When a channel partner looks in the mirror, does a trusted advisor look back?

In my former position as VP of Cloud and Virtualization at Presidio, I frequently used financial modeling to assist our reps, but did not drive sales on my own. That changed after I learned about Nutanix.

I loved the no-SAN concept and was curious to see how it would actually play in Peoria. I pitched a savvy CIO who had participated in an EDUCAUSE panel I moderated, and she was immediately intrigued. But the Chicago office of Presidio was reluctant to work with a new manufacturer. I just made the sale myself and convinced another region with which I had stronger ties to process the paperwork.

The experience should have tipped me off as to the type of situation I would face in my dual channel and strategic sales role at Nutanix. While it’s been surprisingly easy to sell web-scale converged infrastructure to former clients who have called me or vice-e-versa (always running the deals through partners of course), it’s often difficult to get buy-in from VARs – especially from large ones.

mfg rep 1

The Channel Partner Perspective

I had dinner a few days ago with the VP of Sales of a sizable regional VAR. He asked me how much business our top partner would do with us this year. I told him that one organization had a plan in place to sell $50M in our new fiscal year, though internally we pared it down to be conservative. The VP told me that his company will do $90M this year with EMC alone.

As enamored as he and his team were with our technology, I could tell he was thinking about how he could realistically present it internally. Even matching the sales of Nutanix’s largest partner wouldn’t come anywhere near the business he’s driving with EMC and Cisco. How could he convince his executive team that they should risk the wrath of their two largest vendors by promoting Nutanix?

And, suppose he did manage to persuade the executive team to go all in with web-scale; they still would have to get their sales reps on-board. The reps have established relationships with legacy manufacturers, are trained and experienced in selling their products and depend upon them for opportunities. These “coin-operated” reps do not readily gravitate toward promoting new technologies.

mfg rep 2

The Customer Perspective

If I were a CIO, I would not want a solutions provider who simply brought me different product configurations from a leading datacenter manufacturer – I could find that information myself on the Web. I’d want to work with a partner who was diligent enough to constantly investigate new promising technologies, and who was astute enough to discern which ones could have a positive impact on my organization. I’d expect the partner to bring those options and his recommendations to me for review.

VARs that close-mindedly mimic their vendor perspectives risk becoming, in the eyes of customers, glorified manufacturer reps. An EMC partner, for example, might feel confident today in leveraging a trusted relationship with a CIO to advocate Vblock as the best option for a VDI deployment. But the probability is increasing that the CIO will learn on her own that she could have implemented a similar project at a fraction of the cost and with none of the risk by utilizing web-scale. She will consequently feel her partner is either uninformed or, worse, acting in EMC’s rather than in her best interest.

mfg rep 3

Preserving the Customer Relationship

Channel partners tell me that large enterprises move very slowly – the implication being that they have plenty of time to continue making lots of money by promoting legacy 3-tier infrastructure. Perhaps they’re correct, but it’s a dangerous way to conduct business.

Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Just because a customer asks for more storage doesn’t mean a solutions provider should limit the conversation to arrays. They can take the opportunity to educate their client about how Google and the leading cloud providers have moved away from using SANs and ancient (1987) RAID technology. They can discuss the advantages of web-scale converged infrastructure and about whether or not the architecture might be appropriate for the customer’s environment.

Even if the customer decides, for whatever reason, to go with traditional 3-tier infrastructure, at least the channel partner looked out for the customer’s best interest. Over time, as web-scale/hyper-converged infrastructure becomes the virtualized datacenter standard, the customer will appreciate the effort and integrity of the partner for introducing it.

The Playing Field has Already Changed

I don’t agree with the premise that big enterprises will continue to move slowly. External pressures from public cloud and internal pressures from much more rapidly changing technologies will force enterprises to change more quickly as well.

Just look at web-scale. Almost overnight it has jumped solidly into the mainstream. VMware’s endorsement of hyper-converged infrastructure as the platform of choice for hosting virtual machines leaves no doubt as to the future direction of virtualized datacenter architecture.

Then there’s Dell – one of the “big seven” who collectively drive 76% ($56B) of the annual server and storage business. Dell also blessed hyper-converged architecture last week with its launch of the Dell XC Series: Web-scale Converged Appliances. Yet another of the “big seven”, EMC, has said it will develop its own EVO:Rail offering. Even HP is weighing in both with an EVO:Rail solution and with its own StoreVirtual product. Cisco is showing signs of making the leap as well.This massive validation during the past few months by the leading datacenter players enables solution providers to bring up web-scale without concern of appearing “bleeding edge”. It also means that they should, with at least some degree of impunity, be able to focus on hyper-converged solutions by creating a separate division explicitly for this purpose.

However they do it, I strongly encourage channel partners to figure out a way to get engaged with web-scale. Nutanix continues, and is even accelerating, our trajectory as the fastest-growing infrastructure company of the past decade. This provides an extraordinary opportunity for forward-thinking partners to grow along with us.

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