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#29: Security in a Cloud-Enabled World, with Dan Mannion of Armor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Security is a wildly important topic today given the risks and the number of security threats from bad actors and nation states. Security in a cloud-enabled world requires a new approach as organizations transform. Solutions that address multi platform needs are more important now than ever before.

My guest for this podcast episode is Dan Mannion, Vice President of Partners & Technology Alliances for Armor, a Security Platform Company based in Richardson, Texas. In this interview Dan addresses the new realities of security in a cloud-enabled world and how Armor solves for them.

As the First Totally Secure Cloud Company™, Armor sets the standard for managed cloud security services – delivering protection, detection and response for data workloads and applications no matter where they’re hosted.

Dan is responsible to all aspects of business alliances with vendors and Armor’s reseller channel for this fast growing Cloud Security company. He has been responsible for creating a trusted, predictable indirect sales channel that will soon generate the majority of the revenue for the company and shifting the previous channel business from SMB focused and reactive, to proactive and mid-market/lower enterprise focused.

In this interview you will learn:

  • The importance of security in today’s heterogeneous, multi cloud platform IT environment.
  • The “Three Types of Threat Actors”.
  • Armor’s Security Platform – Spartan – secures over 1200 customers in 45 countries today.
  • The Shared Responsibility Model – accountability when customers move their apps and data to the cloud
  • How he balances his business focus across two hyperscaler vendor partners – Microsoft and Amazon Web Services or AWS.
  • The three classes of organizations he partners with to sell and deliver his solutions.
  • How he enables Armor’s partners to successfully identify, qualify and sell.
  • Where he sees the growth – Armor Anywhere, international expansion and partner growth.
  • What makes a great partner.
  • Dan’s career journey including career advice and great books he recommends.

You can listen to the podcast and read the transcript of this episode below.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings link. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione



Transcript

Vince Menzione:             00:36                  Welcome to the twenty ninth episode of The Ultimate Guide to partnering my guest for this episode is Dan Mannion the vice president of partners and technology alliances for armor armor sets the standard for managed cloud security services delivering protection detection and response for data workloads and applications. No matter where they are hosted in this episode Dan talks about the importance of security in today’s volatile I.T. environment. The three types of threat actors armor’s secure platform and how it secures over 1200 customers in 45 countries today how he thinks about partnerships alliances and channels and how channels will be such an important part of armor’s growth moving forward. I hope you enjoy this episode and thank you for your support and for listening to The Ultimate Guide to partnering.

Vince Menzione:             01:30                  Dan welcome to the podcast. I’m delighted to welcome you here today. You and I have known each other for quite some time. You’re the vice president of partners and alliances for armer a company focused on manage cloud security services and your organization Partners with the hyperscalers. Some of our partner listeners and customers to deliver world class solutions. So welcome to the podcast.

Dan Mannion:                 01:52                  Well thank you Vince It’s a pleasure to be here and we got very excited when you invited me to be able to participate on this. So  looking forward to speaking with you and sharing some of our journey with your listeners to start off.

Vince Menzione:             02:06                  Can you tell our listeners a little bit about armer the company’s value proposition and mission and how that’s evolved?

Dan Mannion:                 02:13                  Sure. Happy to. So armorers been in the market since 2009. We were founded to be the most secure virtual private cloud hosting company on the planet and did that very effectively for the first five years of our existence. Grew from nothing to over a thousand customers in 45 countries. And then we decided to look at what’s where’s the next leg of growth going to come from. And we looked at going after federal business we looked at investing more in an international expansion but we couldn’t ignore that giant sucking sound that came from the Seattle area which was the Amazon cloud as well as the Microsoft Azure cloud. And when we saw what was happening in the industry coupled with some of our top customers coming to us and saying hey we really love what you do in your environment by security. Some of our most important applications is our most critical data but we’re still going to take some of our applications to Amazon over applications to Azure. Can you productize your security and take it with you. And that was really the inspiration for us to go down a new path which led us to our second line of products in the market. So today we a managed cloud security services provider. Think of us as a security SAS firm that deploys solutions into a customer’s environment wherever that environment may be. And then we provide the 24 by 7 manage security services behind that with a world class military grade security operations center staying at our headquarters in Dallas Texas. So

Vince Menzione:             03:40                  Security is such an important and complex topic and it’s top of mind for so many people today. Can you take us novices behind the curtain a little bit and break down what the aspects of security are and what the solutions that you provide do?

Dan Mannion:                 03:56                  Sure. Well anytime you’re talking about security the first thing you need to understand is what are you trying to be secure from. And so from a strategy perspective we always take a focus on what are the threat actors out there doing what kind of threat actors are coming after us and what kind of tactics and data are they after. And you know the industry has changed quite a bit.  Ten 15 years ago none of what you see happening today was in the newspapers or was even considered. And over the last really five years it has completely evolved to be a very profitable very strong business model for threat actors and cyber criminals around the world. And so what we’ve seen is that there are three types of threat actors in the market today. One we call this the threat actors their commodity threat actors. There are people just starting out in their careers their kids on campuses they’re downloading free software and and running scans against your environment and trying to figure out if they can use common cyber techniques to try to hack into your environment. Sometimes they do it for profit. Most times they’re doing it for fun. The challenge for most security firms is that that causes a lot of noise and distracts them from protecting against the really bad guys which are the B and the actors.  The actors are the ones that you read about in the newspaper. And that’s the timing of our podcast is very germane because this is the week that we all learned about the Equifax for each hundred and forty three million personnel records and private information from U.S. citizens have now been leaked to to a criminal gang and that criminal gang is going to be using that data for some time to their profit. These are highly sophisticated very well-funded criminal networks coming now from all corners of the planet used to start out of Eastern Europe and Russia. We now see these these types of gangs coming out of Brazil Indonesia China India you name it there are these these gangs are executing every day 24 by 7 and they run highly efficient almost call center like businesses in order to to drive profit to their to their bottom line.  And then the last. Are they a threat actors and most of us don’t need to worry about the threat actors because those of the the tax payer funded the right actors those the NSA operators Israeli intelligence German intelligence the British intelligence these these are the right actors that are after nation state secrets the the intellectual property of the next aircraft carrier. So as long as you’re working with customers that don’t have that kind of super secure and important information those are threat actors that you don’t have to worry about unfortunately. Those are the most sophisticated because those are the ones you’ll never read about in the newspaper because they really are good at not only just getting in but getting in undetected and getting what they want without anybody ever finding out.  So in summary there are three types of threat actors out there. And what is most important for us to understand is what kind of data do you have and what type of threat actor would be after that data and then you start to construct your security program based on that knowledge.

Vince Menzione:             07:02                  So you mentioned that Armor has a security is in the security platform business. Can you explain what that is. And take our listeners through how that solves or some of the threat actor as you just discussed?

Dan Mannion:                 07:15                  Absolutely. So as we decided to develop our security program and strategy to protect customers from A B and C threat actors we found that treating every customer as a snowflake was going to be a very challenging way for us to go about this. If we try to secure every single customer differently you don’t get an A cost efficiencies and you don’t get any scale efficiencies in terms of how you can protect all customers from threats you see across that environment. So we decided to go down the path of not investing in security tools and trying to build the next generation of security tool of a particular compute stack layer. But instead we decided to invest in building a security platform. We call that platform Spartan what Spartan enables us to do is to secure over twelve hundred customers. They are using the same exact security stack and then we can manage and orchestrate that stack using the Spartan platform where that gives us great advantages as if we see a let’s see we say a banking customer that’s getting attacked with a certain type of malware. We can reverse engineer that malware using our threat researchers and our incident response team. And then when we figure out how to block or remediate that now where we can then write the signatures into our security tools for all 12 hundred customers almost immediately.  And so you get a great benefit of being able to understand what’s going on from one attack doctor and then protect all of the customers that are protected by that Spartan platform fairly seamlessly and it’s all included as part of our standard service for our customers.

Vince Menzione:             08:56                  So as a service you’re able to replicate it very quickly and provide it out to all of your customers. It’s amazing. Absolutely.  So I’m moving to the cloud you talked about a lot of your customers moving to the cloud moving to Amazon moving to Azure and the like.  And what happens now from a security perspective once I moved my data my applications to the cloud?

Dan Mannion:                 09:17                  That’s an incredibly important question and something that’s really misunderstood in the industry.  We actually encourage our customers to move to the public cloud because if you if you look at the investments that Amazon Google Microsoft and others are doing to build those data centers secure those data centers create the role based access to ensure that none of their employees have access to your environment. It’s really phenomenal the kind of security controls that they’ve been able to invest in automate and put in place. However there is this thing called the shared responsibility model that all public cloud proprietors have and the share of responsibility model states that the cloud provider will secure everything up to the virtual machine that your application is setting up.  Now the virtual machines that you sit on your application servers your database servers and then all of the network ports that you open up in order to access your environment that is 100 percent the responsibility of the customer to provide those security controls. And unfortunately it’s that’s very mis understood. In fact when I give talks at technology conferences around the world. Alas the room how many we are moving to the public cloud today and invariably 70 percent of their hands go up in the room and then I ask how many of you understand the share responsibility model and what that means from a security perspective. And usually only two or three hands stay up.  So it’s a very important concept but fortunately a very misunderstood concept in the market

Vince Menzione:             10:44                  That’s amazing and I thought I thought all along that the cloud providers provided all that security kind of embrace the application in the whole stack. But what you’re saying is it’s that’s not the case so what are customers then need to do once they have this shared responsibility?

Dan Mannion:                 10:58                  Well there’s there’s always three customary three choices for every single customer’s going into the cloud. One do nothing. So maybe you’re just putting up a public Web site and it doesn’t matter if it gets hacked and the data there is a public anyway. Don’t don’t invest in securing something that doesn’t need to be protected and that’s fine for two you’re going to build your own security model. Now that requires you to understand how you do security in the cloud which is different than you’re going to do it in your own data center and then it also requires you to go out and try to shop through the marketplaces of the public cloud providers and figure out which solutions from which vendors are going to be best served and in your environment. And you’ve got to build integration hooks in between the different solutions that you’re going to stack up into your environment to protect you.  And then you have to go out and hire those super smart security professionals that are incredibly hard to find and very expensive to to retain and build a 24 by 7 Security Operation Center team. And then the last choice you have is you can partner and that’s the area where where armorers been incredibly successful with customers especially in the mid-market and going all the way up into the enterprise because doing cloud security is a new muscle even for grizzled veterans in the security business.  And so deliver security and 24 by 7 monitoring services very very quickly that allows customers to still take advantage of that public cloud flexibility and the gelati that they’re they’ve really been promised from most providers.

Vince Menzione:             12:26                  So who would be an ideal customer of your organization?

Dan Mannion:                 12:30                  Yeah we do incredibly well in mid-market companies up to the lower enterprise space just for my size. The reason why we do incredibly well there is they are large enough to have data that threat actors care about and they also know that they could be at risk but they’re not funded enough to replicate the kind of 24 by 7 Security Operations Center team that we have for that maybe you know a Fortune 50 company like J.P. Morgan might. We also do incredibly well in any kind of financial health care or any regulated industry. So those companies that have PIII information that have a credit card information that have financial data for customers healthcare information on individuals. Anybody who has that type of data that really really needs to be protected because that’s core to your business model and to the trust that you have with your customers. Those organizations are are through and through a large percentage of our wealth on our customers.

Vince Menzione:             13:32                  So you’re the V.P. of alliances and partners. Can you take our audience through what the outcome and the mission for your role is?

Dan Mannion:                 13:40                  Absolutely. So we treat the alliance relationships and the partner relationships a little bit differently. I have a small team focused on a relationship with Microsoft and Amazon. And really the way that we approach that is how do we first use those relationships to give brand differentiation to Armor. So anytime we can have the Armor brand and the Amazon brand or the Armor brand in the Microsoft brand show up together in front of our prospective customers it just quickly adds credibility to the to that Armor brand. Second thing we try to do is work with those companies to create technical differentiation in our platform. So if I can more deeply integrate into the Azure cloud or into the Amazon cloud and provide features and functions that differentiate me against my competitors the Mac gives me great value in the market. And then lastly we look at those relationships to start to drive revenue and opportunities for us.  So how do we craft our up our value proposition so that Amazon and Microsoft Sollars understand why Armor can accelerate their customers move to the cloud and remove that fear uncertainty and doubt security and compliance on the partner side of the business. We have worked hard over the last year to really understand what is the best profile of partner for us and we’ve really started to settle on three profiles. One are the cloud migration consultancies out there and there are large companies going all the way up to Accenture down to you know small 5 10 percent regional shops that have a really bright people and great expertise and particular area. So cloud migration consultants these are great for us because at some point as you’re moving to the cloud you’ve got to answer that question for the customer.  Hey what about security and privacy and the cloud and armor can be the easy button to continue to accelerate those migrations. We also work with the board in the cloud and espies who are actually managing the Amazon and Microsoft have a structure on behalf of customers and simplifying that process. They also get asked about that security and privacy question. And then finally we work with security and infrastructure resellers because those resellers who grew up usually selling a lot of gear into a particular data center colo facility on behalf of a customer. They’re shifting into helping customers move to the cloud as well. And so we also have a great value proposition.

Vince Menzione:             15:57                  So tell me a little bit more about working with both of the door to the top hyper scalers. How do you split your business between Amazon and Microsoft?

Dan Mannion:                 16:07                  That’s a great question. We initially split our business 50/50 so we try to go after those guys at the same level of investment time and energy and then as we developed relationships with with those providers and we saw the direction that they were both going into. We’ve started this shift about a 70 30 split so 70 percent of our time in investment has really invested in AWOS and about 30 percent of our time investment is invested in Microsoft and there’s really two core reasons for that. Number one on the one of it’s customer driven. So as we go out and engage customers and talk to them about their cloud journey 70 percent of the time they’ve already made the decision that AWOS is their destination of choice and only 30 percent of the time we’re saying that that Azure is winning that conversation. So we have to go where the customers are asking us to go.  And then secondly when we look at the partner eco system we found that while we love our Microsoft partners they get torn in different directions because of the breadth of offerings that Microsoft has. So for example you could be working with a or one day on an azure project the next day they won’t return your call because they’re doing all this 365 migration and the next week they’re working on Windows 10 deployment and the week after that they might get back to the azure business. Whereas when you work with an AWOS committed partner there’s only one thing for them to do. It can only sell AWOS that can only sell that cloud infrastructure and help companies migrate into that environment. So we found it’s just been a little bit easier from a go to market perspective to work with the aid of the ecosystem. And

Vince Menzione:             17:41                  You mentioned the three classes of partners.  You have a pretty complex solutions. How do you and how do you enable those partners to be successful?

Dan Mannion:                 17:50                  Wow that is the that is the million dollar question for us right now. It’s been a lot of heavy lifting in the short term. I have a team of partner and development managers around the country. So two per regions so six total and then I have one guy in the U.K. We have a dedicated partner solution architect in our business. And  so for the first hundred partners that we’ve onboarding over the last 12 months it’s really been a manual process. We have a very formal onboarding process but it requires either us traveling to the partner or the partner traveling to us and then going through a series of trainings where we teach them both from a sale that they will get perspective as well as a technical sales perspective which is a super important thing we’ve learned over the last 12 months really how to identify and arm more opportunity how to help qualify that opportunity. And then when to bring us in as the security experts to help them bridge that gap as we go forward I’m really looking for new solutions on how I can take that to scale because I can’t get from the first hundred partners to the next 300 partners. I’m using that very manual model today.

Vince Menzione:             18:58                  So do you have your own certification process?

Dan Mannion                  19:00                  We are evolving that. Absolutely. So we’re completing the technical sales enablement and working with our solution architecture team as well as our security team to ensure that we understand what we want people to be proficient in. And then 2018 we’re going to take that on where we can actually create certifications test individuals for those and have tracking mechanisms to know who’s done what and where. So

Vince Menzione:             19:26                  I’m one of those three classes of partners right the size the MSP and the security firms that provide solutions. Why  would I want to partner and align with Armor?

Dan Mannion:                 19:37                  It’s a great question. So couple of things. Number one generally these companies want to partner with Armor because they’re looking for a way not to slow down their core business which is either the selling of security services the migration of workloads to the cloud or the management of those workloads.  And the number one blocker that we hear from these companies is this fear uncertainty and doubt that customers have around security. And unfortunately these companies aren’t security specialist either. So often times they’ll have these migration consultants these will stop and they won’t be able to deploy their cloud architects for another three months another 12 months as the customer tries to investigate internally. How are you going to be secure in the cloud. So the number one reason we get chosen to do this is because we removed that blocker and remove that fear uncertainty and doubt long term. The feedback that we’ve been told about why customer why our partners are excited to continue to partner with us is we have a very unique stance in the market where we can actually provide security for a customer. One of our partners customers in any environment that they want and that’s very unique.  Most of the solution providers we compete against might be specialists in AWOS or they might be specialists in Azure or they recommend going into Rackspace because that’s where they’ve done most of their business. The armor value proposition and how we productize what we our security solution it’s called armer anywhere we can literally take it to any data center to secure any workload that you want and that’s a great value proposition for Migration companies crowded mess fees and security resellers to embrace now you talked about the 100 moving to 300 partners.

Vince Menzione:             21:24                  Can you talk a little bit about the company and where it’s headed and where do you see the growth?

Dan Mannion:                 21:31                  Absolutely. So today 2200 customers 45 countries we have about 250 people in market. Most of them are in our Dallas HQ area I’d say it’s about 80 20 split between HQ and and around the country and around the world. Where we really see the growth coming from is twofold. Number one we see a comment in our new arm or anywhere solution and we’re really excited about that because it’s both a it gives us more app x so to speak because we can literally secure you anywhere.  There’s there’s very few customer conversations we can get into or we can’t figure out a solution that works for that customer. So we think that’s going to be a huge lever of growth for us. We also think international expansion is going to be a huge lever of growth for us. And the thing that my board in my leadership team are incredibly excited about is expanding through partners. At the end of the day when I first came on board about 18 months ago the company was doing about 10 percent of revenue through the partners that existed at that time and they were very SMB oriented partners. And so we really had to hit the reset button redesign all the different partner programs so we could go after and work with partners that were focused on that core mid markets of the lower enterprise space since we launched in July of last year.  We’ve now shifted 30 percent of revenue to go through partners. And if our pipeline works out the way I’m hoping to by the end of this year will be up to 50 percent of revenue. And so we’re really putting our our money where our mouth is and demonstrating that we’re committed to building a very robust partner business and working with the top players in those markets to bring security to their customers.

Vince Menzione:             23:11                  Wow that’s outstanding growth from 10 percent and mostly SMB or small partners to almost 50 percent of the business I hear you saying.

Dan Mannion:                 23:19                  Absolutely. Absolutely and we because we have been moving up market with these trusted partner relationships. We’ve also been setting records in terms of the size. So we’re going from average deal sizes of about twenty five hundred a month to deal sizes north of$10000 a month and setting some seven figure record deals.

Vince Menzione:             23:38                  So what do you think are the characteristics or what makes a great partner?

Dan Mannion:                 23:43                  As a fantastic question well when I start to engage companies the first thing I try to understand is culturally are we aligned. Is this a business that does well partnering and or their executives committed to those types of relationships and can they prove that they’ve done that in the past. So you’ve got to have some level of cultural alignment that’s important for these types of partnerships to be successful.  Secondly can we define what our unique value proposition is in the market if we combine our solutions together and we don’t have a definition of what our company and your company can do uniquely that we can’t do with any other of your competitors in the market. And if you can get to that unique value proposition then it’s something very easily for your for your sellers to adopt. And that’s the last area that we really examine which is is this friction free for your seller. Are they talking to the same buyers that would actually purchase and armor solution if we’re asking those sellers to go talk to new buyers with the new value proposition. That’s way too much friction for a seller who is trying to make their quota every month and every quarter. So are we aligned on from a value proposition that unique value proposition. And are we already selling to the same buyer if you can check those three boxes. Then we have the makings of a successful partnership. So

Vince Menzione:             25:05                  When you came in 18 months ago and looked at that 10 percent of the business were there some partners that just weren’t getting it. And what were the characteristics of partners that weren’t succeeding?

