Google's Partner Program Misses the Mark

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print


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The vendor once again is demonstrating a lack of understanding of the channel by failing to protect partner deals.

Google doesn’t get the channel.

Mind you, that is not a new revelation, but the vendor’s launch of a Google Apps partner program once again demonstrated that while Google has done many things right, it has little clue about how to work with solution providers.

What makes the vendor’s half-hearted approach to solution providers even more grievous is the wasted opportunity. Google has a chance to grab mindshare before Microsoft’s planned 2010 launch of its Web-based Office Web Applications, but it won’t get too far without an honest-to-goodness commitment to solution providers’ businesses.

Google’s new partner program covers Google Apps Premier Edition, which includes e-mail and chat, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and security and compliance features (read "Google: We’re Committed to Growing with the Channel"). The program consists of giving solution providers a 20 percent discount and the prospect of earning Apps-related recurring services revenue. But the program bears a gaping hole that should make any potential partner think twice, or thrice, before signing up with Google. 

There is no deal registration.

And you know what that means: Without deal registration, a solution provider has no real way to protect its customer relationship. Another solution provider, Google agent or Google itself could swoop in at some point and persuade the customer to switch.

Now, you could argue that if you are doing right by your customer, you shouldn’t have to fear losing the customer to the competition. And you would be right.

But that doesn’t remove Google’s responsibility to protect its channel partners. Any vendor that expects revenue gains through partnerships has to give something in return. The best channel vendors have successful partnerships because they understand how important it is to protect their solution providers. Some vendors even have regional restrictions to prevent cannibalization of the business.

But Google need not go that far. Regional restrictions for partnerships built on downloadable Web-based applications would make little sense, anyway, but the vendor should have a database where solution providers would register customer accounts to prevent poaching.

These concerns might be dismissed as alarmist, perhaps even unfair, if Google didn’t already have a decidedly less than stellar track record with solution providers.

After acquiring e-security compliance vendor Postini, Google chased a number of Postini partners out the door. Solution providers complained of competition from Google, poor communication and pricing strategies that made it next to impossible to make money out of selling Postini licenses.

It should become evident in short order whether Google has learned anything from its Postini fiasco.

For solution providers, having a name like Google backing up their business should prove beneficial. Though customers tend to not really care what brand is on the technology their solution providers sell them, brand recognition nevertheless adds credibility. That’s why it pays to be a Microsoft partner.

If Google wants to ever reach the level of credibility Microsoft has with solution providers, the search king will have to figure out how to support its own channel community.

Solution providers aren’t likely to get rich off selling Google Apps, which pays $10 per year for each $50 per-user, per-year subscription, but the opportunity to generate services and integration revenue is real. The partner model Google is using will become increasingly prevalent as cloud computing expands, so the onus is on solution providers to add compelling value to their customers.

But for solution providers to even get to the point of starting to add value, they need to feel secure that the product to which they are adding value comes from a vendor that cares about them. Whether Google understands this is still questionable.

Pedro Pereira is a contributing editor for Channel Insider.



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