A Well-oiled Machine

A Well-oiled Machine

A Well-oiled Machine Success of partner loyalty programs rely on mutual exclusivity and value

A Well-oiled MachineAs the sophistication of the security industry evolves daily, companies are honing their partner loyalty programs to assist integrators in all aspects of the industry. From education and training to program leveling and specific opportunities tailored to each integrator, these loyalty programs form the backbone of mutual trust and dedication that enhances the industry in a positive way while giving distinct selling advantages to partners.

For nearly 12 years, Axis Communications’ Channel Partner Program has been in North America in a big way, and to date, there are approximately 20,000 partners in this program. Based on three levels of membership, each level of participation provides distinct benefits that create value for each partner such as discounted, not-forresale (NFR) demonstration equipment; focused tools and marketing to simplify sales; and the ability to expand and validate network video expertise. These benefits help prove that Axis Communications’ program is a living, breathing program of mutual partnership: What’s good for one is good for the other.

Speaking directly with Larry Newman, director of sales, Axis Communications, I learned the generalities of forming a successful partner loyalty program by diving directly into the intricate details of this company’s Channel Partner Program.

Learning from a Successful Program

As with any type of relationship, a strong foundation is crucial to the initial success and evolution of a partnership. A rocky start usually fosters an unhealthy relationship with mistrust and mutual noncommittal to overall success, but, by beginning on the right foot, so to speak, with trust and a strong commitment, relationships tend to flourish. Therefore, it is vital that partner loyalty programs and their partners start a strong relationship from the beginning and continue to constantly grow and evolve as a whole.

“A partner loyalty program must be mutually exclusive to both parties involved,” explained Newman. “A level of benefit should be provided for each partner, and in return, the partner should reciprocate with loyalty to that vendor.”

Axis’ strong foundation starts with the first level of partnership, the “authorized partner,” which opens engagement between Axis and the partner. At this level, requirements are minimal yet Axis offers benefits to get partners off to a successful start.

As the relationship grows and progresses, developing mutual trust and dedication, partners can achieve level 2 membership status, the “silver partner.” This level is the transition period, focused on business growth through the sale of Axis products by offering complete solutions and demonstration equipment.

Level 3 is the highest achievable membership offered to the most loyal and trusted partners. The “Gold Partner” rewards loyalty to partners who have demonstrated exceptional business performance measured by revenue, support and training. Gold partners have system design expertise, proven by integrating Axis products into customer solutions.

A Program of Benefits

Providing a plethora of benefits to partners as a way of establishing a firm and solid relationship, from priority technical support to dedicated account management for exclusive attention to training and education benefits, Axis’ partners receive a wealth of resources to enhance themselves while further establishing Axis Communications as a brand of choice within the security industry.

Education. Taking a unique approach to education, Axis ensures that their trainings are generic to the industry, making them applicable to the industry as a whole.

“Axis does not just present commercials for its products,” said Newman.
“In fact, 80 to 85 percent of all our training
is generic, which creates value for our partners; it’s
not just a sales pitch but a learning experience.”

Axis benefits from this education model because
their logo is present on all training materials
and is sponsored directly by them, giving the company brand recognition.

Certification. Newman stressed
that Axis’ certification program is
not “Axis-based,” but based on a very
basic set of standards so that when
people go out into the industry, they
will have general knowledge in which
to build upon.

“Our exam is not easy; however,
it’s an exam that’s starting to become
recognized as an industry standard
certification as it’s showing up in
specs from engineers,” Newman said.
“Our certification program gives a
level of comfort that there’s a baseline
of knowledge, and the people are
dedicated to the industry, demonstrated
by taking the time to take our
courses and pass the exam.”

Trainers. A dedicated training
department helps to differentiate
Axis’ partner loyalty program, giving
them an edge with trainers who
are out in the field constantly. Trainers
are able to collect real-world data
to incorporate into courses, ensuring
that partners stay up-to-date with the constantly changing security industry.

Customized training. For partners,
especially those at the higher
level of the Axis’ program, with advanced
notice, their team of trainers
will create a program specific to
those partners’ needs. This helps to
add value to the industry while increasing
trust because partners know
that they can count on Axis to keep
them informed and educated.

Sales and business. "Selling Network Video" is a business seminar 
that caters to teaching how to physically
sell products and then manage
that established sales relationship. The
seminar focuses on teaching techniques
to position network video to
help partners transition from technical
expert to making a sale, maximizing
partners’ margins and revenues to
help them operate a better and more
efficient business model.