Dan Mannion:                 25:15                  It was very reactive. So usually we actually had an Let’s see it when I first came on board we had 291 partner agreements signed only about twenty three or twenty four of those partners were active and we had no way to forecast the business. And that’s because what it usually happened is that partner was looking for a solution on behalf of their customer. They somehow found armor through a Google search or through referrals in the industry. They came to us to solve that one particular customer solution but it wasn’t aligned to their core business.  So just like we talked about the three makings of the great partnership we can we never came up with the unique value proposition. It wasn’t core to how their sellers were going to market already. It was just a we were reacting to a customer demand. Let’s  see if we can find a provider to help them. So that’s where we really wanted to shift gears as we went into 2017 and start to focus on the alignment of those types of partners where culturally we’re aligned we can build that unique value proposition and we’re already talking to the same buyer that’s where we’re really seeing the traction.

Vince Menzione:             26:25                  And you mentioned earlier going to market with both Microsoft and Amazon. And what does that look like. I mean are there any things you’re doing specifically to reach customers jointly?

Dan Mannion:                 26:35                  Great. Another great question. What does that look like. A lot of work is what it looks like right now.  As you know the sales forces of Amazon and Microsoft are driven very hard and there’s ecosystems of tens of thousands of partners that are trying to get their attention. And so you have all these relationships to make them not just about brand or about technical differentiation but to that revenue generation element. It takes a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of hardware. So the two areas that we’re focused on is number one can we construct in a very specific Amazon value proposition. And then a very specific Microsoft proposition because they’re different they’re going to respond to different ways of how you you tell your story. Can we construct that in a way that’s simple for them to understand and very easy for them to consume. And then secondly are we holding accountable our sellers and my partner or develop managers to actually go out there and on the market and build relationships with the decision makers in key leaders in those field organizations if we can do that and if we can continue to show up where Microsoft and AWS show up and we can be consistent in how we engage them and show value to them month over month quarter over quarter and you start to see those become not just those Barnie relationships where we’re swapping brands but they actually become productive revenue generators for a while.

Vince Menzione:             28:01                  Then you mentioned prior to starting the podcast today that you’re doing a road show with Microsoft That’s coming up soon?

Dan Mannion:                 28:07                  That’s right. We’re kicking off a 15 city road show where we’ve selected 15 different markets. We selected a regional partner. That’s an existing partner each one of those markets and now we’re working with a Microsoft Azure solution architect to host a three hour migrating to Azure securely event for our customers. And so the registration has been phenomenal. Our goal has been to get to about 25 customers and every MTC and we’re currently exceeding that for let’s say two thirds of the the market that we’re going into. That’s very exciting and we think that’s also going to accelerate how we got to market with Microsoft in those local local regions.

Vince Menzione:             28:51                  So any other advice for partners looking to engage with you or your organization?

Dan Mannion:                 28:57                  I would just say reach out if you have an interest in security if your customers are. Are you are concerned about security privacy and compliance as they’re thinking about moving to the cloud. Reach out to us come to our Web site.  We have a very simple way to get engaged and my team is incredibly focused and motivated to find strong partners that we can go to market with. And that’s I think that’s a key point that I want to make before we close out is just spending last decade of my career at Microsoft and looking at the ecosystem of partners and truly understanding what it takes from a time resource and investment perspective to go from a great idea to actual revenue and market.  We’re not about just trying to sign up 300 partners and have a bunch of logos on our website.  I will turn away more partners than I engage because when we do engage a partner we’re committed to building a go to market plan work have been into doing events together webinars together and we really want to turn that into a profitable relationship for both companies. Otherwise why are we in this business today.

Vince Menzione:             30:01                  That’s a great commitment from your organization Dan. And I hope our partners are listening or paying attention to that. Hey I want to shift gears here a little bit. We are going to provide links to your information in our show notes for sure. So  partners can reach you personally but I do want to spend a little bit of time and as you know from listening to other episodes I’m fascinated with how people got to this particular spot in their lives. And I was hoping you could share with our listeners a little bit more about how you got started and how you got to this point in your career.

Dan Mannion:                 30:31                  Sure. That would be great. So I actually started my career as a technical recruiter on Wall Street. Coming out of my undergrad program at Penn State.  And the only reason I took that role. In fact I didn’t even know what kind of role I was taking to be quite frank.  The only reason I took that role is they had advertised a six month training program to teach new grads about the software hardware and system administrator markets at the time.  What I didn’t realize it was the only reason they were doing that is so that we could sense we being 22 year old kids could convince men and women who are I.T. professionals car payments mortgages to leave their job at one company and take a job somewhere else. But it was a great training both from the standpoint of understanding the market in the industry. And then they spent six months really training us up on how to be very proficient sellers in the market. And I was blessed that that particular opportunity took me to where I live today which is Austin Texas. I moved Austin back in 1996 and I just got caught up in the excitement. That was the Internet boom that was going on there in startups that were popping up all over Austin. I was placing engineers into companies that were going public and they were becoming paper millionaires overnight. Then I called them six months later and they’d say I’d say hey this Dan has a gallon than that said Dan who.  Dan I’m the guy who actually your job and I couldn’t believe that that I was on the sidelines watching this happen. And that’s never been my personality. I like to get in the game. So I talked myself into my first software sales position at a startup called Jack that was successfully purchased by another company. I then talk myself into another software sales job that. And then finally found a really great startup called Higher dot com where I spent the next six years my life. And one of the things that I’d encourage young people to think about when they’re coming out of either college or high school or their grad programs is what type of company you want to go work for and what I really found that first decade of my career is working at small companies gave me an immense amount of exposure to decision making to our executives to how we think about resource investments cetera. I just became a business person not just a salesperson because I was exposed to those types of leadership conversations and choices that we have to make.  And then I was looking about 11 years of my career I’ve Gerren a bag and leading sales teams direct sales organizations. When someone encouraged me to look outside the company because if I wanted to pursue my path which was to eventually lead a software business or become a CEO of my own software company I had to understand that that still 90 percent of all software is transacted through channel partners. It’s an indirect sales model and that’s when the light bulb went on and just through some great relationships and friendships that I still hold dearly. Today I found my way to a referral into a great opportunity at Microsoft where I then got to spend the next 10 years my career really learning how the largest and most successful software company on the planet builds partner ecosystems in order to scale their products around the globe. So that was my last 10 years of my career. Now I’m excited to start to apply those back into those learnings back into smaller companies and hopefully do the same and build armor and whatever next chapters come into my life using the knowledge of the direct and indirect sales experience.

Vince Menzione:             33:57                  And what did you get your degree in?

Dan Mannion:                 33:58                  Great question I actually went into college to be a surgeon. I was a pre-med undergrad until I was my junior in college when I had a very heartfelt decision and decide not to pursue medicine anymore. And then I got a marketing degree with a psychology minor. I actually thought about becoming a psychology major. And then I said you know what I want to sit around and listen to people’s problems all day. So then I went into sales and you know what I started doing sitting around listening to people’s problems all the way.  I also was a marketing major so I could relate to that.

Vince Menzione:             34:28                  So what is the most fun aspect of the job for you?

Dan Mannion:                 34:31                  Oh it’s it’s the journey.  Frankly it’s you know I came here and there was two people actually three people in my team. One person is still a great contributing member of the team. She’s been fantastic. One person I moved into in account management role and she’s really excelling there.Unfortunately one person we had to move out of the business pretty quickly it just wasn’t the right fit. We’ve been able to build a terrific team with diverse sets of skills and to see that team come together and create this set of partner programs which is now getting the kind of momentum in the market that we’ve talked about. And that’s really that’s really what it’s all about to be able to work with great people to give them an opportunity to do their best work and then to see the impact that that work has not just on our business but in all the businesses of the partners. And you know what they’re investing in order to build these giant businesses together. And that’s been that’s been the most rewarding part of this journey.

Vince Menzione:             35:27                  So it was the best piece of advice that you received when you got started?  Maybe you impart to others that you mentor.

Dan Mannion:                 35:34                  Let’s say I’ve gotten a ton of great advice in my career. So if I could if I could boil it down to one nugget the one thing that I always try to do that I think is is to be super important no matter what stage of your career as in is just be great every day of what you do. You need to wake up every day and try to be the highest level of excellence. Be dependable be reliable do what you say you’re going to do. Understand how to manage and set expectations appropriately so that you can always exceed those expectations and just try to be the best possible individual contributor manager executive. Whatever level of your career as long as you just wake up every day and try to be great at what you can do that day. I’ve found that your career and frankly your life has worked out just right.

Vince Menzione:             36:23                  That’s an awesome piece of advice it reminds me of the saying by John Wooden who I admire quite a bit. Make each day your masterpiece.

Dan Mannion:                 36:30                  That’s funny that I agree 100 percent. It’s funny that you mention John Wooden because one of my favorite quotes that I use with every team that I have had the pleasure and privilege to be able to manage and lead is one or one of his quotes which is he used to tell his players every day your actions speak so loud I can’t hear your words.

Vince Menzione:             36:50                  You know we talked about a very successful career in technology three startups I bet each of those had their unique stories.But what about hurdles. Did you have to face any hurdles in any of these organizations and how did you overcome them?

Dan Mannion:                 37:05                  Wow that’s a long list. On I’m not sure if we have three more hours. We might send this into a series as you go down the main obstacle series there. Every role every company every every week frankly of your career you’re going to face hurdles you’re going to face obstacles. Some the ones that that were most not challenging for me to overcome but important I think for me to overcome was in those transitionary time. So when you’re trying to go from being an individual contributor to a manager and you’re trying to go from a manager to be an executive understanding how to be self-aware and realize that what got you from A to B is not the same set of skill sets that will get you successful from B to C. And so I think number one trying to figure out how to become the most self-aware individual that I could and be honest with myself and and realize what I’m good at and what I’m not good at and try to steer my career in areas that I can that the role can and maximize my strengths and not try to steer my career into roles where I’m not fit well for that particular job. I think that’s been really the best learning for me over the last 21 22 years is really understanding yourself understanding what you’re capable of and then find roles and environments with the types of people and managers and leaders that you’re inspired by so that you can do your best work. So

Vince Menzione:             38:32                  what advice would you give your 22 year old self?

Dan Mannion:                 38:38                  The first thing I would say is you’re not as smart as you think you are. My 22 year old self is pretty confident pretty smart. And what I realize now looking back is that was just more ignorance than anything else.  And so I’m glad that I had leaders and mentors throughout my career that could help me become more self-aware and see that in myself and teach me how to better apply my my confidence my energy my passion that I have and in every job that I’ve I’ve ever applied myself to. And then the second thing I would tell my 22 year old self is just keep going. People underestimate the power of just keep running and keep moving in a forward direction through whatever obstacle that you face during every challenge last job. No company that gets by. Now you’re reporting to people you don’t like where the case may be.  Just keep going keep driving forward and that’s going to work out better than you probably think it is.

Vince Menzione:             39:43                  Yeah I like to refer to that as persistence right grit determination and persistence all those kind of words come to mind when you mention that the Grit become one of my favorite words are you 100 percent me too.

Vince Menzione:             39:55                  So if you had a personal billboard and this is somewhat of a metaphor but what would you share on it?

Dan Mannion:                 40:03                  What would I share on my personal billboard.

Dan Mannion:                 40:06                  I went through an exercise at Microsoft a long time ago which was you had to go through 52 values and get to what are your six core values. And that really had an impact on my life because it got me to stay focused and understand what do I care about and what’s going to be core to my character to my to my spirit to my mind.

Dan Mannion:                 40:27                  And if I can continue to find ways to apply those values into my work and then find organizations that value similar things then I will be successful I will be able to make an impact and I’ll feel satisfied at the end of every day. And so if I had that board up right now I’m confident it would have those six values on it.

Dan Mannion:                 40:47                  Do you remember what they were. Yes. So number one by you is family. Number two value is health. Number three value is passion. Number four value is a risk. I like pursuing things that have an opportunity for growth and an opportunity for failure as well. Number of face value is fun. And outnumbered 6 value is challenge nice.

Vince Menzione:             41:18                  Very nice. And what do you do for fun when you’re not working.

Dan Mannion:                 41:23                  I chase after my kids who are now 10 year old daughter and 8 year old son and just embrace every moment that I get to have with them and and see them blossom into a really super cool fun people that that we get to hang out with as much as possible.

Dan Mannion:                 41:36                  And then the one area outside of my family that I’m still super passionate and committed to is I played soccer competitively. So I actually run and over 40 premier team and in what is a very competitive soccer community here in Austin and we have set our targets on winning the league championship this year.

Vince Menzione:             41:55                  Very good. So how about books. Do you get to read often and is there one book that you’ve read and gifted often in terms of books.

Dan Mannion:                 42:04                  Some of the more foundational books that I read that I still recommend to people in their 20s are some of the Carnegie books How to Win Friends And Influence the old.

Dan Mannion:                 42:14                  That was incredibly meaningful but that I actually read towards the end of my college career and really taught me a lot of great principles of how to interact with people how to be a value added person.

Dan Mannion:                 42:26                  Back then I was a big fan of and Rand Atlas Shrugged is a fantastic book I’ve read tried it probably every solution selling book from the mid-nineties to the end of 2010 when I finally stopped reading them realizing they were all just repurposed versions of the same process.

Dan Mannion:                 42:44                  So those are some of the books that that I’ve embraced and really been enjoyed. And just in general I find that I’m a more of a nonfiction reader than a fiction reader. You know there are the other ones I would that I really love and will go back to actually if you’re if you’re in the technology industry you got to read the Jeffrey Moore books. It started with crossing the chasm than inside the tornado.

Dan Mannion:                 43:08                  And I’m actually I just recently picked up his latest one which is called Escape Velocity that they wrote maybe five years ago. But if you are in technology sales and marketing having the foundation of understanding how technology markets cycle is incredibly important because it helps you see where your company is in the market. These are your competitors and it’s just it’s I think it’s foundational if you ever want to lead a technology market and then personally I always try to learn more about people and have a deeper understanding of people and so I continue to read books and magazines about psychology and social psychology. So I love the Malcolm Gladwell books and I’ve always thought Malcolm Gladwell just frames things really interestingly and teaches you about applying the way that he looks at the world. He teaches you about how why we behave the way we behave. And you can use that to your advantage as you continue to grow in your career.

Vince Menzione:             44:03                  Any last advice for our partner or listeners for our audience out there?

Dan Mannion:                 44:07                  Before we conclude I don’t know if I have advice just encourage you to go. Be the best you can be every single day. And if there is an opportunity for us to work together please reach out to me and please reference this blackcaps a love found find that there are more and more great partners out there WASN’T been in the great work that he’s doing in the market today and that would be if this conversation could be one spark of interest that would be special to me.

Vince Menzione:             44:36                  Thank you Dan.. And for our listeners to find you what’s the best way.

Dan Mannion:                 44:41 Daniel.Mannion@armor.com

Vince Menzione:             44:45                  And there’s two ends in Mannion M-A and and Ioan. Right. Right. Right. And are you on social at all.

Dan Mannion:                 44:53                  I am. You can reach me at @DMannion for Twitter. And I am on LinkedIn and have been a little more active this week on LinkedIn. I don’t think I set off a firestorm by stating something about Equifax. That’s an interesting. Wow. You can reach me on Twitter LinkedIn. I would love to interact with anybody socially as well.

Vince Menzione:             45:17                  Great. Dan thank you so much. You’ve been a great guest. Delighted to have you on and on the podcast such a great topic to talk to our listeners about as well.

#28 – Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider Program Update with William Lewallen

 

In my podcast and recent series – Season of Change and Transformation,  I interview leaders from Microsoft on how the recent reorganization is impacting partner engagement for over 300,000 partners to ensure partners stay in lock step with the technology giant.

In this 28th episode, I visit with William Lewallen who leads the Cloud Solution Provider Program in the United States for an encore episode and update on the program for Microsoft’s Fiscal Year 2018.

William was an early guest on Episode 5 of Ultimate Guide to Partnering and as a member of the OCP or One Commercial Partner organization he leads the engagement of over 8000 CSP partners for Microsoft’s United States subsidiary.

In this encore episode you will learn:

  • Where the CSP Program now sits within OCP – One Commercial Partner Organization.
  • His point of view on the energy level in Bellevue and sense of renewed commitment.
  • Changes and enhancements to Microsoft’s Cloud Solution Provider Program since Episode 5.
  • Where he is focused to drive incremental growth for the business.
  • Channel incentive levers that favorably support the program.
  • Where people can learn more about CSP – HERE

You can listen or read the transcript of this episode below.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings link. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione


Podcast Transcript

Vince Menzione:             William, welcome to the podcast.

William L.:                        Hey, Vince. Good morning.

Vince Menzione:             It’s really great to have you back on this encore episode and update on the business. You were an early interview guest – Episode 5, and given the state of change and transformation, I thought it would be great for our listeners to get this check-in from you on the state of the CSP or Cloud Solution Provider business. So, welcome.

William L.:                        Yeah. Thanks for having me back and congratulations. We’re a long way from Episode 5 now, and I’ve listened to most of them. And I think what you’re doing is great and providing a real great set of resources for partners. So, congratulations.

Vince Menzione:             Thank you for that very generous feedback, and for our listeners who didn’t tune in to Episode 5, can you take a moment to peel back on your role at Microsoft and the Cloud Solution Provider program in greater detail?

William L.:                        Sure. So, the Cloud Solution Provider program, CSP, is a sales program that allows partners to resell our cloud services alongside their own managed professional services and IP. So it’s a program where partners are responsible for deploying, managing, provisioning, management and billing, so they can offer a more streamlined experience for their customers. And my role in the US subsidiary of Microsoft is, I am the lead for the program.

Vince Menzione:             And your role sites in the new One Commercial Partner, or OCP, organization. Is that correct, William?

William L.:                        That is correct, and the reorganization put all of our commercial partners – so think of that as non-consumer partners – into a single organization called One Commercial Partner. There are a few teams that make up that organization. There’s a Build With side, and I think you spoke with somebody about kind of some more details on that, essentially where we’re doing partner and practice development. There is a Sell With side that’s focused on co-selling alongside our sales teams in the field. I’m part of the Go To Market, or GTM, team, which is really kind of putting glue between the entire looking left to right across the partner life cycle from recruit through enablement and activation and actually incenting partner activity to bring the pieces of the organization together and help provide a consistent and high-quality experience for partners.

Vince Menzione:             Great, and I’d really like to peel back as much as we can today, given the fluid state of change. As you know, I’ve been checking with other partner leaders since the July reorganization, and today I’d like to take a bit of deeper dive with you on the Cloud Solution Provider program, how things are progressing, what’s changed since the new organization, and the overall excitement and energy in Bellevue and Redmond these days. Can you take our listeners through it? Walk us down the hallway.

William L.:                        Sure. So, the organization has undergone a pretty significant amount of change. It wasn’t renaming an existing organization. It was creating a new one from scratch. So, many of the ingredients of this new recipe were part of the organization, but the leadership is brand new. A significant portion of the leadership team are also coming in from different roles, and the way that we are organizing ourselves to work with each other has changed quite a bit. So there’s Build With, Sell With, GTM, and there’s a technical team as well that helps provide coaching and guidance on the technical side to partners. We’re all learning how we work together, right? What are the boundaries of our roles?

