HelpSystems remakes partner program to enable more holistic selling of security solutions

The HelpSystems partner program was created years ago when the company’s focus was on IBM AS/400 tools, and while support for security partners through the program has been enhanced in recent years, the program redo is designed to spur security partner enablement through a more rigorous training and cross-selling strategy.

Renee Ritter, Managing Director of HelpSystems Global Partner Program

HelpSystems, which has been making management tools for the IBM AS/400 since 1982, and which has established a sizable presence in IT security in the last decade and a half, has revamped its channel program to provide an updated approach to supporting its partners and their businesses.  The company also formally announced the appointment of Renee Ritter as the program’s Managing Director of HelpSystems Global Partner Program, although she was actually the one who led the program redesign last year, and has been at HelpSystems for over five years in different roles.

The old channel program – old is quite appropriate here – dated from those IBM days, and was formalized in the 1990s, and it had been quite successful over the decades. But with HelpSystems having placed an increasing emphasis on security, predominantly through strategic acquisitions, and subsequent organic growth from them, a major program refresh was needed.

“The evolution that took place since the 1980s was significant, as there has been a massive acceleration around security from both acquisitions and from organic growth,” said Renee Ritter, managing director of HelpSystems’ global partner program. “It finally reached the point where our president, Jim Cassens, who previously looked after the program, said it was no longer scaling. The old program was good, but not world class, and we couldn’t compete worldwide if the channel program was lagging. So in 2021, he asked me to stand the new program up. This work started last April. We did a soft launch in November, and took it to market last month.”

Ritter emphasized that the new program’s philosophy matched its DNA.

“When I stood this up I built it against the background of HelpSystems’ core culture,” she said. “After being here for five years, I have seen how we do business is as important as the business we do, in terms of dealing with people repping us in the field, and enabling them to be as massively successful as they can be. This is what reflects our DNA.”

Ritter said that given that, it was important to drive change in two ways.

“The first is scalabiity,” she stated. “The diversity of the old program no longer  provided the components needed for this. The second is standardization. We could no longer manage to the exception, and we started to shift the needle around this. Standards are somehow perceived as bad things, but they will allow partners out in the market to be more credible. The channel program should allow partners to drive customers’ needs in a meaningful, holistic way. If the program can’t be viewed against the background of our core values, we wont have success.”

A traditional problem with standardization in channel programs is that it usually means standardization around U.S. revenue thresholds, but Ritter emphasized this is not the case here.

“The majority of our partner revenue comes from outside the U.S.,” she said. “The benchmark could not be the U.S. when the majority of revenue is coming from the rest of the world. We also recognize that there will still be regional differences of which we will have to be cognizant.”

The purpose of the new program is not to drive the recruitment of new partners.

“We currently have over 400 active partners – and a lot more inactive ones,” Ritter indicated. “Our plan here is in no way shape or form to get a high volume of partners, but to provide opportunities for existing ones to develop and grow. We have no plans to use the program as a tool to massively recruit.”

The new program has provision for five partner types: Referral; VARs;  Distributors; MSP/MSSPs; and Strategic Alliance/OEM partners.

“The old program has a referral component, an OEM component, and a three-tier VAR component,” Ritter said. “Those all remain but we have added a distributor program and an MSP/MSSP one. Massive changes needed to be made to the VAR program to take it from good to great. The only other partner type that is tiered is MSP/MSSP, which is two tier – Starter and Growth.”

Synchronizing the VAR and MSP programs, since many partners are both, will be a major focus this year.

“Between April and October we had to get the basics of the program for this year down,” Ritter noted. “We have mechanisms to manage the dual hats from the perspectives of agreements and execution, but they will continue to be dealt with later this year and beyond.” MSPs are still a minority of HelpSystems partners, but projections have that increasing.

Certifications have been upgraded in the new program

“That was one of the main things we needed to anchor to – certifying now on four levels – marketing, sales, pre-sales and technical engineers,” Ritter said. “We are now really stressing the concept of solution groups. We have a very holistic portfolio of products, and we want to bundle them, and get partners to pitch them that way around solving problems. To do that, we needed to make partners more conversationally competent, and we can only deliver that if we have those four levels of certification.”

This has also led to a much greater emphasis on cross-selling.

“HelpSystems has had a very intelligent and even surgical approach to acquisitions in terms of where this will fit in our portfolio,” Ritter said. We look for things we can provide that is new, and will further enable cross-selling.

“Solution groups was one of the new program’s foundational items, but I am very passionate about the enablement side as well, through training MDF, SPIFFS, as well as more formalizing, more processes and more budget,” she added. “This is to ensure partners see us as looking for more ways to make them successful.”