Citrix’ Bill Burley on building a disruptive channel business

I used to run a Citrix partner business in the San Francisco East Bay. We weren’t in the first group of Platinum partners, but we were close behind. I remember the first Citrix Platinum Partner meeting I attended in the late 1990s in Florida. As sometimes happens with channel partners, we were complaining a bit. I remember Citrix’s head of North American Sales, Bill Burley, berating us – saying, “You should be bleeding Citrix colors!”

Burley

I thought about what Bill said, and realized he was absolutely right. It was the ability of Citrix to open new doors and to differentiate our organizations that was the engine powering most of our growth. Bill has long since moved onto other duties at Citrix (he is currently VP, Business Integration of Acquisitions), but with Citrix Summit approaching next week, I thought it would be appropriate to seek his perspective about channel partners and disruptive technology:

SK:  Can you give me some personal background about how you came to Citrix?

BB:  I ran sales at LANSystems which is where I first met [Citrix CEO] Mark Templeton. After Intel acquired the company, I joined Citrix to head up North American sales which included running channels.

SK:  What do you see as the importance of channel from a manufacturer perspective?

BB:  The channel allows manufactures to touch many customers. This allows manufacturers to scale far faster and easier than trying to utilize a direct sales force. Back when software came in a box, it was a boat anchor unless someone integrated it and made it a solution. The channel was the perfect vehicle for accomplishing this then, but is also instrumental today in helping customers deploy enterprise solutions.

SK:  How did you build out Citrix’ channel?

BB:  Coming from a leveraged channel model at LANSystems, I established a similar motion while at Citrix.  We started out recruiting Novell resellers. Before long, we helped the resellers get NT certified because our platform was NT-based. This had the side benefit of gaining Microsoft’s deep appreciation which in turn helped us recruit more partners.

SK:  When Citrix Presentation Server was introduced, it was a radically different approach from other products then available.  How did you help partners be successful in selling it?

BB:  When I first met [Citrix founder] Ed Iacobucci, he told me, “Bill, we’re going to change the way the world computes!”  From the beginning, we made sure that the partner community knew we were not just another “me too” product – but that we had a solution which would help their customers lower costs and increase employee productivity. The smart partners understood this opportunity – they could smell it. Like many new technologies, we started off small – targeting individual departments. Eventually, we took over the whole enterprise.

SK:   How did you build the great channel loyalty for which Citrix is famous?

BB:   We weren’t selling widgets or math coprocessor chips. We were selling business transformation. This entailed a lot of partner investment and commitment – if we had only emphasized software margin alone, the partners would have gotten up and left the room. Citrix was probably the first manufacturer to show the “drag” of other products and services that our technology pulled along. At one point, for every dollar of Citrix software, partners were realizing an average of $7 of associated pull-through. This drag, along with the ability of Citrix technology to enhance our partners’ role as trusted advisor with their customers, was very compelling to the channel.

SK:  What advice do you have for partners on how to capitalize on disruption?

BB:  It is important for partners to understand where they came from. They should be truthful to what their business is, what their customer base is, and how they serve those customers. Customers always rule. A partner’s job is to invest. I believe that partners should either commit, or get out of the game. Dabbling is a mistake. Partners who don’t invest in training, education and understanding of the opportunity won’t be successful.

Partners can, of course, be smart about embracing new technologies. They should run the technology by their core customers – the ones who will give them honest feedback. But if the good customers tell partners that the technology is golden, partners need to pull out the stops.

Citrix Summit 2015

Bill unfortunately is not going to be able to make Citrix Summit this year, but Nutanix is a gold sponsor and in addition to our booth, we have a meeting room, hospitality suite, presentations, etc. If any partners would like to meet with either me or with other Nutanix executives – please shoot me an email: kap@nutanix.com.

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