And so, for me personally, I’m doing the exact same role that I’ve been doing for the past few years. I’m now part of the GTM team, so I’m in a new organization, and then really just trying to get a sense of what’s going on and kind of settle into the new organization at the same time while having a business that continues to grow pretty rapidly.

I will say, all of those teams are very lined up and aligned to the goals that we are trying to achieve this year with CSP. All of the leaders on David Willis, who runs OCP, his entire leadership team, I have direct engagement with ’cause all their teams are excited about what we’re doing, have targets and goals, and want to make sure that they’re being part of what we’re delivering to partners in this program.

I think the energy is high. I think the excitement level is really good. I think that’s driven by a lot of the partner feedback that we’ve received. I think partners understand how we’re reorganizing and see how it will make it an easier and more consistent way of partnering with Microsoft. And I think it also is delivering on some of the things that we’ve been talking about doing, which is creating a whole life cycle roadmap essentially for partners to engage from when they first come into our funnel, all the way through to being successfully co-selling with us.

Vince Menzione:             When we spoke earlier this year, there were over 6,000 partners in the ecosystem, and so I’m interested in checking in to see how many additional CSP partners have been added to the program in the US. And you also talked about, at that time, an astounding 30% month-over-month growth. Also, we talked about the revenue split, and so has the month-over-month growth changed? And how has the revenue split changed?

William L.:                        Yeah. So, we’ve now crossed … We’re just over 8,000 partners who are selling in the program, and I think we spoke in April or May, so that’s pretty good, pretty solid growth since then. Growth and reach is really fundamental to us achieving our overall goals.

The revenue growth rate month-over-month … I think the one I referenced last time was kind of since the inception of the program, so it’s a little bit steeper, but we’re still month-over-month growing in double digits, and that has not changed at all. Some other characteristics … I think last time we talked about the revenue split – like what kind of products and services we were selling. Our non-Office 365 products have continued to increase their share of the total pie by a few points, which is good. And that’s primarily coming in the areas of Azure and Dynamics, and that’s what we expect for the course of the year, is to continue that growth of those other products as a share of the total, obviously while continuing to grow the large Office 365 business as well.

Vince Menzione:             So, are you seeing some consistent patterns from the CSPs that are the most successful working in the program?

William L.:                        That’s a good question. We have so much diversity within the ecosystem of partners who are participating. I would say that the most successful partners are investing in transforming their organization, all the way from marketing to sales, delivery, support. I often say that CSP is a platform for business transformation, but it’s not a guarantee, meaning I think it helps partners get on the journey of providing subscription-based services, helping to create a more simple and holistic end customer experience, but we have to make sure that we’re hearing … To make sure that we’re hearing what customers are demanding requires a deeper set of activities. So that means, right, if you’re just using CSP as a pure resell mechanism, I think that presents risk for a business because over time, differentiating based on the price of the licensing I don’t think is the key to success.

I think people who are using this as a catalyst for reorganizing their companies and thinking about restructuring for the cloud world, as opposed to just begin selling cloud products, are the ones who are gonna be the most successful. And that can be across what people refer to as partner types or ISVs, SIs, value-added resellers. It’s kind of business model agnostic, but for each one of those partner types, how they make money will be evolving. And if they’re really clear on what that is and how that needs to change, and that’s backed up by investments and their capabilities changing. I think that’s the recipe for success.

Vince Menzione:             Last time we spoke, we spoke a little bit about the program aspects, and I believe that you said then that the program would continue to evolve and there may be some changes to the program getting bigger and better. Can we dive in a little bit more? Was there some things that have changed about the program? Maybe things that were announced recently at the Inspire Conference, or maybe since?

William L.:                        Yeah, so, there are a couple of things that are really important. There’s a lot of changes – a few that I’ll call out in particular. The ability to sell our Azure Government services in CSP came online in late June, and so we’re really just at the very beginning of going to market with that. But I think that represents a massive opportunity for us to serve a significant market, and there’s been a lot of demand for that. Office 365 is gonna follow. We’re expecting that, I would say in the second half of our fiscal year, and Dynamics 365 will end up following that. So, having the availability of those dedicated government cloud services available in CSP is gonna be a growth engine for us.

We’re also enabling through a capability we had called Common Service Layer to enable shared services and multi-tenant applications [inaudible 00:10:27]. So we had a technical blocker in the past where CSP would not support those types of scenarios, which kind of blocked a certain segment of the market and partners from building applications that could grow in that way. So that’s coming this fall, and I think that’s going to open up an expanded part of our ecosystem.

The Microsoft 365 Business is a product or a set of … a suite for our small and medium business customers. That was announced at Inspire and will be available later this fall. Reserved Instances for Azure is another one. This is where you have the ability to reserve in advance Azure VMs and at a significant cost savings. And so the company announced at Ignite that this was coming, and it will follow in CSP I think in the late winter time frame.

An organizational change, not a program change, is really pretty significant, and that has to do with the fact that our sellers, our sales leaders, and our business leaders are now being paid based on Azure consumption versus committed revenue, right? So, if we sell a monetary commit up front, but there is no consumption against that, people are not gonna get paid. So, that’s a pretty significant change, and the reason why that aligns with CSP is because CSP is a pay-as-you-go model for Azure. So, revenue equals consumption. So there’s a much better alignment with our field on that front.

Vince Menzione:             So if you sold a large enterprise agreement with a ton of Azure on it, you wouldn’t get paid until the customer consumed that Azure. Is that correct?

William L.:                        Correct. And then in the platform, there are changes and enhancements. We now have the ability to do 38 trial offers for Office 365. There are capabilities for the company to push through to the ecosystem, like promotions and discounts. Partners are now going to be able to do annual billing if they so choose to do so when they’re ordering SKUs and services for the customers. There’s new Power BI reporting and analytics in the platform, so partners can become more knowledgeable in depth at what their customers are doing and how they’re using the platform. Those are a few examples of the things that are new that have changed this year.

Vince Menzione:             You mention the platform and multi-tenancy and software providers that have multiples customers utilizing the same instance of the application. Is that what you’re referring to?

William L.:                        That’s correct.

Vince Menzione:             So, William, 8,000 partners in the ecosystem. That’s a massive scale to reach out to and provide support and readiness to. How do you, in fact, reach out to and support such a large ecosystem?

William L.:                        Yeah. We do that through a very effective channel, and that’s … I think I remember last time we spoke about the two different models and how partners can participate, being the direct and the indirect model. The indirect model is where resellers go and work with someone like Ingram Micro, Tech Data, Synnex, Rackspace, et cetera, and that’s how we scale – through readiness engines, right, because they provide pre-sales engagements, enablement seminars, learning paths, et cetera. So we arm those indirect providers, and then they build that into their own program. So ultimately that’s how we scale. About 90% of our reselling partners work through the indirect model, so those indirect providers are critical to our ability to scale.

And then we support that with programmatic components through the Microsoft partner network through learning paths, through competency attainments. And then, for larger accounts where we have direct engagement through our technical team. Those folks help engage both from a … people who are technology strategists, as well as cloud solution architects. So we have a pretty broad and deep set of activities to touch and reach not only those partners, but that partner base is growing each month pretty significantly. So we have to be really good at scale.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah. And so we recently interviewed Scott Peltier for a primer on channel incentives, and so I’d like to drive a layer deeper with you here on how incentives are driving the right levers, and what has changed programmatically to support the current priorities for CSP?

William L.:                        Yeah, it’s a great question. An important one has to do with partner profitability, which is really critical. And I work closely with Scott. So as a reminder, one thing that hasn’t changed is we have a global rebate that gets paid out on every dollar of CSP revenue, regardless of what product it is, and that’s at 8%. And I’ll also call out, right, these are incentives on top of kind of product margins. So you have product margin. Then you have these incentives. The global rebate, like I said, is staying constant at 8% year-over-year, and then every year based on particular areas of focus, we put in place accelerators. And those are, between worldwide and US, we’ve put an additional 10% on Azure sales this year, and then 5% on Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 E3 and E5, and then the Office 365 E5 and PSTN products. And to earn those incentives, partners have to have at least a silver competency in one of our eight cloud core categories in the MPM program. And so, with that attainment, you’re eligible to receive those standard and accelerator type rebates.

Vince Menzione:             And is there anything changing in terms of priorities that you’re driving?

William L.:                        In the US specifically, we made the big bet on Azure. We’re putting a significant portion of our US funding for this accelerator towards Azure. That’s the part of the business where there’s the most white space, where we see a huge upside for Microsoft and our partners. So that’s a real area of emphasis. It’s not that Office 365 is not important. That business is I guess a more mature business. We have greater penetration, and we’re looking for exponential growth in Azure, and so that’s where we’re putting more money this year.

Vince Menzione:             Great. And are you able to separate specific workloads within Azure, or does that capability exist yet?

William L.:                        We pay today … So there is service level reporting within our operational platform. We pay dollar for dollar on any revenue, so it’s not kind of split or bifurcated anyway. If you sell a dollar of Azure, you’re gonna be eligible for 10 cents of accelerator funding.

Vince Menzione:             And we talked about partner types, markets, competency areas, and so on. What are some other things that you think are a little challenging to explain to partners that maybe you could expand on here?

William L.:                        I think one thing that partners may underestimate is the operational requirement. Moving to a subscription business, a lot of partners are not used to billing customers on a monthly basis, right? So that takes infrastructure, and that takes work, and that takes new capabilities and capacity. I think that’s one thing. Just getting used to a new operational platform. Keeping up with the information that comes out from Microsoft about what’s new and changing because this is a cloud platform, and we want to deliver a lot of components. So you really have to kind of stay tuned to what’s going on. We’re no longer in the cycle of putting out products or services once every 12 months, so there’s just a lot of incoming traffic to be digested, and then learning how to operationalize a platform.

I think some partners also struggle with building out product management capability, right? So if you’re not simply in a resell world, you have to think about how you build a package of services and solutions that will differentiate you relative to your peers. So that capability of product management may be a new thing for a lot of our partners. So how do we set up a tiered set of offerings, and what do we include in each one, and how do we price them? Some of those capabilities are new, and I think that there are a lot of partners who are early in the learning journey in kind of building their competency in those areas.

Vince Menzione:             Right because the partners are now the tip of the spear to the customer on all things CSP, correct?

William L.:                        That’s correct.

Vince Menzione:             So they own that relationship and the first line of support. Yep.

William L.:                        That’s correct.

Vince Menzione:             So let’s talk a little bit about William. How are you thinking differently about leading the program given the organizational change and the program change? How are you thinking differently about leading CSP?

William L.:                        Yeah. One thing that’s really great is now that we have a single commercial partner organization, there’s a little bit more wind at my back, right? So I’ve got a broader set of stakeholders who have a much more direct interest in what we’re doing. I walk around the floor – not only the floor that I sit on here in downtown Bellevue, but on other floors and hear … Walking past people’s cubes, I hear all these people talking about C … I hear, “CSP. CSP,” so there’s a lot of people who really care about it. So that’s really affirming for me given having been involved in the business from a very early stage where were definitely not a very well-known group of folks, and it wasn’t understood what we were trying to accomplish.

Some things though, as the business has started to scale, right? Keeping an eye on continued momentum and just good execution and our plans for the year is important, but some areas of particular importance to me are making sure that we’re set up to tackle new markets. For example, the government space is an area of focus for me. I’m also thinking more strategically about channel expansion. How can we get into new spaces through partners? Are there parts of the ecosystem we haven’t been able to tap that we can now based on new capabilities or based on new outreach or value propositions? And so, right, those type of things, I would say, give us the opportunity to bend the growth curve up from where we currently are, and I think there’s a lot of interest in finding different ways for us to do that.

Vince Menzione:             And how do you think about doing that? Is there anything you’re doing differently from an analysis perspective or from a business motion perspective?

William L.:                        We’re looking at nontraditional channels as one area of growth, right? So we actually have a lot of our enterprise customers who have … the way that they serve customers … have some interesting opportunities where CSP can be part of the delivery of what that IP or those services are. As we’ve also brought the commercial partner organization together, there’s a number of folks who are just new to CSP and have some new ideas, right? So it’s educating those folks on what we’re doing, and then listening. Kind of stopping talking and listening to concepts that they may have. So I think some of this channel expansion requires us thinking outside of the box, talking to different people within the organization and the market, and realizing that there are people who are not part of our ecosystem today where we either have value props that are compelling, or we need to develop them so we can continue to grow our business. And I think the platform of reselling our cloud services is a great entrée to some of those conversations.

Vince Menzione:             You do see this quite a bit where IP is developed once and repeatable multiple times as a solution set to other customers, right? So I’ve seen this before in instances like healthcare, where a healthcare system might develop an application for their own use and make it available to other healthcare providers.

William L.:                        Yep. And partners might want that from a profitability perspective, and I think it’s part of how the ecosystem has evolved – that there’s IP in a lot of different organizations. It’s not just sitting within what we think of traditionally as ISVs. There’s a lot of IP across the partner ecosystem, and I think those are real scenarios where we create a pull-through for our platform, as opposed to a push-through of our cloud services. And I think in some cases, that helps us accelerate our existing goals, and in other cases, it helps us, like I was talking before, tap new markets.

Vince Menzione:             So are there any best lessons or career advice that you’re bringing forward during this season of change and transformation?

William L.:                        I’m doing more testing of ideas. Putting things out there for feedback early and often, as opposed to fully baking them, and it’s only because I don’t want to kind of be blinded by the bias that I’ve had of running the business for the last two years. It’s been a very intense time and an era where we have a lot of new people coming into the organization who are thinking about this. Being open to people who’ve had a much lower and different level of familiarity with the program. So that’s been really fascinating. We still have to continue telling people what CSP is because people haven’t been eating, sleeping, and breathing it like I have. So, matching … Just going out and telling the story. Being an evangelist. Testing ideas. And then, empowering others, right? We’ve talked about this is a program that has to be built for scale, and while I am the lead for this in the US business, my success also depends on scaling through hundreds, thousands of people here in the US. And so empowerment and readiness is another key area where I’m making a lot of investment this year.

Vince Menzione:             CSP is such an important aspect of the business, and I really appreciate your time today, William, to take our listeners through the changes and the transformation. Any other closing comments for our listeners?

William L.:                        I would say one of the things I think is really important is … I mentioned this earlier around looking at organization change as you think about participating in CSP. Microsoft has invested a lot of time and resources and worked very closely with IDC and some others to look at the overall concept of cloud profitability and what we call the modern partner, and all of this content can be found at aka.ms/modernpartner. It has a wealth of research, of practical tools to look at how to evaluate and assess and set your organization up for change. And I think that’s probably, in addition to just getting engaged and getting involved with selling through CSP, is to be really closely aligned and aware of how you’re going to invest in evolving your organization to truly take advantage and maximize your opportunity around meeting our customers’ changing needs in a world of cloud and subscription based businesses.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great, William, and we’ll make sure we provide that link: aka.ms/modernpartner in the show notes and make that available to all our listeners. And I just want to thank you, William. I know how compressed your schedule is right now, this busy time of year, this season of change and transformation, and I appreciate you taking time from that schedule to join the Ultimate Guide to Partnering today. So thank you.

William L.:                        Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for the invitation. It was great to spend time with you again.

 

 

#27: Partner profitability and relevance during the transformation, with Chris Pyle.

 

In this interview, Chris Pyle and I sat down for a discussion on partner profitability and relevance during the transformation. Chris is the CEO of Champion Solutions, a premier Microsoft partner based in Boca Raton, Florida who has made the transformation and now shares his advice to help other partners benefit as they migrate to cloud service providers.

Champion started as a IBM hardware reseller and transformed to a premier cloud solution partner of Microsoft. Chris discusses how he addressed the challenge of transformation in positioning his new identity with his traditional customer and bringing his sales organization along. In order to make the transformation, Champion started an entirely new company and brand Message Ops to focus on this new and emerging market.

Chris takes our listeners through his 3-Step approach applying digital marketing to build a new business, brand and market. His 3 steps – Acquire, Engage and Monetize.

  1. Acquire – created value for potential clients through providing support – he initially grew a follower base of 5,000 members.
  2. Engage – built free tools, products and utilities growing to 90,000 members
  3. Monetize – began engaging with customers helping with migrations and supporting customers in their transformation.

This “3 – step” approach ultimately led to being partner of record for over 3.2 Million Seats of Office 365.

By building this new business Chris finally got Champion to break out of its old mold – think Entrepreneur’s Dilemma – and transform while the traditional business continued to perform.

Chris recently commissioned a study, “The True Price of Office 365” to inform his community on the true cost of running Office 365 and how he could add value to customers.  This study helped him develop a statement of work and better profitability in supporting clients.

Speaking at industry events, Chris cautions partners to stay relevant as clients migrate more and more workloads to the cloud. Chris has also launched a platform to help clients best utilize their investments in O365 – Office365adoption.com.

I asked what makes a great partner and for him it’s all about Speed, Innovation and Execution. In today’s environment it’s fail fast – ready, fire, adjust!

Toward the end of our interview we also discuss career journey, personal pursuits, advice he’d give his younger self, books he values and thoughts to live life.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione

#26: Peeling back on Microsoft’s channel incentives investments, with Scott Peltier

Scott Peltier, Microsoft’s US Channel Incentives Lead – One Commercial Partner

Microsoft Channel Incentives can be a complex and polarizing topic for Microsoft Partners. In this episode of this special series, “Season of Change and Transformation”, I interview Microsoft’s US Channel Lead – Scott Peltier.

Scott and I peel back the topic of Microsoft channel incentives available to close to 100,000 Microsoft Partners in the U.S Market. Scott simplifies the topic, how channel incentives have evolved to support the transformation and feedback he receives from partners.

Scott does a nice job of discussing his approach to the business. His insights and appreciation for what makes a great partnership and how the approach to partners has evolved to better support the business and is why Microsoft is the place for partners to place their big bets. Scott also gives advice for partners looking to better engage with him and his team.

In the interview, we also discuss his career journey, valuable lessons he learned when he started in his career, role models and advice he gives to the people he mentors.

You can read the entire transcript of the interview below.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione


Vince Menzione:             Scott, welcome to the podcast. I am really excited to have you on, my friend. We had the opportunity to work for several years together within the US Partner Organization. Your topic, channel incentives, is one that’s near and dear to our partners, so I’m glad you could join us today during this season of change at Microsoft and to tell our listeners all the exciting things that are happening in your role and your organization. So, welcome.

Scott Peltier:                    Hey, Vince. Thank you very, very much. You are exactly right. Channel incentives, I’ve been running this business for several years and it is an exciting business. It’s sometimes a very hard business, but I am delighted to be here with you and to talk through some of the strategies, the things that we’re doing, things that as you know are very, very important to partners and that’s their profitability. I have been at the heart of that for several years, and I can’t think of a more exciting role that I’ve been able to partake up in the last several years and to really get to know partners and really what makes them work. So, glad to be here and looking forward to our time together today.

Vince Menzione:             We’re going to peel back a little bit on that channel incentives piece, but I want to give you a little bit of insight from my side, you and I working very closely together over the years. This is a very complex topic, and it’s one that isn’t very well understood for a lot of people both partners and internally to Microsoft, so I think this interview will be very insightful for folks. To begin, can you take our listeners a little bit through your role and your mission that you’re looking to accomplish for partners?

Scott Peltier:                    Sure, and I’m gonna digress just for a moment because when I visit with whether it’s family members, relatives, they all want to know what I do at Microsoft and when you work in Microsoft you can … You get very complex very fast, but we speak the same language, but to folks like my family members or relatives, they don’t understand all of our language used at Microsoft, so interestingly, here’s how I describe what my role is at Microsoft to the outside world when they go “Scott, what do you do at Microsoft?” I say, “Hey, have you ever gone to Walmart and opened up the coupon book, and those coupons give you X percent off of what you purchase, let’s say, a television?” “Yeah, I understand that.” “Well, that’s kind of what I do. I’m that coupon guy.” I’m the person who runs those coupon programs to enable our partners when they sell more of our stuff, they get discounts and they get dollars that drive their profitability.

