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Kimberly King is three years into her stint as global channel chief at Hitachi Vantara and although much has been achieved already, the targets for growth over the next 24 months are ambitious.
King’s main task on joining the business as vice-president global strategic partners & alliances was to transform a company that had been inconsistent towards the channel and had an element of direct selling into an enterprise customer base, into an organisation that would champion the channel and, as a result, grow its mid-market business.
It helped that she came with a strong background in the partner world and knew that, given the chance, the channel would make a difference.
“I embraced the channel back in the 1990s and I still wake up passionate about my job,” said King, adding that the belief she has in partners is now more widely shared across the organisation.
She initially looked at the way Hitachi Vantara interacted with partners and took steps not only to make that easier, but also to align the approach with different channel models – reseller, deliver, manage and create.
“I put a lot of time in with partners in the first six months to see how we could work with them,” she said. “I wanted to look at it from a partner perspective.
“We have seen that a lot of our partners are transforming…to an MSP and hybrid cloud model. They have seen margins getting compressed and services become more important.”
King’s aim was to recognise those challenges and answer them for partners. Steps were taken to provide access for the channel to the same training that internal sales staff were given and the people across the channel operation were given training on how best to support their accounts.
“It has been a transformation,” she said. “When I joined, partners were seen as doing fulfilment and not as a source of adding value. We have shown that they add value and are the trusted advisers of the customers.”
It helped that, as different countries opened up to the channel, the difference between those and the areas that had been slower to move indirect became more pronounced. “Those territories that embrace the channel have been overhitting their numbers significantly,” she said.
Hitachi Vantara has also changed the way it works with partners around major product releases. Instead of bringing them up to speed 60-90 days post-launch, that has now been switched, with the channel given the nod that something is coming 90 days before it hits the market.
That approach, most recently used with the VSP5000 launch, produced decent growth via the channel. “By the time we launched, the top 10-20% of the partner community were familiar and had success and double-digit growth,” said King.
As things stand, the firm has built a base of 2,000 partners, but its ambition does not end there. “We have 2,000 partners now, but hopefully will be doubling that in the next 24 months,” she said.
In the early part of the year, more than 200 had signed up and the aim is to hit 1,000 by the close of 2020 and then build on that progress, she added.
For those that sign up, there will be further investments to enjoy, with King continuing to improve the enablement tools provided to partners. Recent efforts have seen the firm speed up quotes from two weeks to a few days. More online tools have been provided, with 30% of quotes now being self-approved by partners and 80% of the rest only needing the lightest of touches from the vendor.
Much work has been done on the back end, with quotes and rebates speeded up, and now the last piece is to give the front end a fresh lick of paint, and that process should be completed shortly.
“We are trying to embrace the partner community and use technology to make it simpler for them,” she said.
Distribution will play a critical role in helping the vendor expand its channel and King said relationships with that tier of the channel were strong and it was already identifying partners that would be ideal additions to the Hitachi Vantara community.
“We are leveraging distribution to make sure we can identify the right partners and the right markets and verticals,” she added.
It has been three years of transformation and King has led the charge to increase commitment to the channel, but it is clear there is more to come and by the end of her first few years, there should be a sizeable indirect base.
“It has been a transformation and there has been a lot of cheerleading for the channel community,” she said. “There is a great opportunity for us to continue to invest in our channel and their success.”