Structure and consistency are the driving forces behind Infor's channel program. After acquiring roughly two dozen companies in the past five years, the $2.3 billion software vendor needed to pick pieces from each business in order to hold on to tenured partners and help them fill their toolboxes with some other products on their list.
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"Not only did most of the entities that have entered into Infor bring in their own channel-type of framework, but they all had a substantial investment in those programs," explains Dennis Michalis, Infor's senior vice president of channels and alliances. "Some of the larger channel programs had more momentum and we needed to be mindful that some of the partners we have today have tremendous capability and depth of experience, people who have built their business around the premise of a solution that they continually invest in. Strategically, it represented a substantial opportunity for us to look at a wide array of ways of doing business in an indirect fashion,"
Infor also has been working on condensing more than 70 general ledgers products that came from these acquisitions into one. Michalis says the company is on target to accomplish that by the end of the year.
The channel program Infor started crafting a year ago (it still does not have a name) is based on a "bidirectional business model," in which potential resellers must outline a plan for their businesses to succeed and Infor must provide the appropriate resources to help them do so, with people tagged as the most valued resource.
"We dedicate people to the partners," Michalis says. "The regional vice president of channels for a particular territory is not just someone sitting there from a desk position. They go into the field with the partner, they drive opportunities with the partner, they represent Infor with the partner. That personal linkage is critical for us. We want no partner to go it alone."
Even channel members who are highly self-sufficient with a strong and stable core of resources and tenured sales people still need to understand where the products are today, where they're going and how to navigate Infor's portfolio in case their customers have other needs that stretch beyond the core ERP products down the road, Michalis says, noting that his team consists of 25 regional VPs and channel managers in the states and that number peaks into the triple digits worldwide. They also help enforce rules of engagement to ensure that the right partner receives the right piece of the compensation pie when an opportunity spans across various territories that may affect other resellers or the direct sales force-which accounts for 80 percent of Infor's current sales.
EXPANDING THE PORTFOLIO
Midge Davidson began selling NxTrend's ERP products in 1993 through her company, Central Data Systems, which is based in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, Mich.
After Infor bought NxTrend in June 2004, Central Data Systems took Infor's Sx Enterprise product to its roughly 60 wholesale distribution customers, including those in plumbing, heating and cooling and the lumber industry.
Davidson sees the acquisition as beneficial to both her and her customers because of continued investments in the product and the partners. She plans to sell some of Infor's other products in the future, but hopes to get some guidance on how to do so.
Infor's portfolio of products runs the gamut-from CRM to asset management to event management. Some of the most common applications partners take on include Infor ERP Visual for single-site manufacturing businesses, Infor ERP SL and Infor ERP LN for multisite manufacturing businesses, Infor ERP SX Enterprise and Infor ERP Facts for distribution companies and Infor FMS SunSystems, a financial management suite. The company serves as a liaison when current customers demonstrate interest in a product their reseller may not be familiar with.
As far as Sx Enterprise is concerned, Davidson says the ERP package is almost always a perfect fit out of the box for 20 users or 500 users.
"The wholesale distributor is a unique customer. They need to run their entire business with one tool. They can't have a GL package from one company and a sales order processing package from another company. Their business is too tightly wound together to be able to do that. They need a software package that's going to address every single component of their business, and that's what Sx E does," Davidson says.
William Euler, president of Maryland-based Professional Accounting Solutions, also made his connection with Infor through an acquired company as the majority of Infor's 1,100 channel members have. The CPA serves the hotel industry using Infor's SunSystems line of financial management solutions, which the company acquired in August 2006 after purchasing Systems Union.
Like Davidson, he appreciates the personal support he receives and the full range of offerings. "Before, clients would go to multiple vendors, now we can support them better," Euler says. "Everyone wants to make one call."
Unlike with some other accounting software companies, the bulk of Infor's channel only sells Infor products. Last year, Infor reportedly told its partners that it must drop other products if they wanted to continue on as resellers, but indicated only a small percentage of partners would be affected.
Infor wouldn't disclose specific details about internal communications with those partners, but Michalis did go as far as to say, "exclusivity is Infor's strong preference" and that the company analyzed its partner base and discovered a higher probability of success among those only focused on its applications.
"When a partner carries a product that is directly competitive, it makes it more difficult for us to share sensitive and intellectual property-related information," Michalis says. "One of the reasons that our channel program is successful is because we can collaborate with our partners at this level."
Euler is happy only to embrace Infor's products, saying the exclusivity makes him specialize more and creates a stronger bond with the vendor because it eliminates mixed messages.
He did, however, echo Davidson's desire for more training or some type of alliance program where partners can leverage each other's expertise on products for which they haven't had time to educate themselves.
Acknowledging the importance of education, Infor is rolling out a bootcamp-like orientation for new channel members to provide them with soup-to-nuts exposure to both the company and its products. They also are provided with a sales portal filled with "competitive weaponry," positioning and data sheets they can tweak with their own logos; receive a 40 to 50 percent discount subscription to the KnowledgeZone for self-paced education that retails for $6,000 and that they can resell to their customers; and gain free access to Infor U, a curriculum-based sales-oriented training platform.
Fast Start for Infor ERP LN offers a rapid implementation path for new partners serving discrete manufacturing industries, such as aerospace and electronics, looking to tailor that application for their customers and go live in nine to 12 weeks.
Regardless of how fast resellers go to market or what products they take on, Davidson recommends observing other channel members first.
"We were the third partner to come on board (with NxTrend). Many additional partners met with me," she says. "I suggest working internally with a current partner to see how the machine works, to get a feel for what the opportunity is and whether they feel this is the right space for them."
Alexandra DeFelice is Associate Editor of Accounting Technology and can be reached at email@example.com.
HQ: Alpharetta, Ga.
Revenue: $2.3 billion
Phone: (800) 260-2640
Web site: www.infor.com
Key Products: Infor ERP Visual, Infor ERP SL, Infor ERP LN, Infor ERP Facts, Infor ERP Sx Enterprise, Infor FMS SunSystems