Ask a VAR: How Can an ISV Get Better Engagement and Build a Partnership?

Updated: Sep 13



ISVs depend on good relationships with VARs in order to reach potential clients. On the other hand, VARs are often turned off by common ISV marketing faux pas. In our April Marketing Group Chat call, friendly VARs shined some light on these show-stoppers, while giving guidance on how to get in the door the right way and forge a lasting partnership.


Our Discussion Leaders

Kat Wuethrich, Client Services, Admiral Consulting Group

Abra Gilman, Practice Lead, Collins Computing

Robert Jolliffe, Owner, Sabre Limited

Sponsored by: Microsoft Dynamics World


Our experts gave some great tips and tricks, so let’s dive in!



What are the advantages of having a tight ISV/VAR relationship?

Abra mentioned that trust is important. VARs are ultimately concerned with keeping their clients happy. Having a close relationship with their ISVs ideally leads to better customer service for the client. If an ISV is slow to respond to customer issues, or even fails to do so altogether, they’ll quickly lose out on future business; whereas prompt service will incline her to keep referring clients. That highlights that first impressions are key.


What approach works best when you’re contacted by an ISV? What annoys you?

Robert stressed the need for vendors to do their homework first. Many resort to mass communications and pitch their product even when it’s not a good fit for the VAR’s focus. Conversely, if your product aligns well with the reseller’s market, your message will be quite welcome.


It’s also important to be specific with the target customer for your product. Simply saying “our software meets the needs of nearly any client” sounds good at first, but if the entry-level price is $30,000, it’s obviously not a fit for smaller companies. Not knowing that upfront makes it difficult to place your product with the right customer. This broad-focus marketing winds up wasting everyone’s time.


Abra prefers emails over phone calls. A call demands immediate attention and interrupts the workflow.


Marketing emails should be targeted. For example, a vendor recently sent an email highlighting three new features of their product. The email didn’t require her to click external links for more details; it told her everything she needed to know, even highlighting other important details about the product, in as little time as possible.


Providing useful and timely information, tips, and tricks is another excellent way to keep the relationship going. Highlight the key points that are most important for end-users. Make the information easy for the reseller to share with their clients; make it appropriate for the current season (year-end, for example.)


Is it helpful when an ISV gives you use cases scenarios?

Robert agrees that use case scenarios can be very useful, if done right. Simple and clear is the key; the idea is to tell a story. Explain who would use your product, why they need it, etc. Sales training can later be done to give resellers a deeper understanding of these scenarios, better equipping them to sell to their clients.


Kat added that it’s important to highlight what makes your product stand out from those of your competitors. In your use case, what makes you better?


Abra mentioned those differences could be displayed in an infographic. Without bashing the competition, show what others do contrasted against what your product does. Help resellers understand where you’re strongest and where you focus your development.


Robert said that criticizing a competitor is a real turn-off – even more so when the criticism isn’t true. Resellers will check! Remember, your competitors have customers that you don’t have, so they must be better than you somehow.


What do you expect from an ISV product demo?

Abra states simply, “Get to the point.” Lead with the product, because the customer is most interested in seeing if your product is going to do what they need it to. Afterward, you can tell a little about your company, but don’t forget that the reseller has already introduced you to the customer.


How important are margins and do you prefer direct billing?

Robert likes the ISV to align their billing with Microsoft’s practices. While they provide an annual subscription and discount, they also have monthly billing, and many clients opt for it. If the ISV product only offers annual billing, the client is bound to complain, causing further headaches for the reseller.


Abra notes that the vendor billing the client directly reduces a lot of paperwork and makes life easier for a reseller. However, that doesn’t mean the reseller doesn’t want to profit; if you don’t have a way to compensate them, they won’t use you.


Ideas for ISV/VAR marketing collaboration

Kat likes the “campaign in a box” approach of certain ISVs, like Avalara. There are social media post templates, email drip templates, maybe a webinar invite template as well. It’s nice to have content that's ready to go, and easy to share through all channels.


Doing a webinar together is a great initiative; it can be recorded and posted on YouTube for future reuse. The more involved the ISV is in the planning and preparation, the better. Throwing it all on the reseller isn’t a great way to start the relationship.


This approach works well for Robert. His team makes “light training / demo” videos of each product with the ISV, posting the content to YouTube. Then, with each project, the client is directed to the videos for the products that best fit their needs, and this upsell often leads to a sale for the ISV. It reduces sales effort and allows the customer to choose what they need on their own time.


Kat added that giving attention to the consultants, not just management or the marketing team, is a huge help. Including them in demos, or providing resources for them, is key to helping the application consultants know when to offer your product instead of a customization. The more information, the better.


Why do you sometimes not contact an ISV or say no to starting up a relationship?

Robert noted that the sales process is long and complex. Being patient is key; if you don’t get an answer now, that doesn’t mean it won’t work in the future.

Kat said partner fees can be an obstacle. In some cases they’re justified; perhaps there is a sandbox environment to pay for, as an example. But to charge for the privilege to be a reseller doesn’t make business sense.


Tips for building better VAR relationships

Abra suggests a short introductory video for a new product. Show screenshots so we can see the product. Maybe your product is behind the scenes, but it always produces something, like a report – show us! Help the client to get a feel for using the product, how it will change their life.


On the other hand, a complex pricing structure and a plethora of options make things too difficult to sell. The client simply wants to know how much it will cost, and how long it will take to implement. Try a “basic / medium / advanced” approach – three price points along with an estimated implementation time. These don’t have to be exact – VARs are not the client; they understand there are variables, and they know how to work with ballpark figures.

Robert mentioned that long, drawn-out demos are unnecessary when pitching to VARs. Go for a 15-minute pitch; highlight what the product does, who it serves, and what problem(s) it solves. If we were in a trade show, you’d pitch it quickly – do the same on a sales call.


When producing videos, think about the different people that will view them.

  1. A video to pique the interest of an owner that doesn't have any time and wants the overview to send to his management team. That's 5 to 10 minutes long and not a deep dive into the details.

  2. The elevator pitch that explains your product and why you need it.

  3. A 1-hour demo for the implementation consultants to learn the basics of it.


Kat really likes cheat sheets. She recommends the following information to be on them:

  1. What are the Dynamics products you work with?

  2. What are the Dynamics products you don't work with?

  3. What are the industry sweet spots?

  4. What are the minimum requirements for this to be a viable option for our customers?

  5. What are some examples of your customers?

Having this information in one handy reference makes it easier for a reseller to understand your value, what you offer, and how you can help their clients – making it more likely they’ll recommend you.


Wrap Up

There you have it – how to get in the door with VARs! Thanks to Kat, Abra, and Robert for all they shared with us on the call. And we hope to see you in the next session, “Let’s talk marketing analytics! Which web, email, and social metrics should you track?” on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, from 2:00-3:00pm ET.


Would you like to watch the full recording of this CMA Marketing Group Chat? Sign up as a CMA Member and access our Member Library.


By Matthew Alexander, CMA Staff Writer, www.channelmktgacademy.com

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