ServiceNow partner program ups standards, differentiation

Program participants believe the SaaS provider's updated program offers greater clarity around expectations and a path toward greater partner differentiation.

Service providers view changes to the ServiceNow partner program as helping them cultivate expertise, differentiate their offerings and understand the SaaS company's expectations.

ServiceNow earlier this month unveiled program changes that will become available March 6. Those updates include the creation of four partner routes to market: Build, Consulting and Implementation, Resale, and Service Provider. Partners can participate in one or more motions.

In addition, ServiceNow will offer partner development funds, along the lines of market development funds, to support partners' marketing activities. The company will also add rebates to its existing deal registration discounts as a financial incentive. Other features include a retooled portal and an online partner finder that aims to boost partners' exposure to customers. ServiceNow's RiseUp training program, which seeks to expand the pool of ServiceNow expertise, is also part of the mix.

Jason Wojahn, CEO, ThirderaJason Wojahn

Taken together, the partner program changes address some of the hot-button challenges the ServiceNow ecosystem faces, service providers suggested.

"Not only will ServiceNow be looking more comprehensively at their partners, but they are also raising the standards, which I think is very positive and will allow more differentiation between partners," said Jason Wojahn, CEO at Thirdera, a ServiceNow partner based in Broomfield, Colo.

ServiceNow's perspective guidance

The ability to differentiate partners stems from a finer delineation of partner metrics. For example, ServiceNow will tell a partner how many deal registrations, new-logo wins and ServiceNow technical resources it needs to have to participate in the program as a Consulting and Implementation partner. Achieving a particular customer satisfaction score is another partner metric.

We get really clear and really transparent in terms of what we expect from our partners -- we try to be very prescriptive.
Erica VoliniSenior vice president of alliances and channel ecosystem, ServiceNow

"We get really clear and really transparent in terms of what we expect from our partners -- we try to be very prescriptive," said Erica Volini, senior vice president of alliances and channel ecosystem at ServiceNow. Volini joined the company in 2021 from Deloitte Consulting, where she was a principal and human capital leader.

The criteria vary according to the routes to market, but focus on what Volini called the "three C's": capability to deliver, competency through ServiceNow product knowledge and certifications, and customer success.

ServiceNow aims to be similarly explicit with requirements for the program's three main tiers: Specialized, Premier and Elite. Those tiers will map to the routes to market. A partner could be a Specialized, Premier or Elite partner in the Consulting and Implementation category, for instance.

Erica Volini, senior vice president of alliances and channel ecosystem, ServiceNowErica Volini

The matrix of tiers and routes to market let partners "pick and choose where they want to focus," Volini said.

Customers, meanwhile, can better match partner qualifications to their requirements, she added.

"We give them much more nuanced information on which partner is specifically qualified to execute the scope of their program," Volini said.

Partner differentiation

Partners said they value the program's clarity regarding partner qualifications and the opportunity to better differentiate themselves within the ServiceNow ecosystem.

Previously, ServiceNow's partner program used a point system that rated partners across 37 areas. The approach let many partners level up to the highest tiers of the program.

Michael Lombardo, CEO, GlideFast ConsultingMichael Lombardo

"It was a point system where almost everyone was elite," said Michael Lombardo, CEO at GlideFast Consulting, a ServiceNow partner based in Waltham, Mass. "If everyone is elite, nobody is elite."

ServiceNow will retire that system February 28, at which point the company will freeze partners' status in the old program. They will then have 18 months to address the new program's requirements to retain their status, such as the Elite level.

Lombardo said he wants the Elite level to be a high distinction to achieve. He said the forthcoming program changes will take into account whether partners are certified on all aspects of the ServiceNow platform and the number of successful customer deployments they've conducted.

"We want to be recognized for doing great work," he said. "Let's hold partners accountable for implementation success."

Wojahn also viewed the more rigorous partner qualifications favorably.

"Higher, more differentiated standards are good for our clients," he said.

Customers will be able to assess partner capabilities through ServiceNow's updated partner finder. The improvements "will make it easier for customers to find the most qualified partners by skill, location [and] service quality," Wojahn noted.

Partners invest in ServiceNow's growth

ServiceNow's cloud continues to expand, even in a rough economy, with the company last week reporting fourth-quarter year-over-year subscription revenue growth of 22% to $1.86 billion. That increase exceeded the company's guidance of 20% to 21% growth.

Partners are banking on the continued success of the company's platform. "The largest partners are really doubling down on their investment with ServiceNow," said Bill McDermott, ServiceNow's chairman and CEO, speaking during the company's Q4 earnings call.

Partners, for example, are teaming with ServiceNow "on an industry domain basis," McDermott said. This co-creation approach aims to layer industry-specific capabilities on top of the ServiceNow cloud to meet customers' needs.

Other benefits

Michael Vadini, CEO at Infocenter, a ServiceNow partner with headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., cited ServiceNow's RiseUp program as an essential part of its partner ecosystem efforts. RiseUp intends to train 1 million people as ServiceNow-certified professionals by 2024. The program also aims to place newly trained ServiceNow specialists with partners.

Michael Vadini, CEO, InfocenterMichael Vadini

The availability of trained personnel is central to ServiceNow's recurring revenue aspirations, Vadini noted. Company management has set a target of reaching $16 billion in subscription sales by 2026. "The talent has to be there to do it," he said. "RiseUp is making a deliberate commitment to a level of talent growth and talent development so, when you add it all up, we have the force required to get the job done."

Vadini also pointed to co-creation as a "major pillar of the new program." With co-creation, partners and customers collaborate to create new offerings on the ServiceNow platform. Co-creation, or co-innovation initiatives, have emerged in cloud ecosystems as a way to customize cloud services to meet clients' needs.

In the ServiceNow ecosystem, a key task will be promoting co-created offerings to customers within vertical markets and to ServiceNow's sales teams.

"We don't want new solutions to live in isolation," Vadini said.

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