partner program

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Managing technology providers to meet business initiatives: A CIO guide
Contributor(s): John Moore & Leah Rosin

A partner program, which may also be referred to as channel partner program or alliance program, is a business strategy that vendors use to encourage value-added resellers (VARs), managed service providers (MSPs), consultants, systems integrators (SIs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), independent software vendors (ISVs) and distributors to recommend or sell the vendor’s products and associated services. 


Partner programs may be segmented to accommodate the specific needs of particular types of channel companies. A vendor’s VAR outreach effort, for example, may focus on offering volume-based product discounts and market development funds. The latter lets resellers accrue dollars to invest in demand-generation activities based on a percentage of product sales. Consultants, however, may recommend products, but not resell them. For those partners, a vendor may offer a consultant liaison program, which may provide access to technical documentation, product training and dedicated support.


The MSP aspect of a partner program, meanwhile, may offer products specifically geared toward service providers. In many cases, a vendor sells to the MSP as well as through the MSP. A vendor of remote monitoring and management tools, for instance, will sell directly to the MSP, which, in turn, installs the software to provide services to its end customers.


Most major information technology (IT) vendors have partner programs, including Apple, CA, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat,, SAP, Symantec and VMware. But numerous smaller vendors also operate such programs, since channel partners give them more feet on the street.


Typical features of partner programs include product and sales training, access to vendor technical support, lead generationtools and access to beta versions of vendor products. Other program incentives can include awards and industry recognition at vendor events and rewards to channel partner sales staff.


Channel partners may view these programs favorably, yet find some elements frustrating at times. For example, deal registration, a common part of many partner programs, may prove challenging for partners to administer. Deal registration helps partners protect their investment in sales opportunities, but the systems that manage deal registration may offer limited visibility into deal status. Vendors, however, may deploy partner relationship management(PRM) systems, a channel-oriented take on customer relationship management, to improve their interaction with channel companies.


This was first published in April 2015

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