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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #27

Capitalizing on Microsoft’s 950% Force Multiplier

Show Synopsis

Allbound CEO, Daniel Graff-Radford is back hosting Jason Beal, from AvePoint on this episode. Their conversation covers the wide world of the Microsoft partner ecosystem.

 

Highlights:

  • Specialization plays a key role in channel success 
  • IP co-creation is the new frontier of partnering
  • The rise of nontransactional partners

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    The Script

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Partner Channel Community. I’m Daniel Graff-Radford CEO here at Allbound. I am super excited to be sitting down with Jason Beal, Senior Vice President of Global Channel Partner Eco-Systems at AvePoint. Welcome.

    Jason Beal: Thanks, Daniel, it’s really good to be here. I appreciate the invitation.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Great. Well, as always, we’d love for setting the stage for our listeners. If you don’t mind telling us a little bit about your background and the channel and how you ended up in your current role.

    Jason Beal: Sure. So I’ll first start, even before we go to the career. I studied international relations and trade and languages at university. So I always knew I wanted to do some form of international business. I’m from Southern California, and after college, I moved back and was lucky to be recruited into the IT industry. At that time was a systems integrator and a one-tier reseller that was making a transition to become a two-tier value-added distributor. So I was able to cut my teeth in the channel and in distribution, wear a number of hats just learned an awful lot. That company was at that time anywhere between about a 30 and a 60 million dollar company. And I had various operational roles and we built a renewals and maintenance practices business. And then I was really able to learn about resellers and various partner models. From there, it was, let’s say, a natural career move for me to move to a larger and global company. So I moved to Ingram Micro, which had its headquarters here in Southern California. And I figured there’d be more upward mobility for me at Ingram and potentially an international relocation. And Ingram is a fantastic organization. They have just a ton of professional development opportunities and management training. And I was able to take advantage of a few of those. And after I think about four or five years in the States, Ingram relocated my family and I over to Europe.

    Jason Beal: At that time, they had a European headquarters in Brussels. My wife is French. My kids already spoke French. So it was quite an easy transition for us to move to Brussels. And so that was really where I cut my teeth for the first time with an international assignment. And in a European capacity. So I stayed with Ingram in Europe for a couple of years, transitioned over to a cybersecurity leader called Palo Alto Networks, and ran their distribution business in EMEA. And then also got involved in some of the Southern European channel management, some of the early work that Palo Alto networks was doing around public cloud security. Eventually, Palo Alto networks relocated my family and I back to the states. And I had an opportunity to run America’s distribution and then global distribution and commercial channels. And and then about eight months ago, I made the transition to Ave Point to run the global channels business. So a couple of decades working in the channel, a lot of time spent with partners, distributors and customers. My Twitter handle is VARaholic, which indicates, you know, how much I love working with partners. But that’s been it’s been two decades in various, you know, leadership and management roles in the channel.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: I think our listeners are going to love, you know, this. We find that a lot of successful leaders have been just like you on kind of both sides of that table and have seen, you know, different geographies, and have worked with different distribution models. And so I think that there is a lot that we can dig into with that, which is exciting. And can you tell us a little bit about Ave Point? And we know that you’re part of this massive Microsoft ecosystem we hear about a lot. But can you tell us a little bit about what you guys do as a company and about how you play in that channel?

    Jason Beal: You’re right. So we are part of that massive, ever-growing Microsoft ecosystem. We enable organizations to collaborate with confidence. We’re the largest Microsoft 365 data management, SaaS solutions provider and ISV. We’re a pioneer and a leader in this space called collaboration security. And as hundreds of millions of more government employees, private employees, students are moving on to collaboration platforms like Teams. Ave Point provides solutions to help migrate the data, protect, back up, restore the data, make sure that companies have the right governance, user permissions and policies. So Microsoft has a ton of functionality out of the box. But as you know, organizations typically need to customize their implementation and according to either kind of local country regulations and requirements or industry-specific regulations requirements. So that’s where Ave Point comes in. You know, again, we we help them and customers of various business models to provide additional functionality for their data management and collaboration security.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: That makes a lot of sense, you know, in, you know, the 20 something years that I’ve been working in B2B software. Microsoft provided such amazing products, but it’s sort of like 80 percent of the way there for 80 percent of the people. And the reason they have such a successful channel is they leave a lot of opportunity on the table for companies like yourself. I can imagine that Ave Point has unlimited creativity in how those collaboration tools can need more security and thoughtful policies and how those cracks matter more every day that we hear about news reports where security matters. So that’s really exciting.

