Salesforce.com rolls out VAR program for Force.com

Salesforce.com announced today a VAR (value added reseller) program for its Force.com development platform, in a bid to spur wider adoption of the on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) vendor's homegrown technology.

The program will primarily appeal to system integrators and consultants who can develop custom applications on Force.com for clients.

Force.com pricing for partners starts at $7.50 per user per month for the "one app" edition, which lists for $25 a month and scales up for higher-end editions, said Mark Trang, senior director of global partner marketing. Additional specifics on pricing weren't available.

VARs will make money by marking up the service's cost to clients. Salesforce.com will handle first-line support for the underlying platform while VARs must support their applications and customizations.

There are no program fees and VARs will be allowed to sell either into new accounts or to existing Salesforce.com customers. VARs would also maintain control of the service renewal process.

In addition, Salesforce.com is providing a set of training, tools and best practices for VARs, and partners will be able to list their services offerings through a new site that augments Salesforce.com's AppExchange marketplace, which also falls under Trang's purview.

Partners need to certify consultants on Force.com, but Salesforce.com doesn't mandate a formal training course, according to Trang. The applicant in question need only pass Salesforce.com's test, he said.

Salesforce.com is providing VARs with "very generous terms," said Ray Wang, a partner with the analyst firm Altimeter Group. "It's important ... as there is intense competition for attracting good partners."

Moreover, the nature of the channel is changing, according to Wang. "It's in vogue now to build partnership programs that extend one's salesforce, but also the ecosystem," he said. Vendors and partners must work together on a number of core goals, such as product direction, a consistent sales process and "co-evangelization of the community and ecosystem."

One Salesforce.com partner expressed generally positive views of the new VAR program.

"There's pros and cons to it, obviously," said Steven Warshawsky, director at Perficient, an Austin, Texas, systems integrator with offices in North America, Asia and Europe. "It does give us additional channel opportunities, but also could be a financial burden if it's not handled properly."

For example, since VARs must pay back Salesforce.com each month, a cash crunch could result if the VAR's client is slow to make monthly payments, he said. Therefore, Perficient plans to sign clients to deals with longer-term structures, and doesn't anticipate many problems doing so, he said. "[Traditional software] maintenance agreements are due annually anyway. What's the fundamental difference in that regard?"

Perficient has had "a great deal" of interest from its customer base around cloud computing in general, although it's unclear how much of it will result in actual adoption given the economy's chilling effect on IT spending, he said. "CIO organizations are really just trying to figure out where they're going to begin once they have capital. It's really a wait-and-see game."

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