Salesforce.com recruits channel exec to woo partners

Salesforce.com named BEA's former channel head, Bobby Napiltonia, to be its senior vice president for worldwide channels and alliances.

Salesforce.com doesn't want to go it alone in the hosted CRM (customer relationship management) software market. The company has recently enlisted channel veteran Bobby Napiltonia to take on the job of senior vice president for worldwide channels and alliances, charging him with overseeing all of the company's partner programs.

Napiltonia most recently served as BEA Systems' channel head, where he worked with an assortment of systems integrators, VARs (value-added resellers) and ISVs (independent software vendors). At Salesforce.com, he'll be responsible for crafting the company's channel strategy and recruiting new partners to the fold.

San Francisco-based Salesforce.com does most of its business directly. Its partner network currently consists primarily of ISVs offering add-on applications and customizations for Salesforce.com's sales management system, but Napiltonia said his first priority will be to build relationships with systems integrators and services firms.

"We can't scale our services as fast as we want to scale them," Napiltonia said.

Salesforce.com ended last quarter with 267,000 subscribers, up more than 100,000 from the year-earlier period. That growth has caught the attention of consulting giant Accenture, which recently said it is increasing its Salesforce.com expertise and working with Salesforce.com on several client engagements. Napiltonia cited Accenture as an example of the sort of global services firm he hopes to strengthen ties with. BearingPoint, Deloitte Consulting, Infosys Technologies, and CGI Group are also on his list, along with companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Electronic Data Systems.

Napiltonia also wants to increase Salesforce.com's representation among smaller, regional consultancies -- an area where it lags behind midmarket applications rivals like Sage Software and Microsoft, which have worked for years on building relationships with VARs and systems integrators.

Napiltonia estimated that Salesforce.com now has about a half-dozen regional systems integrators it works with closely. The company gives partners a 10 percent commission for referral business, a smaller margin than most software vendors offer. Napiltonia is counting on lucrative customisation services revenue streams to entice consultancies to sign on as partners.

"So far, in many of my conversations with the systems integrators, at first folks were saying they didn't want anything to do with software as a service," he said. "But they're starting to come around. The industry is pointing toward [hosted software] and open source. That's where the growth is."

Napiltonia also plans to actively recruit for the company's ISV network. "We've not done a phenomenal job with our outbound outreach," he said. Napiltonia is working to initiate discussions with what he termed "tier one" vendors like Business Objects, EMC and SAS Institute on how they can adapt their technology to Salesforce.com's hosted applications platform.

Changes will take time, and Napiltonia has been on the job at Salesforce.com for barely two months. While Salesforce.com has high name recognition, thanks in part to its lavish marketing spending, the company has until recently shown little interest in reaching out to systems integrators. That will change, Napiltonia pledged: Over the next few months, he expects Salesforce.com to have a presence at channel industry events, as it works to develop its plans.

"We're going to get real-time feedback from VARs and find out what works for them," he said. "Our strategy will not be just 'show up, and hope they sell.'"

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