There are many reasons to work with partners to provide support to customers (see here for instance.) Once the decision is made to work with an indirect support model, here are some steps to ensure success.
1. Define mutual responsibilities. Who owns the customer? Who manages the billing cycle? How much troubleshooting should the partner do before escalating to the vendor? Does the end-customer have access to a shared knowledge based maintained by the vendor? How will updates and upgrades be distributed? Will the vendor have any direct contacts with customers or are all communications handled by the partner? Can the vendor offer direct support to the partner’s customers? Typically the partner owns the customers, performs all the troubleshooting on any customized applications, and only escalates those issues that can be reproduced against a vanilla product — but you can craft any agreement that make sense for you and your partners. A clear description of each party’s responsibilities goes a long way towards minimizing future conflicts.
2. Agree to financial terms. The main problem in indirect support is the vendor’s feeling that the partner escalates indiscriminately while contributing little financially. If support is fee-based, you can either ask for a percentage of the support fees or for a fixed fee. The former can grow nicely and automatically over time (but will you be able to audit it properly?) The former can be readjusted as the end-customer base and more importantly the escalation volume grows.
3. Provide technical training. A common cause of headaches with indirect support is that the partner’s employees are simply not knowledgeable about the product. Provide documentation and training with each new release.
4. Mandate certification. A standard practice is to require a minimum number of certified technicians. If you are a small vendor do not be frightened by the idea of a certification: you can make it a relatively informal program, perhaps by administering a short test at the end of each training session. The goal is to filter all requests for your precious assistance through technically-capable individuals. Certification should also include basic reproduction equipment. You can provide incentives to certification by charging certified partners less and by promoting them more actively to customers.
5. Actively manage the relationships with partners. If a partner is escalating too many unwarranted cases, you must find out why. If the certified technicians have mysteriously disappeared, you must insist they be reassigned (they are probably out on a billable assignment) or others be retrained. This is the most important component for successful indirect support. If you have many partners a good investment is a full-time partner support manager who can reach out to each partner on a regular basis and address any issues.