In a simple way, I don’t know how else to explain that to people who don’t understand the true depth of partner incentives, but my role here at Microsoft has been, like I told you earlier, it’s been an exciting journey over the last several years that I run the incentives as one would imagine. The budget is very large, and we touch several thousand partners on a monthly basis in terms of our programs and our incentives, and as well, I’ll tell you, Vince, been doing this now almost six years, and the programs we had six years ago versus the programs we have today, have truly transformed it. I know one of the things we’re gonna deep dive a little bit is that transformation that the entire industry, the entire market is going through. But in essence, it’s incentives that enable our partners because as we know, typically Microsoft doesn’t sell software, our partners sell software, and they need incentives to sell more, but more specifically, aligned to some of our key strategies. It’s been an exciting journey over the last several years as you can imagine.

Vince Menzione:             It certainly sounds like it, Scott. You know I know from conversations that we won’t mention numbers here, but the budgets and the amount of dollars that flow through are fairly significant for the company, and I’m certain that what you do in your role impacts company’s profitability in a large way. Can we talk about maybe some of the key levers that you are driving against in the coming year?

Scott Peltier:                    Yeah, sure. When I think of key levers, I’m going to, again, I got to go back five years because I think it’s good for the audience to hear the key levers that might have been a appropriate five-plus years ago and the levers today, and I’m going to do it this way. As we all know, we are in a cloud phenomenon, and that is the big transition that’s happening from even a global perspective. It isn’t just a US thing. It is all about the cloud, but when I think back five-plus years ago, the levers, the predominant levers that were in market to enable our partners to be profitable and to sell our software, notice I just said software, there was zero dollars being invested in our partner channel to sell anything cloud because cloud was just sort of beginning to take off. And so almost all dollars went to our, what we would think of our traditional on-prem kinds of software like SQL and Windows Server and Windows and Word and PowerPoint and those kinds of things.

Well, the transformation that we have seen in the last five years, not only is the market moving to the cloud and our customers, but the dollars that we invest are also transforming into the cloud. Zero percent went to cloud five-plus years ago. This year we anticipate 60-plus percent of our incentive budget to go toward cloud solutions, cloud services, because this is the big bet. This is the big transformation that’s taking place in our market.

Vince Menzione:             And if you were to rewind five, six years ago, hasn’t the partner set that you influence through channel incentives changed? If I recall, it was mostly around what I’ll call the transactional partners, the large account resellers, the license solution providers and [inaudible 00:05:44]. What’s that like today?

Scott Peltier:                    Yeah, that’s interesting. We think of just the market transforming the cloud. I think this has been one of the hardest things for our partners. Now, there’s this kind of two subsets of partners that within our Microsoft ecosystem that you’re fully aware of, and you’re right, those transactional partners and they were predominantly accountable to manage the licensing aspect of our software and manage the sales of it, and so, a lot incentives were geared toward that motion, where the other traditional partner, what we would might call our solution integrator, that consulting kind of a partner, they were predominantly making money providing consulting services, implementing, deploying those out of the box solutions that Microsoft has been great at building and delivering. So the evolution that’s been taking place with out partner ecosystem is those traditional, transactional partners have had to evolve because as you can imagine, when you sell software in a box, that kind of revenue stream is very different than when you sell a subscription service and it’s amortized over 12 months versus a license is like over a year or two. And so they’ve had to transform.

But where the dollars are moving now, from a Microsoft perspective into our channel is we’re saying “You know what? We need more of our partners, not just the traditional, transactional partners.” We want incent our, I’ll just use the word, our consultative type of partners, and this is where we’ve seen a large shift as well. So those organizations are transforming as well because customers are demanding cloud services, and so not just the transactional partners are transitioning, but also the traditional solution integrative partners are also having to transition and rebuild their business models, and so you couple the demand that customer are asking for, partners are having to transform, and third, we’re also having them to transform our dollars and where we really want the energy of our partners to spend their energy in helping drive solutions for our customers.

Vince Menzione:             So let’s try and get a little bit more tangible about channel incentives if we can.

Scott Peltier:                    Sure.

Vince Menzione:             We talked about levers. We talked about coupons and discounts and things like that, right? What would be some specific examples, maybe both on the transactional side and that system integrator side or cloud solution provider, whatever the nomenclature is that you’re driving against?

Scott Peltier:                    Sure. We’ll go back to the basics of what is still a large part of our portfolio, and that is we still are very strong as a company in selling licenses to our customers, but it’s been one of the hallmarks and we’ve kept our customers, our customers have stayed engaged with Microsoft, and so when a partner sells a solution to a customer through a license agreement, there are certain motions that we try to reward. One is net new business. So a partner will work with a client who might not be on our platform or might only have part of our platform. There are still a lot of new business to be had to come onto the Microsoft platform, so when they actually sell that solution, the customer buys it and that partner then, based on a new motion, they get a percentage of driving that net new business, and I’ll just mention one other key lever in this traditional business of ours. So because we’ve been talking a lot about licensing, licensing have a contract to them, whether it’s one, two, or three years. Well, upon the renewal of that licensing, we also reward that motion to renew the business, to keep that customer loyal, keep that customer on our platform.

That is a big part of, still, the Microsoft business, but as I have watched the transformation over the last two, three, four years, licensing is becoming less of our revenue stream and the subscription model’s becoming more of a revenue stream. So now let’s take another lever that we’re incenting because the whole cloud services is the big bet that Microsoft is making, and it is actually working really, really well, so one of those levers as an example, let’s pick on Azure for a moment. I trust most of our listeners are going to know that particular platform. Azure, hundreds of different kinds of services, one of which would be a, I’m going to make it really simple, a backup solution. Let’s just pick on one service and let’s say a customer purchases an Azure solution. It could be backup. It could be some sort of data BI analytics service, and so we incent the partner, there’s a lever for that partner that, don’t just deploy that solution. Customer, we want you to use that solution, and so when that customer uses that solution, the partner gets a percentage of that usage.

So the more bytes that they use, the more the partner gets paid, and so the incentive for the partner is sell it, deploy it, train it, and drive that usage, and we provide some pretty robust reporting for our partners so they can see of all their customers, here’s our top users. Whoa, we just deployed that. Why aren’t they using it very much? So it’s a pretty effective incentive to connect the partner and the customer, and it’s done really well, and we’ve had it in market for, I’d say, nearly three years now, especially as Azure has taken off.

Vince Menzione:             So for instance with that one example with Azure, are you getting down to that level of granularity or is it just Azure consumption all up and then partners are paid on both the deployment and then the ongoing revenue stream?

Scott Peltier:                    So you’re asking me to get even a bit more particular. Let me double click on that for you just for a moment. So what happens is based on the usage of that month, and again, I’m going to pick on the simple solution of backup, and as we know that with an Azure service of backup, the data of a customer is backed up in the Azure service which is in the cloud. And so as that data is moving in between our data center and the customer, we monitor that, and we monitor the amount of usage or consumption that customer is using. And let’s say they consume 10,000 dollars of Azure stuff that particular month. Well, the actual rate is, and I can share this, is they get seven percent of that consumption for that particular month, and if they consume the same amount the next month, they get seven percent of that amount, and then built some accelerators in there to drive growth in that consumption because, you know, are we content with 10,000 dollars of consumption? The short answer would be no.

We want them to use 20,000 or maybe 30,000 or maybe 50,000. As long as that partner is helping consult that customer to drive more consumption, that partner is continued to get paid those incremental dollars, so it’s really a great model for our partners to look at and to drive, you might say, profitability for their organization. They have, as you know, Vince, partners have multiple levers of profitability, whether it’s the consulting services, their support services, their deployment services, and we also deem then the incentives that they can earn based on their services tends to be a strong profitability lever for them.

Vince Menzione:             That’s a really great synopsis for our listeners, Scott, and I appreciate you taking them to that level of depth. What about when we look at, or when you look at, the big bets for, we’re in fiscal year 18, I’m calling this the season of change and transformation at Microsoft, and this is certainly an exciting time with the reorganization and the one commercial partner organization, what are the big bets that you are driving against for this new year?

Scott Peltier:                    Yeah, so I’m just jotting a note down here, Vince, and top of mind for me is this. There’s a new licensing motion that you’ll be aware of, and I want to be careful not to get too technical in my language, but it’s a licensing motion which we call CSP, Customer Solution Provider, and what this particular licensing motion we just launched a couple years ago does for our partners is it enables more partners to sell our services to our customers. So the big bet, where an enormous amount of our incentive dollars are going toward, is this licensing motion we’re calling CSP. Five years ago, you recall this, Vince, we only had a few partners in the US that sold our software or sold our solutions, sold however you want to coin or call what Microsoft builds and develops for our customers.

Well today, through this new licensing motion called CSP, we now have hundreds of partners selling our solutions, hundreds, where the big value and benefit is, as partners have given us feedback and I could go into a whole nother area, but we pride ourselves here at Microsoft that we work hard to listen to our partners through surveys, through visits, through phone calls, and we’re going to talk about partnership here I know in a little bit, but I think one of the keys to great partnership is listening to one another. Well, our partners said to us “We want to own the customer end to end. We want to own the billing. We want to own the invoice. We want to own the support. We want to, not your traditional transacting partners, but there’s more of us out here that really want to build up an install base and own it end to end.” The big bet? CSP. That licensing motion, and I can tell you, there are some rich, rich, rich incentives and a large part of our portfolio is some of the different levers within that CSP licensing motion. So that would be one of the first ones that I highlight, Vince.

Vince Menzione:             Yep, and that’s a great one. And for our listeners who haven’t listened to it before, episode five, we had William Lewellyn on to take people through the early mechanics of the program. He will be on a future episode because we’re going to do an update or an encore and talk about what his plans are for ’18, so this dovetails nicely with that conversation, Scott, so continue.

Scott Peltier:                    So, I would say another big bet because, again, I know I keep going back in time, but I think it brings a great perspective as to what Microsoft from a strategic perspective is trying to achieve today. Let’s go five, sex, seven, eight years ago, the traditional buying pattern of a customer was, between a customer and a partner would have been, here, purchase your Windows, purchase your SQL, purchase your Server, purchase, purchase, purchase, and how we sold it was in a box wrapped in cellophane, and those boxes would sit on a shelf and one of the problems we had to deal with over and over and over was customers were buying the box but they weren’t deploying it. They weren’t getting the latest and greatest and we all know, security was one of the, it still is a very big hot button today, but it was way bigger back then. Well Microsoft’s solution to security back five, seven, eight years ago was stay on the latest and greatest.

Well, you can’t go make a customer open up that box and put that CD in a hard drive and go and implement that entire solution. So the big bet that we’re making today is, and what’s in enabling that is the subscription service. I can speak simply now because at home I have purchased Office 365 for our few computers at home and it’s made real to me because I never have to worry about an update. I never think about do I have the latest and greatest? And a subscription service keeps me on the most current and Microsoft never has to worry about am I deploying the latest, so our customers, because we want them on the latest and greatest for a myriad of reasons, security being probably one of the biggest ones, but also they get more value from our solutions when our development teams work so hard to build in the features and functionality that customers are demanding. And so the big bet is this whole subscription model but making sure we’re driving the right incentives to support that.

As we talked a little bit earlier, it’s “Hey, partner, don’t just sell it. Deploy it, yes, but drive that continual monthly readiness, that continual monthly support, so the customer is using it and using more of it, and oh, by the way, partner, we’re going to invest a lot of incentive dollars to help you partner with your customer to drive an uptick, that kind of consumption and usage of our subscription service.” So I would say, Vince, that’s the second big bet that from a, not just a company perspective, and proof of this is where the dollars go and as you remember, I know exactly where all our dollars go, and they predominantly go to the cloud today, they go to usage and consumption and they go to that CSP model. You want to know where Microsoft is headed? Follow the money. Follow where the most profitability for our partners is, and it’s in those kinds of levers that I’m talking about.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah, that’s great for our listeners. I’m hoping they’re all jotting down notes, but if they aren’t, we’re going to provide some of this in our show notes, and I know you spend a lot of time with partners. I know you get out in the field, and you meet with partners and you attend partner events like Inspire. When you sit down in round tables, what’s some of the feedback you get from those partners? What do they like to see more of or less of?

Scott Peltier:                    I’m just thinking here. You are right. In the six years that I’ve run partner incentives, I have literally traveled all over the world. I’ve visited with hundreds and thousands of partners and I would say, okay, here’s what’s coming top of mind, simplification. I would say any partner I visit with, they say “Microsoft, Scott, can you simplify? Can you simplify? You have hundreds of programs. You have lots of different seller roles within the company.” I heard a number at Inspire which is our huge partner global conference, 170 different partner programs that partners can participate in to engage with Microsoft, and they say “Scott, if you can be any sort of advocate force back at Microsoft, simplify, simplify, simplify. Simplify your incentive program. Simplify your portfolio program, and simplify how we engage actually with Microsoft,” and ironically, we actually do a really good job, partners do a really good job. The most coveted channel in all of the planet is the Microsoft partner channel. I’m very proud about that. I’m very proud to be a part of that and to help them, but I would say that’s the predominant message that they share with me over and over and over.

And so I would say a second one they give me is they say “Scott, we know change is imminent. We know that customers are evolving how they do business, where and how their solutions are deployed and how we use them, but sometimes Microsoft changes too fast, and we have to evolve our business and things take time and readiness and we have investments to make, and it feels like sometimes, Scott, Microsoft has enormous amounts of infrastructure and dollars and they can make those quick changes. Well, that doesn’t always work here within the partner channel and so if you could just please telegraph sooner, allow some change management, and enable our change management. Help us with it, with readiness, with dollars to invest so we can start up that particular kind of a practice and so on and so forth.”

So I would say those are two of the key messages I hear over and over and over, and I think partly because I run partner incentives for the US and there’s nothing more near and dear to a partner is the profitability and one of those key levers is incentives, and so, I have a team of people back here at Microsoft to make sense and simplify and the message and the readiness. I can only imagine at times how partners have to translate what is Microsoft providing me, what are my opportunities, who are the people that I work with, and so it’s a challenge, but I’ll tell you, we’ve made a lot of strides, though, too, in the last several years to bring that feedback to light for our partners because I monitor our surveys and I know our partners, they do like Microsoft, but they’re also not afraid to tell us where we could do a lot better.

Vince Menzione:             We’ve been talking about the reorganization with some of our other guests in what I’m calling the season of change and transformation. Just for our listeners to clarify, there’s a build with, there’s a go to market, and there’s a sell with organization. You’re function sits within that go to market, right? So that’s sort of the, I’ll call it fueling the partners to success portion of it. How do you engage across the other organizations with the build with team and the sell with team? How does that engagement look like?

Scott Peltier:                    So I think I’m going to talk about it this way. There was a lot of change as you just highlighted, and there are organizations that are still figuring out how to engage across the different organizations, so there’s still a lot of learning that’s taking place. And so everyday it’s learning, learning, learning. So let me talk about the build with just for a moment. That one’s the one organization that I get very, very clearly and we need to continue to step up and help them. They are the partner development managers. They’re the Microsoft folks that actually engage with our partner channel to help them build their business, build additional practices, and so the engagement that we are getting more tenacious about and more aligned to is as a, one of these partner development managers are engaged with a partner.

The partner will always ask, because it all comes down to profitability, “You want me to fire up this new practice, so and so, what’s in it for me? How’s my money going to flow? What’s my profitability going to be? What are my services?” And partners ask that in a way that they know what profitability is. They know how to make money. That’s the beautiful thing about the Microsoft partner channel. They know how to make money. The problem is we want out Microsoft partners to sell A, B, and C things of ours, but we don’t always provide them either the right resources or the right dollars to make those initial investments. So we have to get a lot smarter in engaging with that partner development organization, so that way we can equip them with oh, by they way, partner, here’s what’s in it for you. Here’s that roadmap over three years of dollars that you can earn from these investments that we make within our partner channels, so I would say that is the first one that we’re really doubling down on to engage with and partner with so they can equip and best equip our partners with here’s the dollars that are available to you, dollars, programs, things like that to help really jump start some of those early practices that partners are jumping on.

Vince Menzione:             And what is the sell with engagement like? Is it pretty automatic from that point then? So once your partner has built a program or a competency, they now would now what their profitability model is, maybe they’ve taken advantage of other go to market incentives, now it’s just a matter of those channel managers engaging and plugging those partners into opportunities, right?

Scott Peltier:                    I would say precisely, but I do think there’s still an opportunity there because we get involved in a lot of kinds of deals especially on the sell with side of the organization because a partner’s trying to do a couple of things. Number one, they’re trying to maximize a solution for the client, and in doing do, the partner also then needs to know, they’re trying to maximize their dollars that they can earn from us, and so there’s this do what’s right for the customer, maximize dollars, and so we got to continue to get smarter about making sure that our sellers understand the portfolio, the incentives for our partners and actually serve as an advisory committee for our sellers where, and this has been a big bet that I’m going to encourage the team to think about even more so this year, is help our sellers optimize both the licensing and optimize that portfolio that our customers are buying, so there’s some great opportunity there.

But, Vince, the reorganization is still as you would imagine, still really fresh. It was just in August the whole thing gets announced, and here we are at the end of August, and so there’s still a lot of learning and people are asking a lot of questions. I’m just going to quote this. So Dave Willis, our corporate vice president of partners in the US, was quoted as saying [inaudible 00:27:07], the reorganization that we went through and he says “If anybody’s confused about what they’re supposed to do, pick up the phone and call a partner. Start with that,” and I just said “Yes. Yes. Yes. Break it down simply for us. Just call a partner.”

Now, it’s a lot more complex than that, sophisticated, but I love the new energy that Dave is bringing to the new org which is partner first, and if any of our listeners actually went to the Inspire conference, they know that one of the messages they heard from our executive partner leadership team was partner first, partner first, partner first, and I think that’s the big learning. That’s the big thing we need to land more than anything this upcoming year is keep that thing going where Microsoft is all about the partner because they’re the ones who are selling our solutions. They’re the ones engaging with our customers. A really important part of our strategy.

Vince Menzione:             I would say it’s an exciting time to be a partner at Microsoft, and those 300,000 or 100,000 in the US, I’m sure, are very eager and excited to engage. Great feedback, and amazing … I love what Dave had to say there with regards to pick up the phone and call a partner.

Scott Peltier:                    Right.

Vince Menzione:             Let’s talk more about partners. You have had the opportunity to work with many partners over many years. You’ve, again, spent time in the field. I know you spent time with me and with others traveling and meeting with partners, getting to know them, their business, their operations and so on. So, what do you think makes, what characteristics do you believe make a great partner?

Scott Peltier:                    As anybody who interacts with Scott Peltier, they know my passion for partners and my long career both at Microsoft and at a company prior to that called Great Plains Software, most of my career has been around partners, their business, understanding their business, understanding how they make money, and I pride myself that one of my biggest jobs over the years has been, I will be their voice back at Microsoft and I will take their feedback always, always, always and go and try and tie in to the right people to make this change. So the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about a great partnership is we’re in this together, and what I mean by that is as I have personally experienced and observed and watched is what partners love is when Microsoft listens.

What Microsoft loves is when partners provide feedback, and that togetherness of we’re in this together. Partners understand Microsoft has to make strategic decisions. Microsoft is accountable to lead strategy and how this company is run. What partners can hold us accountable for, and there’s no excuse, is flawless execution. Partners should and can and do give us incredibly candid feedback that Microsoft, you’re just not executing well. You need to step up. You need to communicate better. You need to telegraph better. Well, the partnership, when I think about together is, is when there is those gives and gets between two organizations. Partners get that we have to adjust strategy. Partners get that we have to go to a consumption model. Partners get we’re going to subscription model.

