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Sellers, Partners, and Customers: Reorganization, New Tools, and New Mindsets Drive Change in the Channel at National Instruments

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Before they headed home to Austin, Texas, I caught up with longtime friend Penny Wright, CA-AM, and a new friend (i.e., first-time attendee and presenter) Jimmy Hwang from National Instruments after their session “Connecting Teams and Systems to Advance Channel Opportunities” on Wednesday, March 13, the final day of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hwang is principal manager, alliance partner program; Wright is global enablement manager on NI’s sales and partner enablement (channels) team. Before NI’s recent reorganization, Wright and Hwang worked on the same team in a matrix structure; now they still work (and present) together, but are housed in different functional areas. In tag-team fashion, the two walked me through the story—and lessons learned—that they shared with the engaged group that attended their session. Here’s a segment of our discussion—you’ll find more of our conversation in forthcoming Strategic Alliance publications.

ASAP Media: What was the purpose of your presentation and what did you talk about?

Jimmy Hwang: The purpose of our presentation was to share the work we have been doing—to share best practices. In terms of how we use systems and tools, we’re trying to adapt to the changes that are happening internally at NI. Two important changes have occurred. The first one is we are focusing on three key industries where our platform is highly differentiated and we see the biggest opportunity to grow. NI serves a wide range of customers in a broad range of industries and applications—and we will continue to do that, but at the same time we are focusing more on our transportation, aerospace/defense/governments, and semiconductor customers. We want to maintain whatever we are doing—but in terms of incremental future investment, we’re want to deepen our relationships and solution offerings to the customers in these three industries.

Second is a change in how we provide sales coverage for our alliance partners. Sellers used to have a mixed book of accounts —for example, I’m a sales person for Texas, and as long as customers and partners are in Texas, they are my account. What’s changed is that we carved out partner accounts and establish a dedicated and separate sales coverage for them. Now, we have partner sales managers, responsible for a set of partner accounts, and they don’t own any end user accounts—all t do is to manage partner accounts. If I’m a regular account manager, that’s what I do—I manage end user accounts. This clarifies the role within sales, delivering more value to customers, partners, and National Instruments.

Penny Wright: We talked about there being a lot of friction over lead sharing. Because of that historical [organizational] setup, our partners were hesitant to share their leads with NI sellers, and sellers who said, “I’m not going to bring partnering into this opportunity because it’s going to bring my commission split down. We have implemented a standard GTM and account planning process where partner sales managers are now driving those integrations and collaborating with those sales account managers.  We adjusted our commission structure to break down the boundaries to opportunity sharing and incentivize sellers to bring partners in earlier in the buying cycle. We actually did that before the reorganization—one of the first steps to getting sellers on board.

From a tools standpoint, in 2013 we brought on our PRM system, Impartner, and were able to stand up a customer-facing directory, allowing partners to manage their own profiles and giving them the ability to market themselves for free. We don’t charge for that, it’s part of their membership. This really enabled us to get our salesforce more educated on who our partners are—it’s almost a sales directory for our sellers to find our partners, so it’s not just the customers who use it to locate a partner.

National Instruments also really was behind on industry tools for CRM. We had homegrown Oracle-based systems that were internally developed, but three years ago, an external sales vice president came onboard and said, “No, we’re standardizing on Salesforce.”

ASAP Media: What are other technology updates and how is the transition going for NI and its partners?

Jimmy Hwang: Because of the now separate, dedicated sales coverage for partners, there is an even stronger need to facilitate the collaboration between our sellers and the partners. So that’s why we introduced the connector module to connect the two systems—Salesforce and Impartner. 

Penny Wright: It’s worked out really well. We have an entire Salesforce business team internally, and that’s all they do is optimize our Salesforce instance. Everybody has tools, connecting with our install base of customers. They can do outbound marketing by connecting to our Eloqua marketing automation. We’ve replaced our internal sales opportunity systems and how we did quoting and pricing and commissions. Now that sales is standardized on Salesforce, Jimmy can pull a report from Salesforce and see partner opportunity pipelines by industry and application focus areas.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but are still just scratching the surface of where we want to go. And a lot of the things that we’ve been working on for years in the alliance program management team are now being adopted because the of the recent business strategy shifts. We now fully recognize that we’ve got to focus and bring our partners into our go-to-market activity. It’s an exciting time for NI and our partners and these efforts have put us in a really good place and position to support the global go-to-market strategy.

See more of the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive, on-site coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on the ASAP blog and in forthcoming Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  Channel  go-to-market strategy  Impartner  Jimmy Hwang  National Instruments  partners  Penny Wright  PRM  Salesforce  tools 

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Building ‘Leadership Muscle’: Get Your Organization Ready for the ‘Partnering Marathon’

Posted By John M. DeWitt and John W. DeWitt, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Welcome to the new partnering race—where everyone is running as fast as they can, frantically trying to catch up to the customer.

