Unitrends revamps partner program on unique engagement philosophy

Unitrends is implementing a program based on five stars, with partners earning credit for ranking based on sales, marketing, customer satisfaction, training and social media achievements, in a system that can let smaller partners and even influencers rise in the program.

Unitrends Dante Gordon_Headshot_February 2016

Dante Gordon, Senior Director, Channel Marketing at Unitrends

Cloud backup and data recovery vendor Unitrends has announced a major restructuring of its partner program, which sees it move to an entirely engagement-focused model. That means that instead of qualifying for program tiers based on a combination of revenue and certification requirements, partners can qualify using a broader set of criteria which reflect different types of achievements in sales, marketing, training — and even social media use.

Unitrends never had a ‘conventional’ channel program in place. They sold entirely direct for decades, before adding their first channel component in 2013. Last year, they moved to a 100 per cent channel model to eliminate conflicts.

“We aren’t taking anything away from a traditional program because we didn’t have that to start with,” said  Dante Gordon, Senior Director, Channel Marketing at Unitrends. “This is additive. Partners don’t lose anything, but now have the opportunity to reap additional benefits that weren’t there before.”

Unitrends’ original partner program, UniRewards, was built around sales rep incents.

“It was focused on individual incentives rather than reflecting the value of building relationships,” Gordon said. “It was about really making things exciting for a channel sales rep. The program had worked, but it had been too one-dimensional, and was too focused on financial incentives for reps. The only way to grow business was to add more incents. So the in-house channel and corporate marketing folks brainstormed and came up with new ideas around the tenet of building long term value.

The old rep program will be subsumed within the new ones, and won’t just disappear.

“We will continue to use the UniRewards element, but we have layered on top of it all the ways that Unitrends and our channel community can work together for mutual benefit beyond the transaction itself. We are adding those  elements that create mutual strong relationships through the partner’s business program.”

The new program is based on gamification principles in crediting points for various activities and using those points as the basis for classification in the program and its escalating tiers of benefits.

“We architected this with the realization that every partner is different in how they go to market, so we have provided a variety of ways to access benefits,” Gordon said. “We don’t measure partners’ revenue in itself for the ranking, but we do measure deal and opportunity registrations, which do translate into revenue. More reps driving new business also gets tier points. If you do all the things vital in the marketing and sales process, the bookings will come.” Customer satisfaction scores are a critically important element in scoring points as well.

While there is no formal training requirement for each star level in the program, the more people you get certified, the more points you get. Unitrends has also revamped its training in conjunction with the program reboot, and is introducing two new training programs, for sales and technical pre sales.

A key part of the design philosophy is making it easier for partners who are not large volume dealers to advance — providing they make a strong commitment to Unitrends. That’s consistent with the reason stated last year for the move to the 100 per cent channel, that they wanted to expand their presence with partners who worked with smaller customers, where Unitrends at that time had little presence.

“We want to be able to cater to non-traditional partners who are key influencers, like consultants and bloggers,” Gordon said. “They can accrue tier points to make them on par with a volume-based reseller.”

Gordon indicated he thinks the way their new program rewards social media is unique in the industry.

“I don’t see others doing anything like this,” he said. “We put a big focus on social media amplification, as a way for digital marketing to accrue points. Things like writing a blog post, retweeting us, or mentioning us in their own social media efforts score points. So does providing a customer reference or talking to an analyst on our behalf. Anything we can track and measure in promoting awareness translates into tier points.”

Gordon said that the new program is being implemented in a phased approach.

“We have communicated this to the partner community at large, and will be migrating them in. We are also using this to reach out to some partners who have not been active, giving them an opportunity to re-engage and asking them to re-register. We are also grandfathering some existing partners into tierings for the first year, although after that, they have to earn their ranking.”

In conjunction with the new program, Unitrends is also launching a new partner portal designed to serve as a virtual social community.

“While our old portal was much more limited — such as having no CRM component and no integrated support, the underlying platform on the new portal is Salesforce,” Gordon said. “It is on the same platform we use for managing customer relationships, so partners will get a real time view of customer activity with Unitrends. Everything, including dissemination of leads, is now an integrated process, and there will also be a lot of new functionality.”