Finding Partners

Providing such valuable and usable
benefits at each level of membership,
Axis is selective in whom they
choose to be their partner. Initially,
it all boils down to finding partners
who offer a total solution.

“For the most part, Axis products
account for 20 to 30 percent of the
total solution,” explained Newman.
“So it’s vitally important to partner
with someone who understands this,
and is able to drive and install the total
solution.”

Within the total solution, product
quality is a must as most Axis partners
have low out-of-box failure rates, and
are easy and consistent to install. Axis
wants to know that when a partner’s
product arrives on site and is plugged
in, it will operate correctly.

“Axis products use similar API, so
if you can install one, you can install
them all,” guaranteed Newman.

Partners should have a front line
of support and other support avenues,
just in case. Axis provides a
model for this type of support. They
have a call center with an average wait
time of less than a minute to get to a
live voice as well as online chat, email
support and one of the largest field
sales organizations in the industry.
“We do everything we possibly
can to get close to the customer
physically in the field or via computer
or phone,” said Newman.

The “Secret Sauce” to
Successful Partner
Loyalty Programs

During the course of our conversation,
I thought it was time to get real with
Newman, so I built up the courage and
out asked him what it takes to have a
successful partner loyalty program.

He laughed and joked that he’s
not giving away the “secret sauce,”
but the jovial Newman did say, “Be
willing and have the discipline to
stand behind the program.”

When someone wants to join
Axis’ Channel Partner Program, everyone
starts at the ground level and
earns their way up to the next level
or down to the lower level. The success
of each partner is monitored on
a quarterly basis.

“Every quarter that a partner meets their training and financial requirements,
they are allowed to stay on the same level, or we can promote them,” said
Newman. “If a partner doesn’t meet these requirements, they receive a warning.
After the warning, if the partner doesn’t catch up, they go back down.”

This is where the dedication to discipline comes into play.

“You must have the discipline to tell somebody, ‘I’m sorry, you didn’t meet
your requirements, so I’m moving you down a level’ or ‘I’m sorry, you can’t
start at the highest level,’” Newman said.

In return to adhering to this strict policy, partners are rewarded at the gold
level by becoming a member of an exclusive club, making it meaningful to be
a valued Axis partner.

“Our program creates respect in the industry,” said Newman. “It means
something.”

Partner Loyalty Trends

Over the years, Axis has seen the security industry evolve from an analog
space, where a project started with brand “X” must be finished with brand
“X,” into a digital world that is all about an open environment of interoperability.
True interoperability empowers customers and integrators to work
together to choose the best products and solutions for specific needs without
compromising functionality. This creates a customized solution that
is usually faster to implement and offers a lower total cost of ownership.
However, if a company claims to be interoperable, then they should be 100
percent compliant.

“When dealing with multiple manufacturers, it is one thing to say you’re
interoperable, but it’s a totally different thing to actually be interoperable,”
said Newman. “Some manufacturers say that it’s hard to develop products
that are 100 percent compliant; I’ve even heard 99 percent compliant.’ But,
to me, if you’re only 99 percent compliant with standards, then you’re simply
not compliant.”

As the digital world continues to rapidly develop, emerging from the
partner loyalty space is the trend of constant education. The evolution of
hosted and mobile solutions, along with the cloud, are driving people’s
wants and needs to be more and more informed of these technological capabilities
and possibilities.

“This change has brought with it a tremendous market and along with
that, the thirst for learning about the conversion from analog to digital,”
said Newman.

By recognizing and embracing these trends, Axis was and is able to focus
in on what partners are seeking most and give it to them, further enhancing
their strong partner loyalty program.

The Future of Partner Loyalty Programs

Partner loyalty programs must stay in touch with the reality of the security
industry by embracing the migration from analog to IP and incorporate this
into their educational programs. By feeding this thirst for knowledge, programs
ensure current and future partners that they are well vested into providing
value.

The security industry is competitive, and this competitiveness is not decreasing;
therefore, anything a manufacturer can do to differentiate themselves
from others helps to create a value-added bonus for partners. First and
foremost, however, is the need for quality products.

“With a portfolio of industry-leading, innovative, quality products, plus
membership to a strong partner loyalty program, this demonstrates increased
value toward your company,” Newman said.

The security industry is far from stagnant; it’s an industry that’s growing,
and solid partner loyalty programs will only help to feed this growth.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Security Today.

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