, which I undeniably am), there is really just one reason for choosing to partner with a particular CMS: will it make us more money?
Yes, that sounds crass and denies all the joy and craftsmanship of being a student of content management, but you have to pay the bills, and, in the end, you have to make money to stay in business.
So, how does a CMS partnership make money for an integrator? Here is Blend’s experience, in no particular order:
- Many partnership deals offer a mark-up of the list price. Anywhere from ten to twenty-five percent is not uncommon, so you get that off the top of any license purchase. This is even better when the CMS is only sold through partners (like EPiServer), not the vendor itself. In these cases, you make some money on strictly license deals that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
- Good partnership deals refer leads to their partners. Ektron has excelled at this. They send us business all the time that they’ve prospected and almost closed, but that are hinging on implementation details. We provide a good implementation option, the deal closes, and everyone is happy.
- You usually get marketing exposure on the CMS company site. For example, here’s our partner page at eZ publish (we don’t get dedicated, addressable pages with the other two). Some deals come through the door unsolicited just through exposure on these pages (though they’re often in the form of cattle-call RFPs sent to every partner the prospect could find).
- Fast-tracked tech support, some of which is better than others. For instance, one of our partners has an engineer on Skype all the time that instantly responds to questions. Another one has a “special” ticketing system for partners, but I can’t see any difference in tickets I open through that method and tickets that go through the normal channel.
Those are the big four advantages Blend has experienced.
Now, some may say, what if the CMS is so-o-o-o good that it helps you close deals? Well, perhaps, but how does being a partner change that? I can still use a particular CMS without being a partner, so there’s no net advantage there.
What about professional services? Partnering with a CMS company lets you sell the professional services alongside the CMS, right? Well, yes, but again, I get this anyway, no matter what CMS we implement.
There are some other, softer advantages to partnerships that vendors tout:
- Priority of feature requests. However, I highly doubt this ever actually happens. CMS versions are planned so far in advance, that feature requests — from partners or otherwise — probably have very little impact.
- Specialized training. But, in the end, this is usually a precursor to the partnership relationship, not an advantage of the relationship. For both EPiServer and Ektron, we had to undergo training at our own expense.
- A “closer” relationship with the vendor. There’s some validity to this — we have backchannel contacts at all three of our CMS vendors that have undeniably provided assistance from time to time.
- The right to call yourself an “official partner” of that CMS. The right to name-drop, essentially.
So, back to the company that called me the other day. What did they offer?
- They offered 20% discount from list price. Not a bad cut, but it was mitigated by the fact that their product sold in the sub-$1,000 range, so how does that really help me? Two hundred bucks isn’t a huge margin, in raw dollars, and it disappears in comparison to a $20K to $50K professional services engagement.
- They offered a partner page on their site, which is always helpful. In these situations, I look to see who the nearest partner to me is, in geographical terms. We work all over the world, but when a prospect is seeking out a partner, they’re naturally going to do it by who is nearest to them, so, in this sense, geography is competition. This particular company has a partner in Minneapolis, which isn’t bad, but they had 50-75 U.S. partners in total, which is a big pool to compete in.
- They also offered some of the software benefits I mentioned: a “closer” relationship, fast-tracking of feature requests and support, etc.
This is great, but the biggest problem is what they didn’t offer: sales leads. According to them, most sales leads come directly in through partner pages, so they aren’t in a position to refer many leads directly to partners. In this sense, I’m at the mercy of a partner page on their Web site, competing with all the other partner pages, rather than a warm handoff of a qualified lead from their sales group.
So, in the end, we declined this one. Partly for the reasons I mentioned, but mainly because we have three partnerships already, and they’re working well for us. We’re not regularly in situations where we’re thnking, “Man, if only we had another CMS partnership to fall back on…”