Content, Channel partner programs

Memo to Software Companies: Simplify Your Free Subscription Offers

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of well-meaning software companies have introduced free subscription offers, extended trials and other perks to help MSPs and their end customers manage Work From Home scenarios.

ChannelE2E has compiled a list of the free offers here; and we update that list daily. Near term, those offers can be extremely helpful to partners. But I also see some problems (and potential solutions) on the horizon.

Free Software Offers: The Potential Problems

The offers come in all shapes and sizes. Their terms vary in length, number of seats covered, support levels, and plenty more.

Among the biggest issues:

  • Some offers are good for 60 days. Others are good for 90 days. Still others are valid until the pandemic ends.
  • Do the 60- and 90-day offers start the day I sign up? Or is the clock ticking from the day that the vendor announces the program?
  • For offers that end when the pandemic ends -- what criteria will define that the pandemic is over?

Amid all those question marks, MSPs that embrace the free offers now could wind up scrambling (again and again) to figure out alternatives, upgrade paths or payment plans each time one of those free options expires.

Free Software Offers: The Potential Solutions

Memo to all vendors: If you can make your business math work, please simplify, standardize and extend the offers.

I simply don't believe the United States will emerge from the pandemic in the next 60 or 90 days. In some U.S. regions, the pandemic may still be spreading just as free software offers are ending. Plus, having MSPs track different expirations for multiple offers may trigger mass confusion and disappointed partners down the road.

To mitigate those forthcoming challenges, ChannelE2E is calling on the IT industry to embrace the following approach:

  • Free U.S. software/subscription offers related to the pandemic should be valid until August 31, 2020.
  • Send partners a status update on August 1, 2020. Based on the pandemic's status at that time, the vendor update should let partners know that the free offer is either (A) being extended or (B) still set to expire on August 31, 2020.
  • Send partners a second status update on August 15, 2020, reminding partners  that either (A) the August 31 deadline has been extended or (B) the deadline remains in place, and partners should plan accordingly.
  • Please don't bother partners about the free offers -- at all -- beyond those two updates.

The Good and the Not So Good

No doubt, these are high-stress times for everyone reading this blog. Free offers can help to mitigate that stress -- but they can also backfire if the terms are too short, and the expiration dates are staggered or too confusing to track.

If you want to make a free offer: Keep it simple, and make sure it truly carries partners through the pandemic -- or at least through the summer of 2020.

And to be clear: I'm not calling on software to be free. Software is valuable. Partners should expect to pay for software -- the same way partners expect customers to pay for IT projects and services.

But for those software companies that make a free offer: You need to make sure the offer truly helps MSPs, channel partners and customers through the extended crisis.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.