    Jason Beal: We’ve been developing on the Microsoft platform for almost 20 years. Even from the early days of SharePoint, the early days of the Bpause and eventually 365 and now teams. So, you know, hundreds and hundreds of developers around the world in a special expertize. IDC says that for every dollar of Microsoft license that’s sold, it creates this ecosystem economic opportunity of nine and a half dollars. And that’s exactly where AVE point and our partners fit in to do a lot of that work that you just referred to.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: That makes a lot of sense. And, you know, when people think about ecosystems, there’s not a better example out there than Microsoft. And that force multiplication, that’s a great number there.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: So kind of looking, you know, at your background in this role, you know, what are the types of relationships you would suggest, given your background and some of these better companies that are just truly astounding at building great partnerships? Who are the types of people that they need to go collect as friends in places like Microsoft or around Microsoft?

    Jason Beal: Daniel, you mentioned the term force multiplier. Right. And that’s what the channel is always known for, is, you know, how do you scale how do you increase market reach and capability through partnering and whether you’re a small startup partner or you’re a national or international reseller with a 1huge reach. Microsoft is really right now advocating and promoting that partner to partner model working together. It’s very difficult for an ISV or for, you know, a reseller of various business models to be all things to all companies. Specialization these days is is critical. I mean, technology’s becoming more and more pervasive, more complex. You look at the security space, in particular, whether it’s classic cybersecurity or collaboration security, you know, to increase competencies, to deliver more value for customers is where specialization comes into play. So when partners can specialize, they add value. But that means they can’t be a jack of all trades. They can’t do everything. And so partnering helps a partner to be able to both specialize while meeting the various needs of their customers. I think the second point that I would make, Daniel, is around this concept of IP co-creation. And how to choose a partner one, add value specific to an end customer or end customer’s industry segment and two create a unique value prop or a differentiation. We’re seeing that more and more in this IP co-creation, the more partners that I talk to. They want to develop their own IP, whether it’s in processes, whether it’s in software, whether it’s in various workflow integrations. But, you know, partners are interested in this IP co-creation. Microsoft’s encouraging it through a lot of the training and a lot of the programs that they have. At Ave Point we have a platform that allows us to work with our partners to create IP, to meet the needs of customers or specific industries.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: I love those two answers. So going back to the first one, specialized partners. So in the case that you guys are a security offering, there are partners that are more trusted in the Microsoft ecosystem in their channel that is also security-oriented. They have those relationships with CIOs. How do you find the list of them? Does Microsoft sort of offer them up and segment them out? Or is this through your 20 years of relationships, you kind of know who they are? Combination of both. What do you think?

    Jason Beal: I think that Microsoft, like a lot of the different vendors, particularly some of the larger OEM, ISVs in the industry have taken their partner programs and built-in these various competencies, accreditations, or specializations. Then they have the ability to search right on there on their websites to find partners of various specializations. So we may say, hey, how do we identify a partner in the UK that specializes in governance or GRC? Well, you can do that through the website and find a good handful of partners that might come up in that search. The other side of that is Microsoft has a strong infrastructure of partner account managers. They have resources all around the world that manage their partners. And by Ave Point sales and channel teams all around the world working closely with a Microsoft partner, managers around the world this is also where we can help identify some of the right partners for either a go-to-market opportunity or, again, a specific end-customer opportunity.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Those are really great tactical things of advice. I think, you know, the younger Jason out there trying to create a Microsoft channel, thinking about becoming friends with the right partner management over inside of Microsoft to ask who these people are doing those right searches, keeping it geographical and keeping in the right way. Those are just really great tactical items for advice. Let’s go on to the second thing that you said, the IP creation. Love that. Do you actually mean the combination of technologies like a tech integrated offering that’s got a name and has a clear value prop? Is that what you’re talking about?

    Jason Beal: Kind of at a high level, a couple of practical examples of that might be white-labeling a solution, right, that a partner who wants to take the market under their own brand. Second, it could be integration into a third-party application or a line of business applications. So, for example, I’m a partner. I’m based in Australia. I specialize in legal clientele. I have 200 legal law firm offices. And I’ve found as a partner that the majority of these clients use a particular legal application. How do I help my customers from a workflow perspective by integrating Ave point technology or other ISVs or OEM technologies into that particular vertical market line of business application? That’s another example where there that they can create some IP, differentiate themselves, and add value to the end customers. And then some of it, as you know, Daniel, is just, you know, through an SDK. Right. There are software development kits that are provided in the industry that help the partners go in and develop or customize application functionality specific for the needs of a customer.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: When you look at helping to co-fund those code developments versus just helping them name and market it, like what’s the line in the sand, if there is one?