We get that partners need time. We get that we have to execute flawlessly. We get that we have to be really, really good at communicating. Really, really good at synthesizing the information, so it’s clear, it’s concise, and do we always do a great job? No. But that’s where that togetherness between our partners and Microsoft come together, and I know we’re a lot better at listening and I think fixing things the first step is always listening, and I always get a little paranoid when I go out because I love listening to the pains that we sometimes bring our partners, but where they hold me accountable is so Scott, did you share my feedback? Did you share my feedback, and so great partnership is gives and gets, and it’s a togetherness. We’re in this business together, and it’s less about us and them. It’s about us.

Vince Menzione:             Yep. I’ve heard that referred to as the mutual skin in the game.

Scott Peltier:                    Yes.

Vince Menzione:             And also the shared purpose, the shared values, shared purpose that makes the great ones great. So that’s really good, really good feedback, Scott, and love your insights there. And what about the partners that didn’t always get it right and maybe failed working with Microsoft? What would you tell them now if you could?

Scott Peltier:                    I would tell them Microsoft has learned a lot, and I’ve been at Microsoft now 17 years and the culture 17 years ago is very different than the culture of today. I have watched our new CEO Satya, customer, partner, customer, partner. It’s in all of his talk tracks, and that alone is shifting the mindset of people, and so some of those partners that may have dropped off and just said “I can’t do this,” I would have probably been one of those partners years and years ago. “I can’t do this.” Microsoft is a very complex organization, but it’s a mindset. It’s a mindset that you wake up each day and you go “My partner is first. I’m going to do everything in my power to be their advocate and their voice,” and that, I have personally seen more than ever, especially in the last three to four years. And so to those partners that, for whatever reason that they gave up on the Microsoft platform, they gave up on Microsoft as a company to partner with them, my advice and I would do it if I was sitting there having coffee with them, try again.

Sit down, explore the opportunity, and give us another try because it’s not the same company from years ago. There’s new leadership. There’s new vision. There’s new strategy. I have never felt more energized to be able to speak a partner-first message than ever before, especially when you talked about the organization. There is now a partner organization in the US where all partner resources are on one organization, under one vice president named David Willis, and I know his passion. It’s about partner first, so to me it’s not the same Microsoft today. There is definitely a leaning in both to our partner channel and into our customers to make sure we’re doing what’s right, because you know what, Vince? At the end of the day, competition is fierce, and the only way Microsoft will continue to win is not just the great and best solutions we have in the industry, but it’s how are we taking care of our customers, our partners, and our senior leaders both acknowledge that and they just continually raise the bar, month over month, year over year.

We have to continually get better and you can see by some of the executive recruits that have come into the company in the last three, four years. These are very partner and customer-centric individuals, and so to me, Microsoft is the place to place the big bet, and for those that are sort of on that fence, now’s the time to explore it again, because we do have great solutions and we do have a different mindset, and I can say that personally.

Vince Menzione:             So that’s really great feedback and advice, Scott, and is there any other advice you’d have for partners wishing to work with you and the go to market organization?

Scott Peltier:                    Yes. I would say, and this is when I go out and visit, and when I visit with a partner and they’re struggling with program X, they’re struggling with readiness, they’re struggling with I don’t know, I don’t understand, I immediately say “Are you tied into my team? Are you following our yammer site? Are you emailing me directly? Are you engaged with me? Who in your organization focuses on programs?” And I don’t care, in my mind, whether the, and I know it’s harder for partner organizations that are smaller, easier for partner organizations that are larger, but there needs to be in every partner organization an individual that’s either part of their day thinks about Microsoft programs or in larger organizations, it’s their full time job to think about partner programs because every partner should have somebody who’s leaning in hard to understand how do I stay informed, what kind of office hours where I can jump on a call on a monthly basis, how do I and where do I get the materials, how do you communicate because I want to be engaged.

And so I put a little bit more of the responsibility on our partners to say “You’ve got to lean in. There’s such opportunity. There’s so many programs to help enable your business. There’s so many types of incentives to help drive some early profitability as you’re building up your business, but you have to lean in. You have to engage,” and they most certainly could start with me and I can actually put them into some of the different platforms that we use to keep our partners informed.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great advice for our partner listeners, and we will provide a link in our show notes, your email address, maybe other ways that partners can reach out to you and the organization, so just terrific advice. Scott, as you might know from listening to other episodes, I’m fascinated by how people got to this particular spot in life, and so I wanted to focus on your personal and professional journey. You have an interesting story, and 17 years at Microsoft and I know there’s many people getting started in technology, looking to maybe join an organization like Microsoft. Can you take our listeners through that journey for you?

Scott Peltier:                    Sure. It’s kind of sometimes invigorating and refreshing to make yourself go through that journey and I’ll go back to high school just for 30 seconds. I remember taking a career test. It’s one of those tests that a lot of us have taken where the guidance counselor is trying to guide you as to what degree to go pursue in college, and basically it’s the what do you want to be when you grow up kind of a test. So I take this test, and the results were I was supposed to be a train driver. That’s how I call it. I was going to be a train driver based on all these questions I answered. I was supposed to drive a train, and I chuckle at that because going from that up in northern Minnesota where I grew up and then going down to college, my whole career just began to evolve in ways that I never, ever imagined early on.

Right out of college, I became a high school schoolteacher back in the, back, well I won’t date myself here, but it was a time when they put floppies in computers and I taught computer science and accounting and I love that teaching element, always have, always will and I think this is what’s made my current role so fascinating for me as I love the enablement and the teaching aspect that I’ve been able to be engaged in for so many years. So after teaching and using the business skills and the teaching and that forum for several years, I joined a great company out of Fargo, North Dakota, and I’m certain many of our listeners will know the company, and it was Great Plains Software, and Doug Burgum was on a terror mission to build the best business solutions software on the planet, build the best partner ecosystem on the planet, and as well, put customers first in everything they do, and so I spent seven years at Great Plains Software first of all doing technical support and then where I would work with partners and customers, helping them through these new solutions that we were developing way back in the 90s, some of the first window-based solutions for accounting and so on and so forth.

And then, the history, another major chapter happened, and that was Microsoft purchases Great Plains Software in 2001, and I would say that one day when I retire, that will be one of the greatest moments of my life, to wake up on a day and say “I work for the greatest company on the planet,” and so for these 17 years that I’ve been at Microsoft now, I’ve have various roles related to partners and customers and sales excellence and process management, and I can honestly say each day I wake up and I’m so proud to work for this company, to see this company evolve into a partner first, customer first mindset, and also just to be a part of a company that is one of the most giving companies on the planet.

And I always, I can’t forget to say that. Bill Gates is on a mission to solve really, really big things on the planet, and I like to say when a customer buys our solution, in one sense they’re contributing to a company that wants to have a global footprint of not just selling great solutions and making lives great, but also really changing and solving disease problems, solving poverty problems, and so to me, it’s not just a software company. It’s not just a solution company. You get the whole package with great values, and so here I sit today, 17 years later, having achieved so many of my career ambitions, going from Scott, you should be a train driver to you lead a very large partner incentive business where you touch thousands of partners on a yearly basis. It’s just been an incredible career ride for me.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great, and Doug Burgum has gone on to become the governor of the great state of North Dakota.

Scott Peltier:                    Yeah, I think about that, and I say “You know what? We just might know the next president of the United States one day,” but Doug, he’s a leader and I have such high respect for what he’s been able to do, being from North Dakota and rebuilding the town of Fargo, North Dakota, and so it was all in all a very, very great experience, so very privileged for sure.

Vince Menzione:             It’s great that you shared that. What was the best piece of advice that someone gave you when you took this role or when you got started?

Scott Peltier:                    To answer your question, the best piece of advice I got, it would have to be in terms of I think early on in my career, I was a little less confident in my abilities. I was a little less confident in being able to achieve really, really, really, really big things, and I had early people in my life who surrounded me with, I think of them as my personal cheerleaders, my personal mentors that you can do this, Scott, you can do this, Scott and I think everybody needs those kinds of people they surround themselves with because my best managers, my best leaders, and I can think of one specifically back in my Great Plains days, they knew just how to get the most out of me because sometimes people don’t know how to always get the most out of themselves, and you need to surround yourself with really, really bright people who are vested in you, who deeply appreciate all of your contributions, all that you’re doing, and this individual knew how to coach me, guide me and mentor me, and one day I would wake up and go I didn’t know I had that capability. I didn’t know I could do that.

I didn’t know I could achieve that. More importantly, I didn’t know how I could learn that. I’ll never forget, I got to share this, I remember one, there was an example of I had to fill out this RFP, a request for proposal. Our partners [inaudible 00:42:35] know precisely what an RFP was. Well I was young in my career at Great Plains and it was like 58,000 pages, and I remember looking at this thing. I had never filled one out before. I didn’t even know what the acronym really stood for, but my manager said “Scott, I need you to fill this out and bake in migration services and whatever else,” and I remember for a week just struggling. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I went in to his office and he looks at me and he says … I shared all the struggles I was having, and I just can’t do this, and I’m just not smart enough, and I was a bit of in a whiny moment, and he says “I can certainly take this off and go give it to somebody more capable if that’s what you really want.”

And at that moment, I had this epiphany and that is “No, I can do this.” I went, I finished it, I collaborated, I brought in other smart people to help, I finished the product, we closed the deal, and he looked at me and he says “Now aren’t you glad I didn’t take that from you?” And it’s like, we need those moments to both build confidence, to build learning capabilities, to learn skills to say “I can do anything and everything imaginable,” especially when you’re empowered within your company, and so I would say it’s been certainly a journey to build more confidence, more capabilities out of me, but the key, surround yourself with the right people who know how to draw out those little nuggets that you have.

Vince Menzione:             Nice. I love that example. And what about people that you were mentoring? I know you’ve mentored quite a few people at Microsoft. We had some people we worked on together a program called the Next Step program which was a mentorship program. What advice would you give someone who was looking to join Microsoft or join your organization that you were mentoring?

Scott Peltier:                    I appreciate that. This is near and dear to my heart. I love to mentor people. I love to career coach people, and one day I will write a book on these kinds of topics, and I have a chapter picked out, and so the advice I give people now today, especially after all these years that I have been in business, the things that I’ve learned, and the thing I coach people is be a preposition. And to my listeners, they’re going to go “Be a preposition?” When I was in elementary school, I learned that a preposition is anything a squirrel can do. They can run over a tree, under a tree, through a tree, and there’s like 300 and some different prepositions in the dictionary, and the concept there is get things done. And when those blockers come up, go over it. When that blocker comes up, go under it. Go around it. Go through it, and so in a sort of lighthearted, funny way, I encourage people to be a preposition, and that is one of the keys to success.

Do you know how a manager goes to when they need something done? They go to that individual who can get it done, over and over and over and over. You don’t give something to somebody that has an inconsistent way of getting things done. No, you give it to that preposition because they’re going to go knock down hurdles, they’re going to do whatever it takes. They’re going to be that squirrel that runs around, through, over, under, around that tree to get that job done, and so my biggest thing is you want to be successful in business is, and I have dozens of these kinds of little things, but this one that has really resonated with me in the last five years is be a preposition. Be known, build a brand that says this person can get it done. They get it done with style and they get it done with impact and the kind of things that keeps people engaged in a business.

Vince Menzione:             Be a preposition. I like that. We’re going to put that in our show notes. So who is one of your role models, either directly or indirectly, and what advice or what attributes did you learn from them?

Scott Peltier:                    One of my role models and I’ll call him one of my heroes, and I share this because this individual has a leadership style that I think about almost everyday, and it’s a person of years ago. His name was Stonewall Jackson, one of our great leaders within our country, and he had a leadership style where he was known for always being in front of his men during battle, and his generals would say “Stonewall, don’t be out there. You’re going to get shot and you’re going to die. The people need you as their leader,” and he says “No, no, no. I need to be up here in front, and I have to know the pulse of my people, and I have to show them that I am willing to roll my sleeves up just like they have to,” and I have thought about that for years in terms of how I want to be a leader, whether I lead teams or whether I am an individual contributor, it doesn’t matter. Always be willing to roll your sleeves up. Always be willing to go out there and sometimes there are battles that take place in business. Sometimes Microsoft doesn’t do everything right, and there’s a misfire on communication, a misfire on a payment.

When partners know that we’re willing to roll our sleeves up and just get into the thick of things to resolve it, come up with a solution, an enormous amount respect and admiration comes out of that because too often leaders, they sit behind doors and they become out of tune with what’s going on, and that’s just not my style. I like to be in tune. I like to sort of shed the titles. I like to sort of come and break it down into let’s just all work together, get it done, do what’s right for partners, do what’s right for customers, and worry less about titles and more what’s doing right for the business.

Vince Menzione:             I love that. Rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. Scott, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been so great to reconnect. For our listeners, I think this is such valuable advice, better understanding of the channel incentives programs at Microsoft, the big bets, how the company thinks and you think about partners. Thank you so much for joining.

Scott Peltier:                    Thanks, Vince, and thanks to all our listeners and I appreciate everything that’s been going on in the industry, so thanks again.

 

#25: Microsoft Dynamics Partner of the Year for 2017 – Tribridge a DXC Company, with Tony DiBenedetto.

Tony DiBenedetto, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of Tribridge, A DXC Company.

On this week’s 25th episode of the Ultimate Guide to Partnering, my guest is Tony DiBenedetto, the Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Tribridge, a DXC company. Tribridge recently won Microsoft’s highest honor as the 2017 Dynamics Partner of the Year. Several of my friends in the industry recommended Tony as an interview guest and he didn’t disappoint.

Tony’s career is pretty amazing. A few highlights include 30 years of experience in the technology industry, the recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Ernst & Young Florida Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and induction in the Florida State University College of Business Hall of Fame. Recently CRN Magazine ranked him among the top 25 technology disruptors in the country.

Tony co-founded Tribridge in 1998 and led the company through the successful acquisition and integration of several companies, resulting in a compounded annual growth rate of over 40% each year. Under his guidance, Tribridge has grown from a start-up to one of the leading technology companies in the United States and Microsoft Dynamics Partner of the Year status.

Tony and I had a really great conversation on Tribridge’s journey to premier status with Microsoft, some of Tribridge’s successful solution areas, where he sees the business moving forward now as part of DXC, his secret sauce in partnering with Microsoft and his professional journey.

You can view the full transcript of the interview in the show notes below. You can also subscribe on iTunes , Google PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players.

As with each of my interviews and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione


Transcript of the interview

Vince                      Tony, I want to welcome you to the podcast. I’m so excited to have you here on our podcasts. Tribridge has been a premier Microsoft Dynamics Partner for quite some time, award-winning partner and your organization has done some great work. In fact one of our previous guests, Mike Bat, on episode four, specifically discussed the success with Tribridge in opening up new markets in the government space. So it’s an exciting time for you, given the firm’s recent acquisition by DXC and your 2017 award for Partner of the Year, so I’m so excited to have you, welcome to the podcast.

Tony D:               Vince, it’s great to be here and appreciate to have the time today.

Vince M:             So I want to dive right in and have a lot of questions here to ask about you and the business so why don’t we just start off with you’re the CEO and co-founder of Tribridge and for our listeners I thought it would be great if you could take them through the genesis of the business from its founding and what were the early days like, your guiding principles when you started so could you do that?

Tony D:               Sure, at the time I was a partner at Arthur Andersen in the business consulting division and to be honest with you, I just year after year had a thirst for starting my own company. I had started a couple companies early in my career at Andersen and I was at that point where I knew I was going to lead. It was just a question of what.

It first started with having just some meetings at my house, where me and a couple of friends would get together and just talk about what businesses we wanted to build. We came up with crazy ideas as you might expect, some were technology and some were like a bar across from the Tampa Bay Bucs Stadium and that had a series of getting together with other entrepreneurs led to us forming Tribridge. In fact, we started our first business plan was really a mid-market, over-the-web CRM solution. At the time, salesforce is not out yet.

We went for some funding for that and that funding fell through, but the advice we got from that entrepreneur, who was going to fund us, was, “Why don’t you do what you know? Why are you not doing something in the tech space around what you guys are good at?” So, I wound up building a plan for Tribridge and raising just a little bit of capital based on that advice and that’s how we launched Tribridge back in September of 1998.

Interestingly enough, the business morphed over time. We started out really just as a services company, but came back to that quest for being a software company, which was what the first business plan was and then started building our own software in 2009. If you look at our company today, we really started several businesses inside of Tribridge’s practice areas, but really morphed the businesses from services only to now a software service as a cloud company, all integrated to deliver solutions for customers and all of that was based on the advice we got in the early May of 1998 when we were raising money for the original Tribridge.

Vince M:             Was Microsoft an early partner in those days?

Tony D:               Yeah, pretty quick into our days as early Tribridge Services Partner, one of the guys I started the firm with, Mike Herdegen, he really had a thirst for custom development and he was building stuff in the Microsoft toolset. We were a Microsoft partner day one and what happened was we started becoming more and more known within the Microsoft world and we started meeting with them at higher levels and they started asking us about Dynamic because at the time we were not a Dynamics partner.

It took probably five years or more before we went over to the Dynamics side of the business, which was late 2003 – early 2004, but that’s because we started out just doing application development in Microsoft tools. So we technically have been a partner the whole time. We’ve been a Dynamics partner since August of 2003.

Vince M:             What was some of those early customers and work that you did?

Tony D:               I remember we did a early portal for Outback Steakhouse. We did a big project for Marriott Vacation Club, as an example, Marine Max, which is a public company in Florida that’s a boat retailer. We did a series of projects for them in the early days. Even though we were a pretty small company, we were landing some brands that were way bigger than we were because of some personal relationships and then once you do good work for somebody that helps you not only do more work for them, but also gets you recognized within their industry as being somebody that can help and so that led to us getting certainly a lot more projects.

Vince M:             You said I think 2009 you developed this Dynamics practice and started building business applications or solutions on the Dynamics platform. Can you talk to our listeners a little bit about that? Was there a specific customer that Microsoft brought to you or was there an opportunity? How did that evolve?

Tony D:               Well, we actually developed our Dynamics practice back in ‘04, but in terms of us building our own software that was 2009. The first solution we developed was really in partnering with Microsoft. They had a client in the state and local government space that needed a more modern jail and offender management system because they were having problems with their mainframe systems and prisoners were being let go at the wrong time and they weren’t tracking prisoners very well from the county up to the state.

Microsoft was looking for a partner and we had such a good relationship and performed so well, especially in the CRM category, that we built an application for a large Midwestern state to redo all of their offender management systems, so the intake of a prisoner through the release and all the processes in the middle. As a result of the work, because the particular customer wanted a pretty significant discount on the work, as well as they wanted us to perpetuate the IP, we formally kept the IP with agreement from the customer and then really from that point forward we launched our offender management solution in 2009 and since then that’s been a huge part of our growth story, not only with Microsoft, but just with the broader justice and public safety group.

We have built other applications like probation management, pre-trial management and other parts of the justice public safety system because of the success we had with those early, large, large state prison systems and mid-sized county prison systems but yes, it all started with that one customer.

Vince M:             Then you mentioned businesses within Tribridge. Can you talk to our listeners a little bit about that? I know you have other practices. You talked about offender management and some of those state and local solutions. I know, for instance, that you have healthcare as an area of focus with the company and you’ve been awarded Microsoft partner awards for that as well. Maybe you can talk about some of that?

Tony D:               We noticed that we were doing a lot of work in healthcare and with our early success with our offender solution, we wanted to build something that was more leading edge around preventative healthcare and population health. We noticed there was a shift going on, partly with the Affordable Care Act, but partly with chief medical officers wanting to try to involve the patient more on the front-end of healthcare and not wait until you had some type of acute disease.