Nina Harding, channel chief at Google Cloud, asked an important question at the October 2018 ASAP Tech Partner Forum in San Jose, California: “So how do you work with your partners when the customers are ahead of the ecosystems?” This is indeed an important question, given that “every single thing we do is new,” according to Pear Therapeutics Founder and CEO Corey McCann. He added, in a keynote at the September 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference, that risks associated with new ventures “conspire to make partnerships not successful.” Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, partner at Vantage Partners, characterized the current playing field as “one of significant and ongoing change, which is driving new forms of collaboration, new kinds of alliances.”

Being successful on such a competitive playing field requires alliance practitioners to build their “leadership muscle,” the focus of the Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly cover story, “Building ‘Leadership Muscle’: Are You and Your Alliance Management Organization Ready to Run the ‘Partnering Marathon’?” Building leadership muscle means giving your leaders the strength, flexibility, and endurance to withstand the breakneck pace of modern collaboration.

Why do you need this muscle? No matter your industry, regardless of the specific drivers, it’s almost certain that:

  1. Your company is “remixing” its build-buy-partner strategies;
  2. Partnering activity, especially nontraditional partnering, is exploding for your company;
  3. Your alliance organization faces an overwhelming workload;
  4. Your partnering strategy and execution require new thinking, skillsets, and tools.

If your company and its partners are evolving to catch the customer, then you should (or already will) be rethinking, reorganizing, and relearning:

  • Rethinking. Alliance leaders must continuously rethink partnering strategy and models in the context of disruption and new competitive threats, which are all-but-continuous now.
  • Reorganizing. If you aren’t thinking proactively about how you are organized and aligned to overall company strategy, you can be sure someone else is—and soon you will be thinking about it too, only reactively.
  • Relearning. Alliance executives require new skills and cross-industry knowledge for the new partners and ecosystems they interact with. Many alliance processes and practices require radical rethinking and streamlining if they are to remain useful for managing at the accelerating pace and exploding scope of partnering activities today.

“When all these things are changing around you, you can’t keep doing business as usual,” said Brandeis professor, consultant, and author Ben Gomes-Casseres, CSAP, PhD. “This means very often a change in company strategy [and] if the organization’s strategy is changing, then the alliance organization should change with that. That is fundamental.”

See the Q4 2018 issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly to learn more about how alliance leaders are rethinking, reorganizing, and relearning while they build “leadership muscle.” John M. DeWitt is copy editor and contributing writer and John W. DeWitt is editor and publisher for ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance  Ben Gomes-Casseres  channel  collaborative  Corey McCann  cross-industry  Google Cloud  leadership  Nina Harding  partnerships  Pear Therapeutics  Stuart Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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Why do Channels Matter to Alliance Managers?

Posted By Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP | Phoenix Consulting Group, LLC | CEO & Founding Principal, Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today, increasingly channels are becoming the preferred route to market for technology alliances with new models of converged architectures, such as cloud computing and big data analytics. As a result, each alliance relationship needs to redefine the sales engagement models that make sense. One partner can be a route-to-market for the other or they can meet in the channel or they can take the traditional influence channel model and collaborate on joint selling.  More often than not, it’s a combination of all of the above.  

What we have seen in the 2013 Go-to-Market Alliances Research is not only are alliances employing multiple routes to market: channels, OEM and co-sale, but the top performing alliances are more heavily invested in an indirect route vs. relying on just joint sales for revenue. This is an ongoing trend with 65% of alliances choosing direct sales in our previous 2010 survey. Given what we are hearing in the industry today, we would expect to see even more business shift to the channel were we to conduct this survey again in 2016.

What this implies is that it is not feasible to keep partners neatly siloed and alliance managers need to be as sophisticated about enabling channel sell-thru success as they are in sell-with.  And in this time of technology convergence and business model transformation, alliance managers need to be solidly grounded in what is happening in the channel and how to equip channel partners to succeed with alliance offers.

 What do alliance managers need to know about channel sales? 

Well it starts with tried and true partner value proposition but viewed through the new lens of “what is the value the channel partner brings to the customer?” What is the value or business proposition that is recognized by the channel partner? What is the value that you, as part of an alliance, recognize? The key principles of success being how do WE create value for customers and how do WE make money all together? That would be the inclusive WE meaning channel partner, your alliance partner, your company and even your customer.

Starting with the customer experience will give alliance managers some perspective on the best route to market, whether direct or with a channel partner. How does your target customer prefer to buy? Do they work with local heroes to recommend and implement your proposed alliance offer or do they rely on global system integrators to act in the trusted advisor role? With the confusing array of converging technologies and digital transformation, going to market through a channel partner that acts as a trusted advisor makes sense. Your channel partner absorbs the complexity and connects technology features to business relevancy for the customer. One channel marketing professional raved about her favorite VAR. They specialized in the Health Spas. They knew everything about the business of operating Spas and could help Spa owners and operators with turnkey technology that would create better experiences for spa customers. And in her words “They were making a killing!”