    Jason Beal: When it comes down to, you know, a scoping exercise, and then like everything else, what’s the addressable market? What’s the business opportunity and the necessary ROI on some of that engineering and partnering work? So in a lot of cases, the engagements are customized. Microsoft, in fact, they have their own program called the ISV Connector Builder program, where even on their website, you can specifically see kind of their rates and how they scope out some of this co-development work. But it comes down at a high level in the Daniel to what’s the business opportunity? What’s the effort? Let’s scope it out and then let’s put together, you know, compensation or a remuneration plan that makes sense for both companies.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: These are really helpful, tactical items for people to learn from, this is great. Let’s take it back to a higher level and let’s go back to the Microsoft ecosystem. I would really be interested as we’re sort of rolling into this back half of 2021 and people are doing planning for 2022. What are some of the trends that you see in this Microsoft ecosystem that you think people should pay attention to?

    Jason Beal: So it’s interesting. We go back to a couple of minutes ago, we talked about aligning to the local partner managers and really being able to speak the language of Microsoft. And when you’re working with Microsoft in their teams around the world, what are their goals? What are they going to be interested in to help them be successful and meet their goals? And, you know, there are three big goals right now around driving Teams adoption, driving Azure consumption, and then increasing market share with the new logos in their SMB’s space. If a partner and by the way, those are all three things that partners have in their sweet spot and do really well. Right. Opening up new logos on the commercial space, customers driving Azure consumption in various ways, whether it’s through backup or, you know, building out cloud and hybrid environments for end customers and then driving teams adoption beyond the kind of daily usage of the calling feature, but really getting the full functionality on a team. So partners are doing that. Well, some of the trends are around. One is the continued move to manage services, monthly recurring pay-as-you-go models.

    Jason Beal: That’s both a trend that the partner business model and from an end customer technology consumption and procurement preference standpoint. So that’s one trend. A second, it’s quite interesting, I’ve had a lot of phone calls in the last about 18 months, both in Europe when we were still living there and here in the United States with partners saying, you know, we’re non-transactional and, you know, we might be aligning on bringing in business, bringing leads. And the partners will say, you know what, we’re non-transactional. And I said, well, what does that mean, your non-transactional or we don’t want to resell hardware nor software licenses. We have a heavy focus on services, on consultancy. We’re happy to refer business. We’re happy to have that business fulfilled through some of the licensing providers. But our focus is primarily on consultancy. So that’s an interesting trend that I’ve seen in the ecosystem in various parts of the globe that I hadn’t seen, you know, but a couple of years ago.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, we definitely have seen people try to find really easy on-ramps here at Allbound for quick referrals or for ways that you can be part of a recommended list and kind of track whether that’s been effective or not as is as important.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Well, this is unbelievably helpful. We want to wrap things up with the final four questions. So, Jason, if you’re ready, the first one is if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why would you choose that superpower?

    Jason Beal: I hate to try to move this to too much of a serious tone, you know, because this answer probably can be somewhat lightweight. But, you know, there there is a lot of suffering around the world, a lot of just human suffering. There’s one mission that we all have is how do we help end suffering given the amount of wealth and resources and that we have around the world. So, you know, to an individual, I think if I had a superpower, it would be how do I help end suffering, whether it was, you know, the victims of all the various types of abuse at all and all ages, diseases of addiction, famine. I just there’s too much suffering for the amount of resources and where we are. And that would be my superpower, again, down, down to an individual. How do I help end suffering?

    Daniel Graff-Radford: You know, I think that when people choose powers for helping others, it’s just such a wonderful sign. Thank you. And given you’ve worked at some of the most well-known channel programs on Earth and can’t wait to hear your answer on this. And it doesn’t have to be a personal example, but one mistake and one success that that’s happened in channels you’ve been involved with.

    Jason Beal: Yeah, I’ve made a lot of mistakes over my career. You know, this is how we learn. Right. I’d say that the mistake that I made, you know, coming from this strong distribution background, both domestically and in Europe. At distribution, you’re two steps removed from the end customer. As a partner, you’re a step removed. I have this thing that when I do coaching and training for new folks in the channel or channel leaders, I talk about not living in the channel bubble. There’s oftentimes if you’re somebody like me who’s had your first jobs in distribution or a few jobs in distribution in the channel, you tend to kind of live in this channel bubble rather than really being extremely customer-focused and customer-centric. At the end of the day, it’s the end customers that were solving their business and their technology problems. They’re the ones paying all of our bills in the industry. Right. So don’t live in the general bubble. I did that when I had moved from distribution into the vendor environment with Palo Alto Networks. My mistake was probably not having so much of that intense focus on the end customers and didn’t prioritize quickly enough the relationships and the alignment with sales leaders and the sales teams. So that’s that that would be my mistake. And so now I don’t live in the channel bubble. And the other side of it is the old Stephen Covey expression that I’ve modified a bit. Begin with the end customer in mind. Always think about that end customer, no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re in a partner-facing job or a disty job. Begin with the end customer of mine.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Mistakes are definitely being made every day in the channel by not thinking about the end customer as you make the decisions. And then one business book that you would recommend to someone that aspires to be a channel leader like you.