We built, at first, a care coordination module that really led to our Health 360 Solution, which today is in some of the largest hospitals in the country. It really was our thinking that we could make a difference in the way people live their lives and many of us were frustrated with the healthcare system in general and so this gave us an opportunity to not only do something good for business but also feed our mission.

The mission of the company from the first day was to improve the lives of other people by serving them and since that was the mission of why we do things that solution particularly was easy to take off the ground and launch and instead of having a customer there, we actually did that one on spec and then built a pipeline in the market opportunity around it.

We were a little ahead of the curve in the beginning, but now it looks like if you read anything we’re recognized widely not just by Microsoft of being a leader in population health with our Health 360 Solution, and a year ago became a globalized vehicle from Microsoft and then obviously with the recent acquisition by DXC, we hope to promote this product on a global basis so that we can help other countries with their healthcare as well.

Vince M:             You also have your own cloud services company, Concerto. Maybe you can share some of that story with our listeners as well?

Tony D:               Yep, that’s another element of the business. We’re talking a lot about the software side and obviously, Concerto is more on the cloud side of the business, similar entrepreneurial moment for us. We had one of our leaders going to a couple of the Microsoft conferences early when BPOS was coming out and we were talking with a lot of our customers about we’re going to have a BPOS practice, which eventually led to Azure, and the feedback we got in those early days was they were uncomfortable putting mission-critical applications in a public cloud.

We pretty quickly recognized around 2008 that it was important for us to build an infrastructure in a private cloud, a virtual private cloud, which eventually led to our now-today hybrid cloud. But in those days, we built it because we had so many customers doing mission-critical stuff with us, formula management systems, financial systems, sales management systems, cancer … We had a customer that was trying to cure cancer by looking at the DNA of people that were getting sick and that’s not the kind of stuff you want to have sitting in a public cloud at the time.

We built this thing to be at just a different level of security. Yes, we have some shared elements of it, but the ability for the client to customize security, have their application layer just be theirs, have their database layer just be theirs, have their virtualization layer just be theirs and that gave us a lot more control over up-time, as well as security and it just gave us an offering that was a premium offering. That has led to a very successful business called Concerto.

Today we are deeply, deeply partnered with Microsoft on the Azure side, so we had many customers that will come to us for all their cloud needs and say, “Hey, we want to run our very confidential stuff in a private cloud, but we have a lot of stuff that we want to run on the public cloud and take advantage of that pricing,” and so we can manage all of that because we have built not only a hybrid cloud, but we’ve built the set of tools that allow you to manage across public and private cloud in that one pane of glass so that you can manage across all those different instances but also get the benefits of the different types of clouds that are available.

That’s a very different business for us, but it was that entrepreneurial spirit early and then partnering with Microsoft along the way. In fact, Microsoft helped fund our first hybrid cloud. It helped us build out the connection to Azure real early in the process and that’s the kind of partnership we’ve had with them and I think that’s why we continue to do well in that Microsoft space.

Vince M:             What do you think makes your value proposition unique to customers and then also to Microsoft? Can you take our listeners through that?

Tony D:               Yeah, I think the thing that our customers see in us are probably two important things. One, our business model for a long time now has been one integrated answer around cloud software and services. It’s weird. I’ve worked in the technology space for now for 30 something years, almost 34 years, and for a long time it was an industry that was supposed to be leading edge, yet to get a complete solution often times you had to go to multiple parties. It’s strange. When you buy a car, you don’t buy the wheels from somebody, the engine from someone else, then hire a completely different firm to integrate it. We [inaudible 00:14:28] on that. Yet, mission-critical systems in large part were bought and sold that way and implemented that way. That bugged me for years.

Our business model says, “Look, you can have one firm that takes responsibility for the software that you’re purchasing, that you need for your business, the infrastructure it sits on, hopefully our Concerto cloud but it could be in Azure or it could be on Premise, and then the services to integrate it all. That’s one company. Being able to do that for our customers gives us a competitive edge from a qualitative perspective, there’s no finger-pointing. You really own the whole thing, as a provider, which really shortens the cycle. I’ve been involved in engagements in other organizations where that wasn’t the case and you wound up fighting with the third parties. The customer is just not happy. We avoid all that. I think that’s one critical element of our competitive edge.

The other one is that we have been very focused on some micro-vertical industries and that’s allowed us to focus on some problems that we’ve solved hundreds of time. You start getting to a point where you’ve solved a problem hundreds of times for large corporations, you get really good at it. Not only do we have solutions that do it, we have the people that have been around that specific micro-vertical and we know how to solve the problem, we know how to speak the language. Most of these business problems are extremely complex. That’s why we get called in. If they were easy, customers would just fix them. But they’re complex, they’re not as easy as they look on the surface and the experience of doing these things many, many times just gives us an edge.

I think 85% of the revenue of Tribridge is in industries and micro-verticals that we’ve done over and over again. Only 15% of our revenue comes from stuff that is less repeatable to us. Again, that just builds a lot of assets in a company like ours, whether it’s the people, the skill set, it could be intellectual property, it could be software, even our cloud has become industry-focused, so we have fine-tune our cloud with an industry micro-vertical bent to it. You could see how the customers respond well to that, not only in the sales cycle, but also as we’re working with them they get the sense, “Wow, you guys clearly have done this over and over again.”

Vince M:             With the recent acquisition by DXC, where do you see the company headed? You talked about the verticals and micro-verticals you’re in now. Is there anticipation of moving into other markets for growth? How do you see growth?

Tony D:               Yeah, the cool thing about the acquisition for us is that DXC is obviously a very large global company and we were just starting the planning to expand our solutions globally. Our ability to now take our industry solutions on a global stage is part of why we did the acquisition. I think it’s part of why DXC did the acquisition as well.

The second thing is just our partnership with Microsoft. We had a very strong partnership with Microsoft, but again, having the size organization that we have now, we clearly with the combined organization of the largest Microsoft Dynamics company in the world and so now our partnership with Microsoft is even more important not only to us but to Microsoft. I think that is the second place of growth.

The third one is we’re picking up some other micro-vertical solutions with DXC. Where maybe we had customers before that we either turned the work down or we were doing it in that 15% of the revenue, now we have experts across the globe in retail and other parts of the business that are in addition to the micro verticals we had.

It expands our solution offering in terms of more industries we can go after. It gives us a global reach. It gives us a better partnership with Microsoft in terms of growth. Then finally, it gives us a platform for our hybrid cloud. Combined, there’s over 6000 customers of Tribridge and DXC for us to expose these solutions to and we’re excited about that opportunity because they’re customers of the broader company.

Vince M:             Yeah, it’s exciting. There’s so much exciting change going on right now. I’m sure you see it. I call it “the rapid age of digital transformation.” What do you see in customers more willing to do today than they were let’s say just three years ago?

Tony D:               I think customers for one, they’re on their third or fourth rodeo. It used to be when I first started in this business most of the customers were doing their first ERP application, they were doing their first CRM application. There’s a little bit of a black box theory back then, “Oh, just let the consultant figure it out or just let the tech firm figure it out,” well that’s change.

Today the thing I noticed about customers is yes, the demands higher in terms of of what the expectations are, but their level of partnering and contributing to the project is at an all-time high. I’m excited about the way customers view technology as a strategic weapon not just as infrastructure. We run into lots of customers today, it’s almost the norm now that they want to build some technology, use some technology and do it in a unique way, typically, to change the business model.

There’s a lot of pressure going on now, the global competitiveness to subscription billing and subscription business models and new business models that disrupt supply chains and all of those things are changing the way traditional companies have been doing business for hundreds of years or 100 years in some cases. I think their willingness to do the kind of innovative stuff that we’ve been doing is really exciting.

Then the other part I would say is the comfort level of the cloud has changed dramatically, just night and day from where it was. The ability for customers in pretty much every industry now to take advantage of ubiquitous infrastructure, a cloud infrastructure, a hybrid cloud infrastructure, it’s just much more prevalent today. I think it’s the early days of cloud in the big scheme of things, so I think the creativeness and the innovation that’s going to come out of more customer demand and more willingness to try things.

I think we’re going to see just another set of evolution of what’s possible in the cloud that we haven’t seen before, whether that’s development, whether that’s outsourcing, whether that’s a different way to consume infrastructure and applications. But you’re seeing creativity happening with all kinds of companies because of the willingness to use the cloud. If you think about Uber, the fact that they took on more than 100-year-old business in the taxi business and just revolutionized it with a new business model is one small example of what you’re seeing our customers doing every day.

Vince M:             Do you have any specific examples? I know you’re talking about public cloud, I think quite a bit about Uber. I think about data, “data state” I guess is the term I’m looking for here, where that information is just so meaningful to disrupting a particular market like Uber did with transportation, with taxi service and you’re seeing with Airbnb and others. Are there any specific examples you might have for our listeners?

Tony D:               Yeah, we’ve got to solutions that I think are changing models. One of it is the way we consume healthcare. If you think about, at least, I’m in my mid-50s and have all kinds of those health issues you start to care about, but most of my interactions with doctors is reactive. I go to the doctor every six months or whatever and they check my blood. They’re kind of waiting for me to have something wrong and then they’ll treat it and that’s the way I’ve been doing it really for most of my life.

With our Health 360 product and with some of the leading hospitals across the globe and the way they’re using our solution, they’re interacting with their customer and the patient every day and they’re building a care plan. So instead of waiting for a heart attack, their preventing heart attacks. Instead of waiting to come to the hospital, they’re building smaller hospitals because they’re caring for their patients through technology. There’s lots of ways that they do that with us, especially with the Internet of Things.

For instance, let’s just pretend I had cardiac disease in my family and I was a patient of one of our customers that use Health 360. I’d have a care plan because I’m in an identified group that could have this issue and so they tell me I have to keep my blood pressure to a certain level, take certain pills, do some exercise and all that. In the old days, you’d have to lie to your doctor and said you did all those things and then you get on the scale and he’s like, “Man, it’s been six months. You gained 5 pounds or whatever.”

Today, we integrate your scale at home into the system so that the caregiver knows exactly what you weigh every time you get on the scale. We take your pill box that has a little RF device and every time you open the pillbox and take pills out we record that. We know exactly what you’re doing on the treadmill. We have your fitbit connected. We have your Apple watch connected. We are collecting data at a pace that’s never been done before, which is changing the way the information that the drugstore has, the pharmacist has, the doctor, the nurse practitioner and so they can proactively give you care.

But we’re not even relying on that, the system then is showing the data and trending the data to give the caregiver information, in some cases just telling the patient, “Look, you’re doing a great job. Your weight and blood pressure look great, keep it up.” In some cases they’re saying, “You know, we saw an elevation in your blood pressure the last time you took it. We really want you to pay attention to your salt or whatever else it is.”

So this interaction, this abundance of data, this ability to consume all these interactions makes the care-giving that much better. We’re not just changing the systems, we’re actually changing the way the doctor’s interacting with the patient because of this ongoing dialogue going over in technology. I think we’re seeing that in a big way with that specific example.

Vince M:             That’s a great example and healthcare has been such an important aspect of the business for Microsoft and in terms of industry. Just the type of impact to outcomes and people’s health, it’s just so meaningful. We talked about new markets. I just want to peel back a little bit further. Is there a market you’re not in now or an application space that you think might be intriguing to Tribridge that you’d like to enter into at some point with the new DXC acquisition?

Tony D:               Yeah, there’s no doubt our cloud business in both Health 360 and our offender management solutions, they mostly have been US-based and so we have been trying in the last year with our Global DXC status to penetrate Europe and Asia and those markets. Now our relationship with DXC absolutely will be leveraging the sales teams on a global basis, customers that they have on a global basis to introduce them to these solutions we’re talking about. There’s no doubt about that.

Then on the cloud side, it’s really the same thing. We have a few European clients, for the most part have been US-based. We do have data center capability across 160 countries with the relationship that we have with our data center partner. Our ability to service those customers is there. We just haven’t had the brand or the sales team to be able to get those cloud customers as well. Those are the two areas that I think we’d grow into from a new markets perspective.

In terms of the application side of the business, I would say that with a combined business of Tribridge and DXC, I’d say the answer is no because obviously, we’re in a bigger business today than we’ve ever been. I think DXC, is if you look at the public information, roughly $27 billion in revenue, so I think there are other parts of a company’s business that we can help because of now a broader capability within DXC. I think for Tribridge, it’s the broader markets and the bigger resources that is really the big change in the next couple years.

Vince M:             So Tribridge has been consistently a top partner of the year with Microsoft, both in the public sector as well as broadly. In fact, this past year was a worldwide Partner of the Year Award. What do you think makes that or what makes a great partner? What do you think is the secret sauce that makes a great partner?

Tony D:               I think there’s some characteristics of a great partner. I think it starts with a couple things I always do in the front-end of a discussion with a potential partner. One is there has to be some level of shared vision or even shared values. If you go meet with somebody and they don’t want to go to the same places you want to go with the business, then it’s kind of hard to partner.

Or you could just have shared values. We’ll run into people all the time and it’s clear they’re certainly interested economically, but when we start talking about our mission or how we’re improving the lives of others, if you think about our healthcare business, if you think about our JPS or our under management solution, we believe we’re making an impact to the world with those solutions and so that can bond us with a potential partner, Microsoft or anybody else. I do think that shared vision or shared values is kind of check box 1.

Check box 2 is both parties have to care about mutual success. If somebody wants to partner, but they’re really looking for a one-way relationship that becomes obvious really quickly and it kills partnerships. Nobody, no matter how big or how small loves just giving. There’s got to be that ability for both parties to succeed and there’s got to be care behind it. There’s no care and there’s no “I’m going to help you drive your business,” then I don’t think you have a good partnership. I think you have a relationship. You don’t necessarily have a partnership.

Then the third area that I think just makes a great partner is working hard at the relationship and in the communications part. I would say that’s bullet number three. That starts with clear expectations, but then needing to kill a partnership, it’s missed expectations. The other thing is just being open, really being open with a dialogue, “Hey, what you’re doing well and this is how you’re doing well,” or “Hey, it’s not working and here’s why.” And doing that in an honest and open way, not in a complaining way.

One of the pieces of feedback we have gotten for many years is that “you guys have been a good partner because yes, you have challenges with us at Microsoft, but the way you go about it …” We don’t scream and yell. We don’t jump it down and throw a tantrum. We really engage in dialogue and sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes we don’t get it resolved as quickly as we want.

But I have found it’s been much better to be constructive, be clear. It doesn’t mean I smile all the time, but be constructive, give the feedback, hold people accountable, but do it in a professional and friendly way I think it does work. I think that is part of that point three of just having that solid relationship. I think if you can do those three I think you can be a great partner, but it is a two-way street. Don’t expect it all to be that what’s Microsoft going to do for you, it’s got to be what you can do for Microsoft as well, whoever the partner is.

Vince M:             I call that interdependence from the Stephen Covey book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Tony D:               Absolutely.

Vince M:             Yeah, that’s great, in fact as you were speaking I was thinking back on one of my slides, you hit the nail on some of the other conversations I’ve had about what makes great partnerships, so really great synopsis there, Tony. Talk to me about other partnerships and alliances you might have? Does Tribridge have any other alliances or partnerships outside of the one with Microsoft?

Tony D:               We absolutely have built many alliances outside of the Microsoft world. Many years ago we hired a person full-time to lead our alliance part of the business and not even manage the Microsoft part, really to reach out to other companies that were selling to our customers, other trusted advisors, whether that was large banks, SunTrust Bank is a good example, whether it’s other consulting firms or accounting firms like Grant-Thornton or whether that’s payroll companies or other tech companies like ADP or whether it’s folks that do turnarounds and stuff like that like Alvarez and Marsal.

We’ve built these relationships and really we meet with these companies around the globe now but certainly in the US. We get together to figure out what’s the best way we can help each other’s customers and those alliances have led to probably 25% or 30% of our growth over the years. You’re getting brought in by a trusted advisor of Ernst & Young or Grant-Thornton or Dell even. So because you’re being brought in by somebody who already has a working relationship, we have found that (a) you close business faster and (b) you can get the decision-makers quicker. We do the same thing for those firms. We set that up years ago and that idea of being an alliance partner with somebody and being able to help them grow their business has worked for us, even outside of the technology ecosystem.

Vince M:             With those partners have you ever seen situations where the partner you were working with just wasn’t getting it working with Tribridge and what would you say to them now if you could to get them on the path to success?

Tony D:               Well, that’s a good question. I haven’t seen that a lot with the alliances. I’ve certainly talked to other Microsoft partners about things that have not been working for them and so we’ve talked through what things we can do better or not do better. I think one thing I would say is when you’re in a relationship that’s not working is you almost have to take stock “Am I being a giver, am by giving?” I find this with the Microsoft partners in particular like, “Yeah, we’re not getting any leads from Microsoft. They’re a terrible partner.”

I’m like, “What have you done? What are you bringing to the table? Are you bringing a solution? Are you bringing customers? Are you bringing new market opportunities that they haven’t thought about?” That’s the advice I typically give them is there is sometimes fear to do that with a partner like Microsoft, “Oh, they may give it to someone else?” I have found that once you can go sit down with an executive at Microsoft or even any company and start talking about how to grow their business, it really changes the dynamic.

Then I think the second part of the thing I typically see is people that are hoarding information. I think to be a good partner and to turn around that dynamic that’s not working, it’s that willingness to be involved and share your knowledge. I think that also will turn around a negative situation. Those are the two things, the pieces of advice I’ve given to other Microsoft partners.

In terms of our alliance partners, I can’t think of an example specifically where it didn’t work. I think if it didn’t, like in an engagement with a customer, the biggest thing is communication. “It isn’t working. The customer’s not happy, Here’s what we need to do.” We certainly had people that have dropped out of our alliances before. But I would say when that has happened, it’s really been about people just want to take so I’ll go back to my giver thing.

There’s great book called “The Go-Giver” that really talks about how to give a relationship first and we give that book to everybody that joins our alliances team so that they understand what the expectations are. This is about giving, not with a complete expectation of getting because it doesn’t work that way. You may get in the big scheme of things, but maybe not from that partner specifically. I think that’s another way to solve the problem is to start with giving.

Vince M:             Start with giving and in fact, I had a conversation just recently with Amir Capriles, who’s a friend of both of ours, who we discussed your partnership with Microsoft and that journey, he mentioned that mutual “skin in the game.” Maybe that’s a little bit of that, maybe from what I’m hearing from this conversation?

Tony D:               Yeah, I think so. Amir and I have done a lot of deals together and the ones that go great we celebrate great, but you get one or two, it doesn’t work great and I would tell you, Amir is a great example of a good partner, great partner. We had an account, a pretty large account that wasn’t going well and we couldn’t get the customer to engage the way we wanted. The customer was frustrated as well. He came up with an idea that was risky, would put us in some grand risk and some financial risk, but we thought it was the best outcome and we did it and it was messy and we did it together and we got through it and it landed.

It took many months of trust. It took a financial commitment by both of us to right the problem. It would have been easy to walk away for either of us, blame the other. There were heated moments for sure, but I think both of us came out of that probably eight or nine years ago and just got closer through that tough, tough situation where both of us had to really invest a lot of capital, intellectual, financial, resource capital. We left it at a much stronger relationship and trust going down the road. Again, 90% of our interactions have been phenomenal, but when we had tough times, you really learn about people.

One thing I learned about Amir is he is honorable and can make the tough calls. I think he learned the same thing about me and it’s allowed us to each beat stronger partners going forward. Absolutely, that was about giving and that was also about honoring the partnership. I think Amir has just been great from that respect.

Vince M:             One of the attributes I’ve had people say is that the person will say the same thing about the partner, whether they’re in the room or not and Amir said pretty much the same thing about you in our conversation so there. It is a mutual partnership for sure.

