I'm writing this before lunch at the gSocial conference in Santa Clara, Calif., where an estimated 80 or so Google ISVs and resellers have gathered to discuss best practices, how to succeed in a market that's increasingly cloudy, and better ways to help their customers. And there's one message coming through loud and clear: Google Apps is an increasingly mature business solution, but it's the channel that's really driving the suite's value.

It's not quite a Who's Who in the Google Apps channel here at gSocial, but it's pretty close. The search giant itself isn't involved in any official capacity, but Google Apps Marketplace Product Management head Scott McMullan and Google Partner Manager Alex Shih are in attendance. From the resale side, you have leading Google Apps Authorized Resellers LTech, Cloud Sherpas and Revevol. The Google Apps developer community is represented by companies such as Zoho and Backupify (which spearheaded the conference's development).

The problem with a conference as small and focused as this one is that it's really not designed for bystanders such as your humble correspondent. Unlike, say, Dreamforce or the Intel Developer Forum, this event was designed exclusively for Google partners to talk shop and air concerns with each other. There are no keynotes or exhibition floor, and the sessions were almost exclusively in the form of panel discussions designed to raise questions rather than answer them: "Developing Your Pipeline" and "Monetizing your Google Apps Customer Base."

That said, there are definitely some common themes that arose over the course of the morning sessions. Here's a quick overview of the highlights:

  • Google resellers are concerned about deal registration and staking their customer claims -- apparently, it doesn't happen much in America, but abroad, Google's direct sales efforts are conflicting directly with partners.

  • By that same token, there's apparently a problem around customers taking the partner's Google Apps literature and liking it so much that they sign up themselves, dealing the partner right out of the revenue equation. One audience member suggested that the Google Apps for Business signup page include a "Partner of Record" field in a style similar to Microsoft.

  • Apparently, a major barrier many resellers have encountered in upselling their Google Apps customers on third-party solutions on display in the Google Apps Marketplace is the billing system -- there's a disconnect between deploying the application and getting the billing all in one place, and resellers are looking for a common vehicle.


But the biggest takeaway, regardless of any barriers, was this: Bundling services with Google Apps is a major path to channel victory. LTech and Cloud Sherpas, those leading resellers I mentioned, even develop and market their own apps to add velue to Google Apps deployments. But even for the smaller resellers, a whole portfolio of services is what's needed for long-term profitability.
Oh, and one final note for this dispatch: This conference was largely billed as a place for resellers and ISVs to meet, but there seems to be a lot more of the latter than the former. I'd guess a 70-30 split in favor of ISVs. And both LTech and Cloud Sherpas are here just as much as ISVs as they are resellers. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from that, but it's worth keeping in mind.