Autodesk’s out of the box channel strategy

Computer-aided design software giant Autodesk Inc. is asking its channel partners to think outside the box – literally – by selling customers on value-added consulting services, not just boxes of software solutions.

At its Global Media Channel Summit held near Boston on Thursday, Autodesk told reporters from around the world that it wants channel partners to focus less on moving piecemeal products and more on providing business consulting services tailored to specific industries.

“We really want (partners) to become business consultants … (not) just box pushers,” said Bill Griffin, Autodesk’s vice-president of worldwide channel sales.The new approach is designed to boost partner margins over the long term: sell one software suite and that might be it; but sell a customer software plus expert advice specific to their business and they will probably come back later as their business needs change and Autodesk releases new products and upgrades, said Steve Blum, senior vice-president of worldwide sales and service.

“It’s creating a new set of opportunities to add value,” Blum said.

“If all we focus on is the product or technology solution we’re leaving two thirds of the (value) on the table,” added Callan Carpenter, vice-president of global services. Based in San Rafael, Calif., Autodesk revolutionized the design world with its AutoCAD computer aided design software back in 1982.

It’s now one of the world’s biggest 2D and 3D software providers to the architectural, engineering, construction and entertainment sectors. The latest switch from a product-centered approach to a focus on services means some big changes for Autodesk channel partners:

1. Customer service will be worth more points than just overall sales volumes or revenue alone.

2. Partners who specialize in selling to specific industries (ie, architecture, manufacturing or entertainment) will get more rewards.

3. Rewards will also be greater for partners who specialize in providing four types of customer services: consulting, support, technical or training.

4. Partners who attain Autodesk’s highest level of business consulting qualifications will be designated CSIs (consultants/systems integrators); so far 145 resellers have qualified to follow this stream and only four worldwide have received the CSI designation, including Montreal’s PCO Innovation.

5. Autodesk’s tiered system of bronze, silver, gold and platinum partner levels now places more weight on customer satisfaction levels as measured by client surveys; in fact, partners who meet the points criteria for sales revenue can’t attain platinum status if their customer feedback is below par.

6. While Autodesk’s old customer referral service directed clients to partners based mainly on location and product lines, customers can now find a partner online based on variables of their choosing such as location, industry specialization, business consulting services offered, and even customer satisfaction ratings.

The new focus on industry specialization and business consulting is asking a lot of Autodesk partners. They’re already had to adjust to several changes in the company’s strategy: a shift from individual tools like Revit and AutoCAD to more bundled solution suites with longer sales cycles that require more partner knowledge and training ; the company’s move towards more Web-based subscriptions; and the addition of newer offerings like Autodesk 360, a cloud-based platform for storage, rendering and collaboration aimed at the design market.

Autodesk executives were quick to tell the assembled audience that the company recognizes the greater demands it’s placing on partners and is offering them more support as a result. That includes more training (such as online training videos), new Web-based analytics tools to measure customer metrics, quarterly rewards payments instead of lump sums to make revenue streams steadier and more predictable, and partner-to-partner (P2P) collaboration tools online. Autodesk managers told the conference that partner feedback on the channel changes has been overwhelmingly positive. But a Montreal partner who took part in a global partner panel said one area needs fine tuning.

“The online P2P collaboration stuff isn’t enough. You need more face-to-face events for partners to get together,” said Jocelyn Lavallee, vice-president and sales manager for manufacturing solutions at Le Groupe A&A.

Though Le Groupe A&A has been providing office equipment like fax machines and photocopiers to the enterprise for 37 years, its new software solutions division is only two years old and caters to the manufacturing sector.

Lavallee, a former regional sales manager for Autodesk in Canada, said the biggest channel shift Autodesk has made is to replace the authorization model (which meant partners could only sell Autodesk products they were certified in) with the new model that allows all partners to sell any Autodesk product. But partners get more rewards on products they’re certified in.

Lavallee said that change helps partners in three ways: it simplifies the channel process (the older system had 19 different product authorizations); it opens up more opportunities for all partners since they can sell any product; and it encourages partners to specialize in certain industries and products by rewarding higher margins to those who do.

The end result is making the Autodesk channel program more professional and customer service oriented, Lavallee said, a change he said is long overdue.

“The resellers were just sitting back, filling orders from the same customers they had for years,” Lavallee said in an interview at Autodesk’s office in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass. “Now the partners have to be focused on certain industries and become experts in those fields.” Lavallee acknowledged his firm has had to spend more to hire and retain staff who have greater expertise in specific industry sectors and business consulting. But it’s worth it if it results in higher customer satisfaction, loyalty and value-added orders, he said.

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