Tony D:               Ah, that’s great.

Vince M:             Any other advice you have for our partner listeners on partnering specifically?

Tony D:               Naw, the last thing I’d say is I think Microsoft is great at helping you develop new business, new business ideas. I’d bring them into the fold with strategic planning. I have found there’s definitely executives over there that will help you grow your business. That’s another way to extend the partnership is you’re thinking about 2018 planning, bring them into the mix. It doesn’t have to just be about Microsoft. I think there’s a lot of smart people there that can help you.

Vince M:             That’s great advice. Tony, as you might know from listening to other episodes, I’m fascinated with how people got to this particular spot in life. I wanted to focus a portion of our time here on the personal and professional journey because I believe it helps others that are aspiring to maybe being the founder or CEO of a company or a leader in the technology space. I was hoping maybe you can share with our listeners some of your journey? How did you get started and talk to our listeners through that?

Tony D:               Sure absolutely, I’ve definitely been asked before did you know you were an entrepreneur? When did you know that? That question gets asked a lot and I got to tell you, when I was growing up and I had a kind of rough childhood. I lived in from seventh grade to tweflth grade I lived in about 15 different homes so I had definitely a lot of different people around me from really all walks of life. I lived in a very, very tough neighborhood and it wasn’t all good business advice, but I never knew what the word “entrepreneur” meant. I never heard that word before. The funny thing is for years I never knew what that word was, even though I believed, in looking backwards, I had a lot of those characteristics, the risk-taking and wanting to lead and wanting to serve people and those things.

One particular thing that has stuck out to me is there is a guy in college, a friend of mine, this guy Larry Stiegel and Larry, I always thought he was a little bit crazy and I hope he’s listening. Larry kept telling me, he’s developing this business. We were going to school in Tallahassee, Florida, which is not the most advanced tech community in the world …

Vince M:             So Florida State, yep?

Tony D:               Florida State University, right and this is in 1983, it’s a long time ago, and Larry has me helping him, so I was working for him I guess. He’s a friend. He needed help. The business model was he was importing Brazilian art, duty free and selling it in Tallahassee, Florida, to flea markets. What I didn’t realize at the time, I thought I was just helping my friend. I was making some money, but what I was watching was an entrepreneur.

Larry went on to other businesses as he graduated and been a lifelong entrepreneur. He’s owned land. He’s owned an electronics distributor. He’s learned a leechy farm. He’s just been all over the map and he’s done well, but those early days at FSU, just watching him import goods and learn that process and take the risk of people in Tallahassee wanting imported Brazilian art, that seems like a crazy idea yet he did very well. That had a big impact on me wanting to do my own thing and I think believe it or not, so did the New York Yankees.

George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees. He bought the Yankees in ‘73 and he bought them for I think it was $7 million. I remember thinking, “Oh, I want to be like George Steinbrenner. I want to own the Yankees, so I need to own my own business, too,” because he owned his own businesses. Because I was a huge baseball fan, a huge Yankee fan, so there was this Larry on one hand, this very practical example of a guy right in front of me and again, I didn’t know what the word meant and then I had George Steinbrenner as my, I’ll call him “far away role model” that was buying businesses, had bought the Yankees and I was just thinking, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.”

That motivated me to do my own thing. Even though I worked at a big firm, it really motivated me to do something that I could control both the quality and the speed and I do think I have a strange motor. I like to grow. I like to push. I like the pace. I figured out early on that everybody didn’t really have that and so taking advantage of that pace in a way that allowed me to be part of stuff that grows. That’s part of the early just maturing and trying to understand who you are and then saying, “What do you do with this? What do you do with this pace and this ambition?” and I decided to go the entrepreneurial route, again not even knowing what that word meant.

Vince M:             So a huge Yankee fan?

Tony D:               Yeah, I’m a diehard Yankee fan.

Vince M:             Have you ever thought about owning a franchise? Is that an aspiration in your future?

Tony D:               It is. I would say the price of franchises has gone up so many megafolds, so my revised thought process is either minor leagues or a very, very small sliver of a large major league team. But yeah, I still have the desire to be part of building a world-class sports franchise. I just may have to go about it differently based on the economics of the game. I think the Marlins have just sold for $1.3 billion and so yeah, the economics have changed so much.

Vince M:             You talked about this, I think you called it a weird motor or different motor. What are some of the most fun aspects of the job for you then?

Tony D:               I think you like to win, my another attraction I have for the Yankees, they’re just hooked on winning. It’s fun to be successful and to win and to grow a business. That has turned me on for a long time. We’ve had 18 straight years of growth here at Tribridge and you get addicted to it. It’s exciting. I think the second thing that sticks out for me is just watching other people grow. We’ve had a lot of people run through here and some have started their own companies. I think we’ve had about 25 people leave and start their own company and it’s been exciting to watch people grow from in some cases really young in their careers to leading parts of Tribridge or somebody that came from a different company with an experience that was different and maybe down and stuff and then they come here and then they get lit up.

I didn’t expect to like that, but over the years you start looking at thousands of people that you’ve worked with and you’ve watch them grow and light bulbs go off and careers start. You get excited about it. You get to see even the personal growth. You see them get married or have kids or grandkids now. There’s something that I didn’t expect to really get connected to emotionally, but it really has touched me in a way that I didn’t expect and you start caring at a different level about them.

Vince M:             These people that go off on their own, was there a best piece of career advice that you received when you started out that maybe you’ve imparted to others when they’ve left to start their own journey?

Tony D:               I’ve had a lot of mentors, so I’ve been pretty fortunate. One guy that stands out that continues to give me great advice is Tom Wallace. He’s a local entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur, very successful. He early on, and this is so basic but it really has played out. We were pitching him a business plan for the software company that wasn’t Tribridge and he turned us down. He said, “No, I’m not going to fund that. I don’t like the space.” Didn’t understand the space. But what he said was, “Do what you know.” He was the guy that gave us that advice. But more importantly, he’s like, “Listen to the customer.” He goes, “Tony, whatever you start, the business is going to morph and really pay attention to the markets and the customer and then start planning ahead.”

After that moment in May of 1998 we took that to heart and every year forever is we started our planning. We really took a wide view of stakeholders and said, “We’re going to listen to customers and we’re going to listen to our partners and we’re going to listen to our team members.” Instead of us thinking we knew all the answers, we’d start with a straw man and then we’d go around the 15 or 20 customers, show them the plan and then make changes and several of our ideas, in fact our infrastructure practice initially came from a customer who said, “Hey, this is what I think you should be doing.”

I think Tom, again as simple as it was it was really all about paying attention to the market dynamics, listening to customers and making sure you really understand what the needs are so that you can be ready when they need it and that’s something I tell people all the time. That no matter how smart you are, you’ll never be smarter than the market. The market usually is this big inertia and so you’ve got to tap into it. The best way to tap into it is to talk to a lot of people. Obviously, you do research. There’s tons of research out there. I love the human element of it. I think the research combined with talking to specific people in specific industries really just rounds out where you should take a business and I use that technique every year.

Vince M:             That’s some great advice. We talked about, you mentioned overcoming some challenges earlier in your life. What about hurdles you’ve had to face and had to overcome? Can you talk to our listeners about any one in particular maybe that stands out for you?

Tony D:               On the business side, nothing big stands out. I’d say maybe the availability of talent has been a consistent hurdle for the last 18 years, like folks in our industry that can be good culture fits but also have the technology capabilities. One of the ways we overcame it, we kept hiring experienced hires and after about 10 years of that we decided, “Yes, we’ll keep doing that, but we’d augment it with an on-campus hiring and build our own,” and that has paid dividends. Probably almost 20% of our team it today have come from our campus hiring and there’s no way we’d be at this point in our development without that.

Vince M:             What schools do you recruit from?

Tony D:               We recruit all over the country, but in Florida we recruit at Florida, Florida State and USF. But we recruit at Wake Forest, campuses in Texas, I think maybe a couple California ones but it’s all over the country.

Vince M:             Nice and what pursuits or obsessions do you explore when you’re not working?

Tony D:               Man, I love baseball. That’s probably clear. I love to hike, so I’ve done quite a bit of hiking over the years. I travel a lot in my job, so I like to hike, particularly mountains. I’m not a climber. I’m not a mountain climber, but I love to hike to the top of any mountain that I can get to so I try to do that a lot and I love basketball. Those are probably the three things that I love the most. I guess cooking may be the fourth. I probably left that out.

Vince M:             Cooking, what type of food do you like to cook? Are you going to tell me Italian?

Tony D:               Well, I’m Sicilian but no, I’m kind of across the board. At the house I’m the one that, I’ll create recipes or research recipes or watch one of those cooking shows and steal a recipe and then I’ll start messing with it. It might take me two years before I go, “Okay, now I’ve got it where I like it.” You know what I mean? I’m not one that will follow the recipe to the “T.” Had a pizza dough recipe going for about five years to the point where I just kept tweaking it and made probably thousands of pizzas and today I feel like I finally have something that I can have people over.

Vince M:             Thin crust or thick crust?

Tony D:               I like thin better, but I do a Sicilian pie, every once in a while that’s okay, but I do super thin probably partly to keep the size of the carbs down. But I definitely do a thin crust.

Vince M:             Nice, I’m going to have to try your pizza one of these days. So who was one of your role models, either directly or indirectly and what advice or attributes did you learn from them?

Tony D:               Tom Wallace for sure, a big role model. The one thing about Tom that I picked up over the years is accountability. I always felt like I was personally accountable. What I noticed about Tom and different boards I was on or he was on our board for a while is the way he held people accountable. I probably was uncomfortable doing that in my early career and that can hurt you as a leader because people aren’t getting stuff done and therefore you’re not getting stuff done. Being able to do that in a way that’s professional, I feel like I got that from Tom. That would be one.

The second person is George Gordon, another local entrepreneur up in Philadelphia but stopped and moved down here south a few years back. The thing I learned about George was the poise of a leader. I would say I didn’t grow up being very poised or tactful or any of those things. I think George, I watched him. I was in an organization with him where he was the chair and I was the vice chair for about 10 years and just watching George handle egos.

We had a 30, 40 person board with all the big, top names in Tampa on the board, pretty high level people on those boards, CEO’s, CFO’s, CIO’s and just watching George handle people in a way with poise and grace and professionalism I was just blown away by the way he could do it. I’m not half of what he can do, but it shapes the way I communicate with folks. I used to think being direct was the only way to do it. I’m still direct, but I’m certainly doing it differently at 52 than I was at 22.

Vince M:             What advice would you give that younger self, that 25 – 30-year-old Tony DiBenedetto?

Tony D:               Let’s see, younger Tony? I think the concept of being fearless that you probably lose over time a little bit. Man, when I was 20 I thought I was going to buy the Yankees. I left that out and then reality sets in. I think there’s something healthy about staying fearless, especially as an entrepreneur, especially as a CEO. You don’t want to lose that. I think continue to be fearless. I’d probably have that mantra and have me chanting it at night. I feel like I’m still pretty fearless, but I am not as fearless as I once was so I think that’s one that stands out.

Vince M:             Is there one book you’ve read or gifted often that you recommend to our listeners?

Tony D:               The book I think that’s one of the top leadership books in the world that I don’t think is on everybody’s list is called “The Servant” by James Hunter. It’s a little bit of a different kind of book and it’s all about servant leadership and I just think the book’s an easy read. I give it to folks at Tribridge all the time and I think it gives you a sense of how you can relate to people and help them get the most out of what they can be and it focuses on something people don’t like to talk about in business is it’s about how you love somebody and truly love them and that can mean firing them, too. It’s not all about doing something that’s nice. It’s about truly loving them by helping them get to where they need to go and that’s something that I feel like I’ve really adopted as part of my style here at Tribridge.

Vince M:             So “The Servant” by James Hunter?

Tony D:               Yeah.

Vince M:             We’ll have a link to that in our show notes, as well as if our listeners want to reach out to you Tony, what’s the best way to do that?

Tony D:               Email is probably the best way to do that, TonyD@Tribridge.com, so TonyD@Tribridge.com.

Vince M:             Great and any social handles? Do you follow any social media?

Tony D:               Yeah, I have a Twitter. It’s TonyTribridge is my Twitter account and then on LinkedIn is the other place and it’s TonyDiBenedetto.

Vince M:             Tony, I want to thank you so much. I was so looking forward to this conversation. You’ve been a great partner of Microsoft for just so many years, accolades, people that know and respect you within the channel and I appreciate you taking time to impart on our listeners some of your career nuggets, what makes successful partnerships and your personal and professional journey with us … and go Yankees.

Tony D:               Vince, it’s great talking to you and look forward to hearing it live.

#24: Intermedia’s integrated business cloud, with Eric Martorano.

This interview episode of the Ultimate Guide to Partnering was recorded onsite at the XChange2017 event in Orlando. I had the chance to sit down with a former colleague Eric Martorano, Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Intermedia, a one stop provider of solutions for the business cloud and a premier Microsoft Partner.

Eric is responsible for sales and strategic partnerships across the globe. He brings to this role over 20 years experience in the industry, deep expertise in working closely and strategically with a range of customers and partners, and his passion for customer and partner success.

Martorano has been recognized as a top industry performer, including being named to CRN’s “Top 100 Executives” and “Channel Maverick” lists, among others.

In this interview Eric takes our partner listeners through Intermedia’s unique business cloud value proposition for both customers and partners and if you are a partner trying to determine how to best monetize business cloud offerings in this age of rapid digital transformation, you may find Intermedia’s partner-centric model and business cloud focus very compelling.

As with many of my interviews, I found Eric’s personal story of transformation to be very compelling. His is a story of grit and determination to overcome failure and to reinvent himself, ultimately leading to a highly successful career in technology.

As with each of my interview and articles, I appreciate your feedback. You can reach me on Linked In or on email at vincem@cloudwavepartners.net. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

Thank you for following and listening.

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Vince Menzione


 

Transcript of our interview

Vince Menzione:            Eric, welcome to the poscast. You and I have had the opportunity to work closely together for many years at Microsoft and I’m really excited to have you here today to share with our listeners your company’s unique value proposition, how you go to market, what you look for in successful partnerships, and your career journey and personal story.

Eric Martorano:              Thank you very much, Vince. Really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you for allowing me to join you here today, and being part of the Ultimate Guide to Partnering.

Vince Menzione:             I’m so excited to have you and to tell your story. So let’s just dive in now. Can you tell our listeners about your company, Intermedia? What the company’s value proposition is, the mission, and how it’s evolved over the years.

Eric Martorano:              Sure. Well, Intermedia’s a client-oriented one-stop shop for cloud business applications. For customers, we deliver security, scalability, and someone to manage the intricacies of the cloud forum. For partners, we offer these things along with value ads that help them run a profitable cloud business.

Hundreds of competitors offer to spare point solutions, just voice, backup, security, or email. This can likely threaten the workplace efficiency. As businesses deal with multiple unintegrated vendors, support organizations and bills. Intermedia takes a different and better approach by delivering a robust suite of integrated cloud solutions from a single provider.

Vince Menzione:             I got to see you present here at the Exchange 2017 event and I really get it. Because you’re taking a lot of the complexity out of the equation. How did the company end up getting focused on these solution sets?

Eric Martorano:              While business needs continually evolve, change, the demand for productivity remains constant. We continually build on top of a core technology platform and it really addresses the partner and customer needs. We help customers focus on what matters, and it enables partners to differentiate and run a profitable business.

As customers, partner, and market needs really change, we have the flexibility to pivot right alongside them. As a result, Intermedia serves, now, over 110,000 business and I’m proud to say we have 6,600 solution providers in our channel community, which they’re generating right now about 80% of our revenue.

Vince Menzione:             That’s a tremendous scale. Can you tell us how that’s different from, let’s say, Microsoft’s value proposition?

Eric Martorano:              Well, support is a component of business that is often overlooked. For us, it’s not just about delivering a one-stop shop of everything you need to do business in the cloud. We also believe strongly in being there for our customers and partners 24×7. This includes delivering enterprise-grade security. A 59 uptime service-level agreement and then JD Power certified support experts to provide everything from free migration and onboarding assistance to quick and easy technical issues and resolutions.

For our channel partners, what this means is helping them maximize profitability with robust support throughout the entire customer life cycle. This includes marketing support to generate leads. It’s includes sales support and training to help close the deal. Onboarding support for a seamless transition and technical support whenever necessary. We also let partners sell under their own brand. Or Intermedia is on a customer-by-customer basis. Partners are always looking for opportunities to drive profitability and Intermedia delivers a solution that allows them to do that.

Vince Menzione:             You talked about over 100,000 customers. Can you talk to our listeners about some of your key customers, who they are in the market, and why they selected you?

Eric Martorano:              Sure. Yeah, more than 110,000 businesses trust Intermedia, deliver, and manage some of the most critical communication services. Our customers come in all sizes. All industries as well. Whether it’s True Car, NFP, and Johnny Rocket’s, to name a few. However, they all want security, reliability, someone to manage their IT for them. When a public, big data company like Splunk trusts you to keep their information secure, it’s validation that you’re doing the right thing.

So, Intermedia itself, we do have Interprise customers, but we focus a lot farther down into the SMB space, providing Interprise level service to SMBs.

Vince Menzione:             What do you believe are the greatest opportunities for continued growth, and how do you see your business evolving during this rapid age of digital transformation and cloud computing?

Eric Martorano:              As I mentioned earlier, Intermedia’s revenue now comes from a full suite of integrated cloud applications, including unified communications, email, backup and file sharing, productivity, security and archiving. Our voice services business continues to grow faster than the market. We’re also seeing rapid growth in areas such as security and compliance with our encryption, email continuity, and archiving solution. An evolving threat landscape is also driving steady growth for our backup and file sharing application for collaboration and quick recovery for unexpected data loss, will be accidental or from a cyber event like ransom wear.

So, while business email continues to serve as an important role, I think that add-on enhancements that deliver incremental value on top will drive the next chapter of our business transformation.

Vince Menzione:             You’ve been on board almost a year now, and the business has evolved quickly, I believe, even since you joined the company. What would you say is different today from a customer perspective, than it was three years ago?

Eric Martorano:              Great question, Vince. In this world, of digital transformation, we’re seeing customers adopting a greater openness for the cloud. They’re moving into the cloud, or those that have already had a toe in the water are demonstrating a willingness to fully migrate all their critical services to the cloud to take advantage of security and scalability that it offers.

We’re also seeing customers embracing more professional services such as cyber security training. In our recent survey of office workers, we saw that 70% said that they’re organizations regularly communicate with employees about cyber threats as a means of prevention. This growing threat landscape, in interest from businesses, in educating their employee base about these risks, present significant opportunities for the channel. MSPs can provide these comprehensive security training programs to SMBs that likely don’t have the internal resources to do themselves. This is a way they can deliver additional value in a much needed area.

Vince Menzione:             Eric, assuming you and I are on an elevator ride and I ask you why I should go with Intermedia, or partner with your organization, what would you say to me?

Eric Martorano:              Well, partners are looking for opportunities to drive profitability. They’re looking for increased ways to make money, differentiate, and truly add value to their customers. Intermedia is investing multiple millions of dollars into sales, marketing, support, and head count this year, so that we can better co-sell and co-market with our partner base. These efforts are predominantly in the area of sales enablement, building out our new field sales group and decreasing our rep-partner ratio.

Partners, we want to build you up, engage with you, and help you guide your success. We feel this is so mission critical to maximizing your profitability and growth in the cloud, that we support you across the entire customer life cycle.

Vince Menzione:             So, Eric, where do you want to be in the next three to five years?

