Tierney - stock.adobe.com
Most vendor channel leaders talk about keeping it simple and making life easier for partners, but it’s not always clear what that looks like in practice. At Hitachi Vantara, however, efforts to streamline processes and act on partner feedback have produced tangible results.
Leading the vendor’s channel efforts is Kimberly King, senior vice-president of strategic partners and alliances. When she joined the firm five years ago, she was handed a brief to reinvent the partner programme and increase the scope and revenues from the indirect business.
“I revamped the entire programme from the ground up. It was very much a transactional programme that was only based on the merit of how much you can resell as a partner. Everybody was forced through the same programme and the same contract,” she recalled.
“I spent my first few months trying to understand what was needed and what partners wanted, and I just kept hearing, ‘I need to be evaluated on the value I bring to Hitachi Vantara, not necessarily what I resell for you’.
“We created this fully integrated but separate partner organisation that allows us to stand on our own merit, but support as a function the whole sales organisation from top to bottom,” King added.
The shift away from a transactional and centralised structure were some of the first actions, but there is a continued desire to keep improving the partner relationship.
“We really transformed how Hitachi Vantara looks at our partners and how we go to market. Most recently, about six months ago, as part of our go to market, our commercial business, which is essentially our non-named customers – a significant number – is 100% with them through the channel,” she said.
It is one thing to talk about making big changes to the way partners are rewarded and the range of customers they can go after, but in parallel King has been focusing on delivering the simplicity the channel is looking for.
The efforts started with a recognition that there was a problem with the level of business that existing partners transacted with the firm.
“The challenge was that three years ago, we only had a quarter of those partners transacting in any given quarter year. We now have close to 50% of our partners transacting in a quarter, so we’ve been able to enable and onboard them in a better way,” she said.
Improvements leading to growth
The vendor revamped its partner portal to make it easier for the channel to register opportunities, and also to gain access to more training to increase the confidence around selling more of the firm’s technology. Moving to bitesize 15- or 30-minute training modules saw an explosion in partner consumption as more reached out to improve their skills.
“In one year, we had close to 80,000 training modules consumed by our partners once we transformed our training to be simple,” she said.
Another big improvement was around generating pricing quotes for partners, with a determination to use artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools to make it quicker.
“We created an AI-driven engine for our pricing and packaging. So the major big hit that I got when I first came in was, ‘It takes you two to four weeks to get me pricing and by the time you get pricing we’ve either potentially lost the deal or we’re in a more competitive situation than we were before’. Today, any partner within our ecosystem globally [except for China and India] can go in and configure price and pre-approval,” she said.
“We drive a whole bunch of AI data around that to give our partners the best street price possible. It also gives them the best margin because they can see all the promotions available to them. And if they have a registered deal with us they are guaranteed to get a 10% better margin than any competitor,” she added. “We see on average our pricing, 85% of it, none of it goes through special pricing requests that has to get all kinds of approval.”
In practical terms, it means the two to four weeks it was taking to get pricing has been cut, on average, to a matter of hours. That has benefited both partners and Hitachi Vantara, and is supporting the vendor’s goal of increasing the level of business delivered by the channel.
“We’ve seen growth from 25% or less of our partners transacting to 50%. We never have 100% of partners transacting in a quarter or a year, but we want to get to that significant rate of probably 75% to 80% of our partners transacting.
“In commercial business alone, we’ve seen significant growth – close to 50% – and it’s because of our partners and how we work with them, allowing them to feel like they’re in control of the situation and that we’re supporting them, versus just transacting through them,” she said.
“Partners are driving 20-25% of all the net new logos that we have, and 75% of all of our business today goes through the channel, of which 50% is driven from the partners themselves. They’re identifying and bringing opportunity,” she added.
King also recognises the value that distribution can bring if you view it as part of the growth strategy, rather than just an order fulfilment arm.
“We’ve really turned them into a functioning support engine to drive and engage and enable net new partners for us, which I think is fantastic. You’ve got to treat them like they’re a specific part of your ecosystem, not just a transactional engine for you,” she said.
The door remains open for further partners to work with the vendor and the global expansion of the channel base has been continuing.
“Last year, we added close to 1,000 new partners globally. Of those, about 40-50% are transacting or have transacted in the first year and the rest of them have pipeline,” she said.
King stressed that success was dependent on having a transparent and open approach, being prepared to meet partner needs.
“I go into every conversation very much listening. A lot of people don’t do a good job with that. You have to listen to what the challenge is on the other side of the table, and [think about] how to fix those challenges so that we can be better every day. My job is always to make their job easier. You have to have that trust from your partner community. Otherwise, if you burn bridges, you can’t be a channel chief for any length of time,” she said.
“It just comes down to trust, and we’ve rebuilt the trust significantly over the past few years. Every time they ask us for something new, we’ve tried to incorporate it into our programme and really support them going forward,” she added.