    Jason Beal: So I won’t recommend one particular title by one author, but for somebody who is moving into the channel or into channel leadership. I would actually encourage you to read kind of any of the books around Scrum and then Agile Development and all those Scrum and Agile are typically associated with software development type of projects. I’ve learned that if you look at someone like the 12 principles. They can be adapted to channel management, channel performance management, and execution of channel tasks or projects. And what I mean by that is if we all work in Matrixx organizations now and we have different spans of control and dotted lines, and we’re all getting better at executing when we don’t have like, let’s say direct management over teams or resources. However, execution through the channel, either one tier with partners or two-tier through distribution, it’s difficult. I’ve definitely learned that in my career. And so some of the philosophies around scrum as far as really getting buy-in the vision and to the destination from the start, putting things in bite-sized chunks from execution and a check-in the standpoint, iterating in these short periods to make sure that you’re executing correctly. A lot of those 12 principles, apply to how do we effectively execute through the channel because it’s just difficult. So that’s the that’s been my approach now for about the last half a decade, is I talk to my team, let’s scrum it, scrum it, scrum it. And if we do that, I’ve found that it’s you have a higher chance of successful execution through partners and distributors.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: The Agile Manifesto, so simple, but so applicable to so many people. That’s a really good one. All right. We talked a little bit about kind of short-term Microsoft ecosystem trends. Let’s look five years in the future. What are changes happening right now in the channel? It doesn’t have to be about Microsoft that you think people should pay attention to today. That will have a dramatic effect five years from now.

    Jason Beal: Well, we touched on it earlier as far as this rise of these non-transactional partners and the influencer channel. And that is a let’s say, a microcosm for the broader trend in the ecosystem of this proliferation of different partner business models. If we look back 10 years ago, you know, you had a lot in the kind of boom, boom days of IT, 10 and 20 years ago. Very reseller-centric, product resale plus some services. And then there was the evolution of different partner business models from e-commerce partners, then to managed service providers and some systems integrators. I look at this channel now and the diversity of partner business models, and I say that’s not slowing down. In five years there will absolutely continue to be this incredible diversity of partner business models with so many different types of partners influencing the end customer to make technology buying decisions. I still believe in the role of that local trusted advisor. There might be different ways to quote-unquote buy technology, whether it’s the public cloud marketplaces now or e-commerce or resellers. I still firmly believe in that local trusted advisor helping the end customers with their technology decisions and their technology roadmap. So the trend, more and different partner business models. But what remains the same is that the value that a partner can bring at a local level to end customers as their technology advisor and consultant.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, and that’s definitely something to pay attention to as we come more face to face and less and more and how those relationships still matter so much. That’s great advice. Well, I want to thank our guest, Jason Biehl, from Ave Point very, very much for coming. And as always, I want to thank our listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you.

    Great, I’d love to also hear a success from Channel too.

    Jason Beal: So when I look back on my time at Ingram Micro, working alongside, you know, a really great team in the, let’s say, the mid-2000s when a lot of our partners were still in a break-fix time and material services model. But crushing more pressure on vendor maintenance, the reimbursement rates, higher gas prices, we’re starting to really challenge the profitability of that model. Ingram Micro, we brought a program called Seismic that we help literally thousands of partners move from this time of materials-based model to managed services. Right. Proactive, monthly recurring build a full suite of SaaS services, plus a Help Desk and Anok. And it really, really proud. We did a lot of evangelization on monthly recurring and managed services. We did a lot of training. And during that time, from about 2007 to 2010, before I left for Europe, real proud of the success that we had with the thousands of partners moving to managed services models. We see that trend continued today. Ave Point, for example, we’ve just launched a global channel program. Our first truly global partner program on the 13th of July. And we have a special part of that program for our managed service providers. We see more and more interest in managed service providers. And that trend from reselling to managed services has continued. And I’m proud to say that at Ave Point, we have we put in a lot of resources and tools to to continue to help manage service providers.

    Daniel Graff-Radford: Great answer, thank you so much.