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A new year brings new channel efforts for Inc. with the hiring of Bruce Culbert as senior vice president and general manager of global services. Culbert joins from BearingPoint Inc. (formerly KPMG Consulting), where he was senior vice president and CRM global practice leader.

“I’m joining because I really believe in what the company is doing – the whole concept of taking the technology frustrations and angst over cost out of CRM. It’s the future of computing,” he says.

Culbert has more than 20 years of experience delivering IT solutions and building professional services groups insidelarge organizations. But partners are not concerned that his inside experience will present a sales conflict with the channel.

“ has always shown a lot of support for partners. Everything that I’ve heard about Bruce suggests he has a commitment to leverage the field partners that are in place,” says Tom Wong, vice president of CRM solutions at Thiekos, a CRM consulting company and partner. Wong adds his business has increased over the past year with average project sizes increasing from 30- to 35-seat implementations last year to 100 to 500 seats this year.

“It’s a great move. If continues to encroach on more traditional enterprise software players, it is going to need more guys like Bruce to help manage that change. It’s a natural evolution for a company that is consistently regarded as a category killer,” says Eric Berridge, principal in charge of the CRM practice at Blue Wolf Group, a partner.

As it exists today, the partner program, called Joinforces Partner Program, includes more than 150 partners globally in two partnership categories: Ready Partner and Certified Partner.

Ready Partners provide complementary products and/or services to the CRM solution. The Certified Partner program is designed for distribution and consulting partners who can generate referrals and implement the system, as well as leverage their expertise in CRM process and related services. Some of the participating companies include CRM Essentials for implementation, customization and training services, Miller Heiman for sales productivity consulting services, and PricewaterhouseCoopers for professional services.

Culbert aims to build a partner program that is more role-based, he says. “Today, we have basic certification based on roles within the platform and systems integration. Our customers are asking for levels of competency. It’s really about role-based competencies,” he says. He adds will be defining those competencies in FY 2005 (which begins February 1, 2004).

Already, has taken the CRM industry by storm, garnering more than 120,000 subscribers from 8,400 customer companies. “ amassed quite a number of customers and is profitable, but to go to the next phase of growth it has to go to the channel to get the multiplier effect. Continuing to only rely on direct sales is not going to get them to the next level,” says Laurie McCabe, an ASP analyst at Summit Strategies.

The company’s expansion plans don’t stop with the channel. To help the company go “to the next level,” late last week filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering of common stock valued at approximately $115 million, according to an SEC document.

Although, executives were tightlipped about its IPO, Berridge predicts it will “add more fuel to the fire.”