Another building block of success in understanding how to go to market through channel partners is understanding the driving economic model for the channel. Gone are the days when VARs could make a tidy living on resale margin. Cloud solutions are putting even more pressure on the channel as the cloud margins are even thinner and recognized as monthly recurring revenue. The survivors are developing new skills, new services, and IP, such as API extensions to create complementary revenue streams. In other words, your joint offer may have just become the razor.  Savvy alliance managers will examine the profit model around their joint offer for the channel, being mindful that they need to compete for the best channel partners. 

Understanding the channel partner economic model, gives you insight into how to enable profitability for those partners and you have to do that at scale. You will need many channel partners who are capable of selling, marketing, provisioning, implementing, configuring and supporting your offer. This means working with your channel organizations to build the enablement program that supports not only the joint offer, but also those new revenue streams.

Yes, there are many moving parts and lots to think about, but the trend is clear. As technology buying shifts to the line of business buyer, it takes a partner in the ecosystem that understands the buyer’s business and has that vital relationship required to sell solutions that build their business.  That partner is a channel partner.   

Author and guest blogger Phoenix Consulting Group CEO & founding principal Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP was named 2015 Woman of Influence in Silicon Valley and is a seasoned  volunteer leader for ASAP. She is a member of ASAP and her company is an Education Partner Provider to our members. 

Tags:  alliance managers  channel  channel marketing  Channel partner  cloud solutions  Economic model  Education Partner Provider  go-to-market alliance research  Norma Watenpaugh  Phoenix Consulting Group  sell-thru  VAR 

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Relationships: Currency of the Channel

Posted By Diana L. Mirakaj | President and Chief Operating Officer of The 2112 Group, Thursday, April 28, 2016

Of all the things the channel brings to technology vendors’ table, including market reach and vertical expertise, among them, perhaps the most valuable is partners' longstanding relationships with end-user customers. 

Built on trust and knowledge, those relationships are worth their weight in gold. If there's one person on a vendor's team who can safeguard all parties involved receive maximum benefit throughout the sales process, it's the channel account manager (CAM). As the chief liaison between a vendor and its channel partners, a CAM can nurture and enable solution providers, help them gain clarity on the value proposition of a vendor's product or service and guide them in areas like marketing, where they may not be as strong as they would like. 

To bring out the best in partners and maximize their ability to leverage customer relationships, vendors and their CAMs should set measurable goals; provide constant feedback and review partner performance and channel-program reward structures periodically. 

Read the full 2112 Group article, Relationships: Currency of the Channel.

ASAP Corporate Member, EPPP and guest blogger, Diana L. Mirakaj is president and chief operating officer of The 2112 Group.

Tags:  best practices  CAM  Channel  channel business  customer relationships  Diana L. Mirakaj  end-user customers  IT Channel  partners  solution providers  The 2112 Group  vendors 

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Channel Predictions for 2016 | THE TRANSFORMATION IS STILL TO COME

Posted By Larry Walsh, CEO and Chief Analyst of The 2112 Group., Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By all accounts, 2015 will go into the channel history books as “interesting.” Vendors, distributors, and solution providers have reported mixed experiences – particularly when it comes to sales and revenue. Solution providers are having an up year, mostly due to services. Vendors are posting mixed results as customer spending is inconsistent. And distributors are trying to find their way in the middle.

Most would agree that this was a transition year. By 2112’s estimation, however, the transformation is still to come.

Channel Predictions for 2016 Technology advancements are changing the market landscape. Cloud computing is transforming the way vendors and solution providers sell technology, and how end users consume infrastructure and applications. Mobility is allowing everyone to access IT resources from virtually any location. And soon, Big Data will make decision-making better through greater intelligence and insights.

Technology is always changing. But what we find most interesting when we look into our 2112 crystal ball is not how technology is changing but the impact technology will have on the channel going forward. In 2016, the technology industry will apply lessons and new ideas – some as innovative and others out of necessity – to reshape and advance the state of the art in the channel.

In looking at what to anticipate in the coming year, 2112 analysts looked at our research and conversation notes with vendors, distributors, and solution providers. The following are our dozen channel predictions for 2016. Some are based on hard data; others are more speculative, rooted in experience.

Keep an eye out for January ASAP eNews to read all twelve of Larry’s predictions. If you are anxious for  a sneak peek, visit Larry’s Blog.

ASAP Corporate Member, EPPP and guest blogger, Larry Walsh is CEO and Chief Analyst of The 2112 Group. He will be presenting a Quick-Take Session “Seeing Around Corners is a Masterful Move on the Partnering Chessboard” and moderating The Channel Panel discussion, at the March 1–4, 2016, ASAP Global Alliance Summit “Partnering Everywhere: Expert Leadership for the Ecosystem,” at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, USA. For a sneak preview, click here

Tags:  analysts  applications  big data  Channel  infrastructure  IT Resources  Larry Walsh  mobility  The 2112 Group 

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