Joe Barnes, Head of Channels at Cohesity, joins guest host Matt Hensler, Vice President of Customer Success at Allbound who is filling in for Jen Spencer, on The Allbound Podcast to discuss how to build and maintain a successful partner program from scratch.
What’s been the experience for you to try and recruit and sign on partners who already have a lot of technology on their line cards, new technology in a slightly different value proposition then they’re used to? What has your experience been in convincing these overwhelmed partners that they should add another technology to their mix?
That’s a great question and very relevant to what we are doing and what we face. Every solution provider that’s a part of our channel today sells multiple products from multiple vendors, and keeping up with that is no easy task for a vendor. Some partners sell 400-500 different vendors’ products, some are more focused or specialized and sell maybe 30-40 different vendors products; either way we’re competing with the status quo and the encumbrance with over half our relationships with those partners, and it’s a heavy lift on our shoulders. We’ve got to show those partners they can make money selling Cohesity and we’ve got to show them there’s a big opportunity and a reason to do it, but it’s on our shoulders to do the heavy lifting and to help prove that concept.
It’s really not until we help a partner win two, or three, or sometimes even four or five new opportunities or new customers with Cohesity that it starts to pick up momentum on its own. You start to see the partner being willing to start to make investments back into the relationship to try to accelerate the relationship. You start to see the “me too” effect in the partners, where we start to see success with a rep or maybe two reps and you’ve got a partner with maybe 20 sales reps, and as soon as the rest of the reps see them making money with Cohesity or they see how easy we made it for those partners, or how big the deal was, then they want to do the same thing. So they take an active interest in trying to learn our product and get involved and start to find opportunities.
Winning a partner to me is very much similar to the technology adoption lifecycle, where you have early adopter customers and then mainstream, and then as the product matures it becomes a laggard in the industry and so on. There’s only a certain portion of the industry that’s going to buy into a new technology or an emerging technology, so Cohesity faces that with our products. Then what we face from a channel standpoint in developing a partner is very similar. We’ve got to start working with a partner and start looking for those really early adopter type agents at the partner. Sometimes its salespeople, sometimes engineers - mostly engineers - that are a little bit more progressive and eager to pick on an emerging type technology and start to learn it and put themselves out there with customers and look for opportunities to sell that product. Once we have more opportunities to work on with these partners, the enablement almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they have interested customers that need to learn more about it so they can talk effectively with those customers about it. This is where having a great portal really comes in handy. Because we now have 125 partners, this will probably grow over the next couple years to 200 or 250 partners, and we’ve got to have a way to effectively allow those partner reps and engineers to get up to speed at their own pace, at their own desire, any time they are ready to put the time in to learn. We’ve got to make it easily available and accessible and they’ve got to be able to get to what they need at their fingertips, so way more than my team would be able to cover.
We just did a recent analysis of our top ten partners in the West, and our top ten partners the East U.S, and looked at the number of contacts we were focused on enabling, just on the top ten customers in the East and West and it was almost 1,000 individuals, reps, engineers, executives and the partners that we need to try to bring up to speed and increase the knowledge about Cohesity. If we applied similar numbers out to the 125 partners we are in the 4,000 or 5,000 people that we would have to try and enable, it’s much more than I’m going to be able to staff for and effectively do with my team on a manual basis.
You built a channel team from scratch. What are some of the key components you would suggest people get in place when it comes to staffing a channel organization?
That’s a great question, and probably other heads of channel are not going to love my answer because we as a company have been fiscally conservative with our staffing at this point. We’ve only had two rounds of venture capital funding, so we are not in the full scale out mode yet with the business where I can just hire out all the resources I’d like to on my channel team. I have a very lean and mean team. It’s myself, a channel director for the West U.S., a channel director for the East U.S. and Canada, and one over in Europe. It’s literally just the four of us. I’m pulling in help from my marketing team as needed, from my sales operations team as needed. You compare that to other startups in our industry and typically they start with almost double the number of channel people, usually there’s a channel marketing person and more channel managers involved to help get this thing started. I am proud of what we have accomplished with such a lean team. We wouldn’t have been able to do this and grow in the last ten months to 125 new partners and break a record for the most revenue of any storage startup ever - we wouldn’t be able to have the success we’ve had if we didn’t have some good partners and tools in place. I give Allbound’s portal a huge compliment in being a key piece to this.
Joe, you’ve seen channel programs at the larger scale with organizations like EMC, and you’ve started to build out your own program with Cohesity and you’re seeing that take off. What are the top three tips you would tell anyone planning to start or build out a partner program for the first time to focus on to get started?
That’s a great question. I think having focus is absolutely critical. I think about what would have happened if we didn’t narrow our focus immediately on day one when we started this. Thinking about where we wanted to do business, who we wanted to do business with, the number of partners, the type of partners, but constantly keeping a narrow focus allows you to accelerate your results where you’re focused. And it’s a challenge in a fast growing startup to keep that focus. It’s almost a monthly or at least every other month exercise I've got to go through and step back and say “okay we are getting just naturally busy again, are we taking away from our focus, what should our focus be, what's working, where can we double down, what can we abandon or shift our available resources to better activities?” So, focus is number one for partners.
I think if you're committed to building the channel or growing through the channel you want to make every person in your company feel like they can play a role. Take advantage, especially in the early days, of every available resource with whatever amount they can contribute. It’s funny when I go back up to our headquarters for a couple days, everyone sees me coming and they know I'm going to leave there after a day or two and they're going to have two or three things they’re going to be working on for the channel, it may not the main thing they were working on before but it's great. Include the company, don’t just limit your work to just your channel team, that would be number two.
Number three I think is to look for ways to have leverage. The sooner you can put leverage in place for your team the better you’ll be. I look at the example with when we quickly realized we needed a really solid portal to be able to offer our partners as a way to give our partners means to get to collateral, information to get up to speed, training information, how to register deals and how to contact us quickly if they think they’ve found an opportunity. It couldn’t just be a phone call or email to the channel team or two or three us, we would quickly be a bottleneck to the business which I didn’t want. So, realizing that that was a priority because it takes time to know what you want in a portal and to put one in place, especially as a new company, but putting tools and resources like that in place helps give you leverage in your channel business, and that leverage is critical to keep driving the pace of the growth that you want.
To learn more about creating a partner program from start to success, tune in to episode 11 of The Allbound Podcast.