Apple's Mac, iPhone Gain Momentum in Business, but Channel Program Remains Inscrutable

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print


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Apple may be gaining momentum in the business market with the Mac and iPhone platforms and plenty of third-party technologies and apps. But can newbie resellers break into the Apple Authorized Reseller Program?

Interested in becoming a part of the enigma that is Apple’s Authorized Reseller program? Join the club.  

Apple has certainly gained momentum in recent years, boosting PC market share, pumping up its reputation with clever advertisements, and taking the world by storm with the iPhone and all the apps that make that platform so sought after.

And the iPhone may have served as a Trojan horse taking Apple deeper into the enterprise. Distributors and VARs report that Apple Mac sales have remained strong and are gaining in businesses, even as most other PC sales have been pummeled during the recession.

More third-party technologies for the Mac platform are now available, and many of them are aimed at businesses and enterprises.

But while Apple does have a stable of long-established resellers who specialize in its platforms, getting into the program can be a mystery for newbies. Apple has no channel chief, and it runs no events for its channel partners. And becoming part of the Apple organization is tougher than just filling out the online Apple Authorized Reseller application form.

Distributor Tech Data says that Apple claims about 1,300 authorized resellers, 290 of which work with Tech Data. And observers believe Apple is working to recruit more on the enterprise side.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for more insight on what it looks for when it evaluates application forms from prospective resellers, but observers offered a few insights—and they are much the same as what other vendors look for in channel partners.

Michael Oh of Tech Superpowers, a longtime Apple reseller, says that like other vendors Apple is looking for the right geographic and demographic mix of resellers. And, like other vendors, Apple is looking for resellers to demonstrate expertise and commitment to its own platforms.

"Apple wants to see Apple resellers and VARs focus on the Mac," says Oh, whose company has been an Apple authorized reseller for 14 years and sells mostly Macs. "That’s frustrating for a Windows reseller, but it’s a good move on Apple’s part. The partners they are authorizing are dedicated to the platform."

And don’t expect your distributor to be able to offer any help either.

"It’s almost a proprietary process for Apple," says Bob Shouse, who heads up the Apple SBU at distributor Tech Data. "They don’t take recommendations from distributor partners. They decide on authorizing a reseller based on the merits of the organization."

For those looking to break in, it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.

"If you don’t have Apple support, you won’t get all the information you need to get up to speed," Oh says. But you have to be a reseller to get that support.

When Tech Superpowers signed up with Apple in 1995, it was relatively easy to get in for companies that could show some proficiency on sales and on the technical side of the Mac, says Oh.

These days Apple puts more emphasis on certification processes for areas such as Help Desk and System Administrator and Technician, and in order to remain in the authorized reseller program, VARs must keep certified personnel on staff. Oh says his company has maybe eight Apple-certified employees.

And Oh says Apple sometimes has trouble meeting the demand for these classes, and the classes themselves are relatively expensive. They must be taken at Apple Certified Training Centers and can last anywhere from three days to a full week. But students need not be authorized resellers to take the courses. More information about the courses is available at the Apple training site.

But the pains of becoming certified and authorized may indeed be worth the rewards, which appear to be growing.

"We’ve had a lot of success with our Apple SBU over the past few years," says Tech Data’s Shouse.

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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