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Since vendors spend a fair amount of time trying to copy each other, why not copy some worthy channel programs?

Typically what vendors end up doing when taking cues from competitors on how to reach their channel partners is recreate a lot of bad habits. As a result, programs and communications meant to improve the relationship between vendor and partner often meet with indifference.

That’s because partners are too busy trying to turn a profit, and figuring out the supposed benefits of a vendor’s new program, promotion or product naturally has to take a back seat unless the benefit is immediately apparent.

One vendor that seems to have a keen understanding of its partners’ needs is Sage Software, which has put itself on the map with accounting and business management applications. The Lawrenceville, Ga.-based company, though not quite a household name such as Microsoft, Google or Apple, has a strong partner following in the United States and beyond. Sage is a subsidiary of Sage Group plc., a British amalgamation of software companies acquired over the years.

In the United States, Sage’s partner programs are run by a former VAR, Taylor Macdonald, whose background in the trenches has proven invaluable in shaping the company’s relationship with its 6,000 partners in North America. Macdonald was recognized by The Channel Insider as one of the 12 chiefs who made a difference in 2006.

A stream of innovation has come out of the company’s channel team in recent years, most recently a couple of initiatives that make so much sense one has to wonder why others haven’t tripped over themselves to copy them.

One initiative puts channel partners in touch with handpicked recruiting firms to help them find qualified candidates for job openings. Recruitment is one of the greatest ongoing challenges channel employers face.

Now Sage partners can work with Kinetix or Frank J. Rich & Associates to tackle the challenge, at a fraction of what it would normally cost them to work with a recruiter.

Another big challenge for channel companies is providing health insurance to employees. Of course channel companies, the bulk of which qualify as SMBs (small and midsize businesses), are not alone in this; SMBs in general struggle with the high costs of employee insurance coverage.

To ease the burden of at least finding a plan partners can afford, Sage teamed with BenefitProtect, a Web-based insurance broker. Sage partners can use BenefitProtect’s portal to furnish the information the broker needs to find them insurance carriers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean channel employers will be able to afford an insurance plan, but at least the Sage program removes the legwork involved in the process, especially for those companies that have to face different sets of laws and requirements in different states.

Sage offers a host of other benefits to its channel partners, including a program that gives qualifying partners $11,000 to hire and train a sales representative, one-on-one coaching for partner employees and a deal with American Express to give partners discounts on things like cell phone use and Federal Express shipping.

The vendor has figured out that just as partners have to help their customers achieve their business goals, Sage has to do the same. The more successful the partners become, the more successful the vendor is. And that is a maxim some vendors haven’t quite grasped yet.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at