Zebra makes big downmarket and upmarket moves, including first entry into SOHO market

In addition to its new SOHO-focused ZSB Series printer, being launched today, Zebra has strengthened its relations with its high-end strategic partners by adding an Alliance track to their partner program.

Bill Cate, Vice President of Marketing and Channels at Zebra

Today, Zebra Technologies is moving downmarket, into the SOHO space for the first time, with the new ZSB Series printer. The move comes on the heels of the company’s move at the other end of the market, where they just introduced an alliance track for strategic partners into their PartnerConnect channel program.

The ZSB printer represents a bold move for Zebra.

“When we first looked at this investment, I thought ‘what are we doing?’” said Bill Cate, Vice President of Marketing and Channels at Zebra. “This is a SOHO product. We have never played in SOHO. We have played in SMB but not the same way as we do in the enterprise. We address it through DMRs like CDW and Zones – companies like that. They help us sell into the SMB.”

Cate said upon further reflection, the move into this market made a lot more sense.

“It’s a $400 million market, and we have adjacencies to it with our higher end thermal printers,” he stated. “We have a right to play in that market, which is entirely accretive to us.

“This also isn’t a traditional channel play,” Cate added. “It falls into a strategy about how companies change how they buy. We will approach this market with some of the same partners we used in SMB who also sell into SOHO, but an additional group of partners as well, like Amazon, eBay, Shopify and Etse. Most of our traditional partners aren’t interested in the SOHO space, but these ones are.”

Cate also stressed that as a new entrant to the SOHO space, it was critical for them to have a highly differentiated design. The ZSB Series label printer is a cloud-based printer that makes it easy to print shipping labels, address labels, name badges, product pricing labels and similar items.

“If we just entered this market with a ‘me too’ product, the reaction would have been ‘who cares,’” he said. “We are looking to make a really big splash with an elegant design.”

The key attributes here are being extremely to use, with a guided mobile set-up that lets small- and home-based businesses be up and running in as little as three minutes.

“It is also environmentally friendly to the extreme,” Cate said. “The cartridges are made out of potato starch. After they are empty, you can plant them in your garden!”

The ZSB Series is available now starting first in the U.S starting at $USD 129.99 for the two-inch model and $USD 229.99 for the four-inch model.

Zebra’s move into the SOHO end of one end of the market, followed right after a new initiative at the other end, the launching of the PartnerConnect Alliance Track for strategy partners. It runs alongside the Independent Software Vendor [ISV] Track in the program. Somewhat surprisingly, given the importance of their ecosystem, it is the first time that Zebra has had such an organization for vendor partners.

“We did not have an Alliance Track before,” Cate stated. “It is completely new. April was the fifth year anniversary of our launching PartnerConnect. As part of the integration of Motorola, we took the best of both programs and came up with PartnerConnect. We always had a holding box for Alliance partners, but had  not acted on it. We have been going to market for years with them, but now there is a structured approach to doing it.”

Cate said the decision to implement the Alliance track now is in response to a trend which is seeing customers buying differently now.

“They demand specialized solutions,” he stated. “We have done that with our partners, but every engagement has been a Picasso. Alliance partners have very specific sets of needs from us. They are typically non-transacting, so can’t be measured on revenue. Its all about strategic planning and relationships. This includes categories like IHVs [Independent Hardware Vendors], like Hill-Rom, that makes beds for hospitals where we can be integrated in, tech alliances like Google, Microsoft and Qualcomm, and  consultants like Deloitte and Accenture. Some of the GSIs resell us and some don’t.”

A wide variety of benefits will be available to Alliance Track members, including demo kits, MDF, and the opportunity for IHVs’ hardware products to achieve Zebra Compatible or Zebra Validated accreditation.

“We offer benefits they said they wanted, including access to gated content,” Cate said. “Some are interested in influence rewards and referrals, and some aren’t, but it is there. They get easy access to demo kits and software, access to marketing kits and development funds, and most also get an alliance manager.”

The PartnerConnect Alliance Track has three tiers – Registered, Select and Premier, with the Premier tier limited exclusively to Zebra’s global strategic alliances.