Software collaboration vendor Appfire fine tunes channel strategy in move upmarket

Appfire has been selling its software for years through a channel-first strategy, principally through the Atlassian platform and ecosystem, but has now formalized and beefed up its own channel program to make partners more productive and recruit more good ones.

Colin Puckett, SVP of Global Channel and Field Operations at Appfire

Enterprise software collaboration vendor Appfire has had a channel-first strategy for many years, selling mainly through the Atlassian platform and channel partners. Now, however, they have strengthened their own channel ecosystem and portal as they look to expand their market, particularly among larger customers.

Appfire has been around for years – since 2005 – although their principal stock in trade, entire software collaboration, has remained constant over that time. The structure of the company and how they fit into the market has evolved over time, however.

“Our co-founders were a part of a smaller group of the Atlassian ecosystem,” said Colin Puckett, SVP of Global Channel and Field Operations at Appfire, who joined the company 15 months ago. “Randall Ward, who is now our CEO, goes right back to there, and the marketplace and ecosystem model that Atlassian used.”

That Atlassian ecosystem was the combination of three different groups.

“One was Atlassian, as the platform provider, which was then focused on Fortune 100 companies,” Puckett said. The second was marketplace partners, and Appfire was one of those, offering a number of Apps on the Atlassian marketplace. While we are now in other marketplaces as well, the Atlassian one remains our biggest footprint today.”

The third group is solution partners – VARs.

“If a customers have a problem they want Appfire Jira to solve, they can go to the Atlassian Marketplace, if they know what they are looking for,” Puckett stated. “ Alternatively they can get a solution partner to deliver the Atlassian product with the apps installed. In the past, we were also a solution provider, although six years ago, we made the decision to just be an app provider.” They come up against a variety of vendors in deals, from multiple different categories, including IT service management and cloud migration.

Appfire’s traditional sweet spot has been the upper SMB and midmarket, but this has also begun to change.

“Increasingly we are growing into the enterprise space,” Puckett said. “The way Atlassian built the marketplace, it was traditional SMB or midmarket customers who use it. They are moving upmarket with the marketplace, and we are following that lead, with larger seat licenses, and targeting larger organizations who are letting their teams choose their own tools.”

Appfire’s Go-to-Market strategy has been unusual for a company that has been in the business for a  long time, in that while the channel is the focus of their route to market, until recently it had been managed in a very informal, ad hoc kind of way.

“Appfire has always been channel first in the sense we have never had an inside channel sales team, so in that way we have always been channel first,” Puckett said. “There has never been much in the way of formal structure, however. We have had good relationships with solutions partners, but have worked with them in an ad hoc way. I was brought in specifically to build out a sustainable channel function.”

Puckett said that this strategy had worked for Appfire in the past because as an Atlassian marketplace partner, they had access to the Atlassian partner program.

So why change the system if it seemed to be working?

“We are excited about what we are building and the growth we have seen,” Puckett said. “Rather than just being a company with a lot of different acquired applications, we are now working through our channel to develop really robust solutions with multiple applications working together.  Our product development work and acquisitions have made an exciting fit with the way that partners go to market, and we can now empower solution providers to deliver in a way that customers want to buy.”

Today a partner program currently exists and Puckett said that it is being enhanced.

“It is now an official partner program with a tiering structure in place,” he indicated. “I now have a team in place to support it, and we are working on certifications.”

Puckett said that the strategy is to both increase and better enable their channel.

“We are looking to get more engaged with the partners we have now,” he stated. “Our managed partner list is around 140, but there are some up and comers in that long tail. We are also looking to get more partners, because the solution partners are our indirect sales team.”