Eric Martorano:              Intermedia is a partner first organization. We believe that the best way to serve the customer is through the channel partner. We build up the trusted advisor that knows each customer’s business intimately. This is how we’ll continue to deliver the hands-on level of service and support as we scale the business. Over time, we expect to see some of our customers organically switch over to working with our partners. We are currently doing 80% of our business in the channel and expect to see this number slide further upward over the next three to five years.

Vince Menzione:             What is the ultimate outcome for you and the company?

Eric Martorano:              Intermedia was acquired by current private equity sponsor, Madison Dearborn Partners in February 2017. This partnership really provides the resources to further accelerate our growth. MDP supports our broader long held vision of powering the business cloud with consolidating IT services and applications. We remain focused on growing the company and continuing to improve our offering for both partners and customers. There’s so many options on the table for exactly what the future will look like, but it’s a bright one, ripe with opportunity.

Vince Menzione:             I want to shift focus here a little bit. You and I have both spent quite a bit of time in the channel. You came from the channel and you have quite a bit of experience building channels and teams. What do you believe makes, or what are the best characteristics, of a great partner?

Eric Martorano:              The needs for a great partnership is somewhere to those with a colleague, a successful partner relationship is one where they’re engaged and bought into the opportunity that running a cloud-based business can provide. An open door of communication about both professional and personal motivators and concerns is also important. Every partner is unique and so is every partner relationship. Both sides of the relationship need to trust and be committed to what you’re building together. Today, as I was listening to Don Jager speak on teamwork. That is another critical aspect of what I think partnering should be about: his sixteen characteristics of teamwork. When you talk about a partnership, you really need to take a look at some of those characteristics and make sure you’re in this together and you’re teaming together and you’re fully bought in.

Vince Menzione:             So much of what Don has to say about great teams, really applies to great partnerships as well.

Eric Martorano:              Absolutely, I agree 100%.

Vince Menzione:             I agree. There’s so much there: the shared vision, the adaptability, the common purpose. There’s just so many great nuggets from Don that apply to this partnership world.

Have you seen situations, you co-partner ecosystems at Intermedia, what do you look for and what challenges do you believe partners face today?

Eric Martorano:              There’s a belief that if a partner gets into selling cloud applications that they will automatically have a successful business. This is common with partners selling Office 365, for example. They enter the cloud but aren’t profitable. And it’s because they are just, typically, reselling Office 365. They’ve just applied their business model that they’ve always ran off on top of a cloud service. They were a reseller before and now and they are a reseller of a cloud solution.

Partners really need to find ways of integrating value adds for the customer. That’s where Intermedia jumps in with our robust suite of cloud applications and, particularly, our private label model that enables solution providers to strengthen and differentiate their offering. It goes beyond just the resell model, but it becomes truly value add. As our friend Chris [inaudible 00:13:33] of Champion spoke, yesterday as well: it’s time for the solution provider to be the tip of that spear. They have to go out and own the customer. Intermedia, and the business model that we have set up with our partners allows them to do that.

Vince Menzione:             I agree and I believe that it’s a great model for the partners, that you get to own, have the skin in the game and own the relationship of the customer and not just be a pass through for a technology giant.

Eric Martorano:              Absolutely.

Vince Menzione:             Going back to being in the channel for so long, you’ve seen situations where the partner just didn’t get it right, right, working with your organization, whether it be here, working at Intermedia, even in your days at Microsoft. What is something you wished you had said to them then, to get them on the right path to success? Was it an attitude, a business principle or focus? What would you tell them now if you could?

Eric Martorano:              Another great question, Vince. These partners are usually those that let themselves become paralyzed by fear and are resistant due to uncertainty. They get hung up on thinking that digital transformation is going to cost them a significant amount of money. It’s really about education. I’d tell these partners and prospects to be an active participant and a proactive listener to learn about the opportunity that’s in front of them. Vendors need to be working with partners to really help them make this transition as well. Having a growth mindset and being willing to trust a little bit is critical to everyone’s success.

Vince Menzione:             I see that so often, this whole idea of making the transformation and the commitment is just so hard for some of these organizations. There’s the financial aspects, they have to change their monetization models, they have to change their compensation models many times. That resistance, that being stuck in the mud and not moving forward, I get it.

Let’s talk about the common myths that partners might have about working with Intermedia. What do you see out there?

Eric Martorano:              Yeah, that’s something that Mark [inaudible 00:15:35], our Vice President of Cloud Solutions, spoke a little about in our Keynote today.

Myth number one, I think channel partners new to working with us can find a prospect of where to start can be a little bit overwhelming. While we’d love for partners to jump right in and start selling all thirty of our cloud solutions, we understand that it can be more comfortable for partners to start having conversations with us in the areas that their business, where they’re already positioned. So, partners will often look at Intermedia as a data company or a voice company, one or the other. They’ll feel like it’s hard to break into the other bucket. It’s our opportunity and challenge to dispel this myth and communicate to them about everything that we do. In either scenario, Intermedia is super flexible in the ways that we can get a partner started selling with us. Every partner situation is unique. It’s our job, Intermedia’s job, to support our partners through their digital transformation so that they can expand the ways they work with us as they feel more comfortable.

Then I’d say, myth number two, another more general myth, is that partners can’t make money selling things like Office 365. Office 365 is a commodity product. I don’t think anybody will argue that. An overwhelming majority of the partners are selling it and 70% of those partners express feeling margin pressure doing so. That was a study done by MSP [inaudible 00:17:05] 501, in 2016. It’s not surprising, given that they simply cannot be successful purely reselling Office 365. Whether partners sell Office 365 through Intermedia or source it elsewhere, we help them add incremental profitability and value to that offering through an integrated suite of solutions such as backup, continuity, security, and cloud voice services that they can sell in their own name.

Vince Menzione:             One place to go, one throat to choke?

Eric Martorano:              Absolutely.

Vince Menzione:             What’s one thing that isn’t taught that you believe is true to successfully partnering with Intermedia?

Eric Martorano:              Partners, they must be able to really adapt to the changing needs of their customers and offer additional services that not only support their customers’ growth, but their own growth as well. So, digital transformation is evolving, is an evolving need that will require flexibility.

Vince Menzione:             Any other advice you have for partners wishing to work with you or your organization?

Eric Martorano:              I’d say, give us some time to show you how we can help you build a profitable, successful cloud business. I want to go deeper with our partners. These deeper relationships can’t be built with just one call every month. We want partners to be more invested with building a business with us. We’re attending about forty events this year, in total, like Exchange, where we’re at today because getting on the front lines is one of the many ways that we’ll achieve this face-time and an opportunity for us to continue to prove to our partners we are fully committed to being successful with the channel community.

Vince Menzione:             Sounds like it and sounds like a great opportunity for partners.

As you might know, from listening to other episodes, I’m fascinated by how people got to this particular spot in life and want to focus on the personal-professional journey. You have a really interesting story. Could you take our listeners through it?

Eric Martorano:              Sure. Interesting indeed. I think we all have our own interesting stories.

Vince Menzione:             I’ve got to know you for many years, so I’ve got to hear some of these stories.

Eric Martorano:              Yeah. I’ve been in technology for, gosh, twenty four years. Prior to that … A little bit about me, when I was 18 and I started college, I actually started my own company. I started a small business. I had these luxury buses that took senior citizens from Los Angeles to Vegas. It was a blast. I had so much fun. I started this thing, bootstrapped it and got it up to north of $7,000,000 in revenue in a couple of years, fifty employees.

Vince Menzione:             Wow.

Eric Martorano:              The best part of it though, I gotta tell you was driving up on the weekend and calling Bingo on the buses and serving donuts and coffee to the senior citizens.

But anyways, back when I was two and a half years into the company, almost three years, I don’t know if you recall, the Northridge Earthquake hit. Unfortunately, it crippled my business. It was an awakening for me. I was a young kid trying to break into this entrepreneurial world and there was a lot that I learned about how to manage a business. I learned a lot about cashflow.

Vince Menzione:             Cash is king.

Eric Martorano:              Cash, yeah. Unfortunately, I would say, although it was one of the darkest times that I had, I had to declare bankruptcy, and shut down the company, it was also something that made me who I am today. I remember as I closed everything down and from thinking I had it all to thinking I had nothing, I could’ve at that time just given up, but instead I fought through. I had $25 to my name, I remember right after everything was done, I remember picking up the yellow page and started dialing for jobs. I got to this company called Ambertech Systems International that was in Camarillo, California. I pitched why they should hire me. It was a local bar focused on Nobel networking, but also focused on selling printers and focused on selling everything else.

Vince Menzione:             Yep.

Eric Martorano:              I took a 100% commissioned job doing telesales. I put myself through college, put myself through grad school. That’s how I started my career. After that, I’ve been in technology ever since and it’s been twenty-four years.

Vince Menzione:             So that’s how you got into technology.

Eric Martorano:              That is, yeah.

Vince Menzione:             That’s an amazing story. Basically picked up the Yellow Pages and you didn’t get past the As, right?

Eric Martorano:              No.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah, Amber Technology.

Eric Martorano:              I was going to school. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, and then when I was going through this bachelors degree and working with technology, I found a love for technology and a love for business. I totally switched my degree and my focus.

Vince Menzione:             What’s the most fun aspect of the job for you?

Eric Martorano:              I think what I enjoy the most is the relationships. I like working with people, working with the channel. There is nothing more fun than being out there and co-selling with partners and building marketing plans and strategies. Just going at it with the community. It’s a blast. I enjoy it so much.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great. I would call you a classic connector, because I’m a connector as well. I think we both love that aspect.

What was the best piece of advice that someone gave you when you took this role or when you just got started?

Eric Martorano:              As I think about it now, it was just be patient. You’re there for a reason, they hired you for a reason, be patient, but also be true to yourself. Be true to Intermedia and their channel organization. Don’t change who you are. They hired you for a reason, for who you are. Bring that. You’ve been successful in your career. Just continue to do what you do.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah. Your background screams channel and it screams SMB channel in a big way too because you came from that space. We didn’t talk about all the companies, but I happen to know that you spent a lot of time in that disty world, driving the disty business at Microsoft. So yeah, it screams that.

Why do you think you’re good at what you do?

Eric Martorano:              Why do I think I’m good at what I do? Wow.

I can always be better, I’ll tell you that. I look at the legacy you leave behind. You can always point to getting your revenue numbers, achieving everything, all your goals you have set out for the year, and looking at your score card. Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate to be successful in those areas throughout my entire career. I don’t think I’ve missed a number throughout my twenty-four years of being in this industry. But I think one of the key areas that I look at is the legacy that you leave behind. When you move on, does the business continue to succeed with the people that you’ve left it to. For example, take a look at when I left Microsoft and handed over a lot of my responsibilities to those that worked in my organization. To see them continuously flourish and be successful is truly rewarding and it’s a testament to saying what success is.

Vince Menzione:             Yes. It’s the great hires that you make, the people that you bring along on the journey, and you cultivate. You help build them up in their career as well.

What advice would you give to someone you were mentoring or someone who wished to work in your organization?

Eric Martorano:              As my good friend, Don Jager, says know your why. It’s what lights your fire and motivates you from within. You need to know what drives you personally on your own journey to greatness. Without the why, even the most driven people can truly get lost along the way.

Vince Menzione:             What pursuits or obsessions do you explore when you’re not working?

Eric Martorano:              Spending time with family is probably the most important, is absolutely, I should say, the most important thing to me. I’m unbelievably involved in the lives of my three boys, possibly to their chagrin. I love coaching sports with my two youngest. Sports allow me to teach a lot of life lessons and really spill over into all aspects of your personal and professional life. Not only do you get to do that with your own boys, but you get to do that with other youth as well.

Vince Menzione:             Who is one of your role models, either directly or indirectly, and what advice or attributes did you learn from them?

Eric Martorano:              That is an easy one. I would absolutely say my dad instilled the importance of values in me at an early age, showing me how to apply that to every area of life. He was a strong leader. He taught me to raise my family with integrity, honesty, and to truly instill values and lessons that would benefit my kids later in life.

In business, he was a self-starter. He never gave up regardless of the obstacles he caught. He really taught me to be thoughtful in every approach, to take calculated risks, understanding the potential outcomes. These are lessons that are easily transferred to business. In the heart and the core, we are truly one family.

Vince Menzione:             Do you have a quote you live your life by or you think of often?

Eric Martorano:              My dad used to say to me, “There’s no such thing as luck. Success is a result of when preparation meets opportunity.”

Vince Menzione:             “Success is a result of when preparation meets opportunity.” I like that. We’re gonna make sure we put that in our show notes. What advice would you give to your thirty-year-old self?

Eric Martorano:              Remember that it’s okay to fall. It’s absolutely okay to fall. It’s about how you get up that truly matters. Without falling, you never really learn from the mistakes, so that we can truly grow into our full potential. The key though, is to learn from it. So, it’s okay to fall, as long as you learn from it and grow from it. Fall forward.

Vince Menzione:             I like that. “It’s okay to fall.”

If you had a personal billboard, and this is a metaphor, actually, say if you had a personal billboard, is it the 405 in Seattle? What’s your road? What’s your main road?

Eric Martorano:              I travel on the 90.

Vince Menzione:             The 90? Okay, so this personal billboard is on the 90. What would it say on it?

Eric Martorano:              Make a difference on your journey of greatness.

Vince Menzione:             That reminds me of another quote by John Wooden, “Make each day your masterpiece.” But I like making a difference. I like that, it’s awesome.

Is there one book that you’ve read or gifted often that you’d recommend to our listeners and why?

Eric Martorano:              This is an easy one. It’s a book by somebody we’ve been talking about a lot today. It’s my dear friend Don Jager. Great Teams. For years, I’ve been truly fascinated by the habits of sustainably successful teams. Don Jager’s insight, truly, in studying those teams, provides us all with a strong foundation for our own teams’ success. As leaders, we have an opportunity to learn from the best and take lessons from great teams to heart. That’s what others who win are doing.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great advice. And that’s a great book. Don has distilled this wisdom right from personal greatness to team greatness and what makes a great teammate, with his latest book Teammate. Some great nuggets of advice.

Eric, I want to thank you so much for joining us today. So great to spend some time with you here at the event and to have you on the podcast and for our listeners to hear your story, both your business story at Intermedia. The great work you do with building a partner ecosystem. And you personal and professional journey. Thank you so much.

Eric Martorano:              Thank you and thank you so much for all you do for the channel community, for our vendors. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you stepping out on this journey to greatness yourself.

Vince Menzione:             I’m very excited by, and as you know my biggest passions are disruptive technology and partnerships, so this is so great to be here with a kindred soul in the same venue. So thank you so much, Eric.

Eric Martorano:              Appreciate it.

#23: Microsoft’s season of change and transformation, with Eric Loper.

I’ve dubbed this interview and series, Microsoft’s Season of Change and Transformation. This is the first interview in a series to help the partner community best engage with the technology giant as it evolves it’s partner business to better serve partners and customers.

As most of you know, Microsoft announced a major reorganization to it’s customer and partner – facing business in early July which included the formation of a “One Commercial Partner” or OCP organization. This included three key elements – “Build With”, “Go to Market”, and “Sell With”*.

*In an earlier episode, Bill Hawkins helped decode the announcements for our listeners in greater detail and you can listen to this Episode 18 as a primer.

With Microsoft summer and implementation still underway, I thought it would be good to walk our partners down the hallways of Bellevue and Redmond and “peel back” through interviews with partner leaders on how to best align and engage with Microsoft at this critical season.

My guest for this interview episode is Eric Loper. Eric leads a “Build With” organization of partner business development managers focused on growing competencies, capabilities and capacity with Microsoft’s top partners in the United States.

This is a second or ” encore” interview episode with for Eric. If you listened to Episode 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Partnering you will remember Eric as my very first interview guest. At the time Eric and I had a great discussion and he shared with partner listeners the essential elements of partnering, his observations on technology trends and recommendations on how to best engage with the technology giant. You can listen to that episode here.

For this interview episode, Eric updates us on how the changes are positively impacting his organization, the renewed excitement and energy around partners, how both partners and partner sellers now need to think and act, and the increased investments in growing the business with and through partners.

A full transcript of the interview is below in the show notes.


If you have not listened to the podcast, now is your chance by going to iTunes , Google PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players or by going to my website “Ultimate Guide to Partnering“. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

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Thank you for following and listening.

Vince Menzione



Transcript of our interview.

Eric, welcome back to the podcast. It is so great to have you back for this encore episode and to update our listeners on you and the business. You were my very first interview guest about 25 episodes ago. Boy, have we come a long way since then. At the time, you had a fairly small team, focused strictly on the National Solution Provider Program, and your organization was nested in the US business underneath the S&S&P team. Flash forward six months now, all of that is changed, and I’m super excited to have you here, and hear from you about the changes. The charge in the energy in Bellevue and RedMon right now. So, tell our listeners a little bit about what’s happening.

Eric Loper:                       Awesome. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. It’s always good to have a chance to catch up. By the way, I listened to some of your conversation with Bill Hawkins the other day. I thought that he did a great job. I took away some things from that and excited that you continue to deliver something that’s pretty cool for our partner community.

Vince Menzione:             Thank you. So tell us, how is the charge in energy in Bellevue right now?

Eric Loper:                       I think there’s a ton of excitement. We’re in a place right now where we are seeing great investment. Some of that is really recognizing the opportunity this year in the US. We think about folks in Bellevue, focused on the US. This is a definitive change. This is where the opportunity is for the company, so we’re excited about that. Then, man, there’s just big bets and a lot of focus on partner. So, there’s a ton of enthusiasm. I think we’re looking at all of the resources and trying to figure out, how do we pull all of those pieces together and get organized? But overall, what a great place to be, what a great time to be here.

Vince Menzione:             Well, it was an exciting time at Inspire with Sati’s announcements, Ron Huddelston and Gabrielle, up on stage. I felt the energy from the partners coming out of that, so I’m glad to hear the energy level has continued into this time of the year. I’d like to peel back with you as much as we can today, given the fluid state of change, and I recognize that everything’s probably not completely solid at this point, but as you know, we did a bit of that recap with Bill and that was right after the announcements happened.

So, I’d like to dig a little deeper, if you don’t mind? Dive a little deeper, if you will, on the organization and you sit in the overall Build organization now. You sit underneath Casey McGee, from what I understand. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about the changes there?

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, so, I think the biggest thing for the listeners is to understand that this is really a commitment around business development. We want to be authentic and purposeful in our engagement with partners. That’s about, what are the investments that we want to make together, and putting the right people in place so that we can have those conversations and do it in an intelligent and thoughtful way.

Vince Menzione:             So, walk us down the hallway, for our listeners who don’t understand how your Build organization is structured. Can you take our listeners through the roles, and the organization underneath Casey?

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, so for the structure perspective, I think the biggest thing is, just, you know, centralized focus around this role of a partner development manager. You know, I said, business development, you know, all of the department development managers really being that connectivity and relationship with a partner in a way that a lot of us have come to expect. We’re trying to be as really, really purposeful and just, appreciative of what it takes to do that well.

So, within Casey’s business, we’ve organized ourselves. We’ve got folks that are working on partners that, you know, may be more focused on repeatable IP, although we’re looking to have conversations across all modernization models. We have folks that have organized themselves around partners that may feel today a little bit more focused on consulting. Some might use the term system integrator, but the overall intent, the overall focus, is, you know, really, it’s a doubling down by Microsoft on wanting to make sure that we’re able to be in a place where we can be really, really purposeful about helping partners to understand the Microsoft opportunity, the Microsoft landscape, and really, take advantage of this overall investment from Microsoft. Make sure that we’re able to take advantage of what’s happening within the market.

Vince Menzione:             So, if you look at what the role looked like last year versus this year, what are they doing more of now, and less of now?

Eric Loper:                       Well, it probably depends on what part of the company that person is coming from. Right, so we had a lot of different people, and a lot of different places that were engaging partner. For my team in particular, some of the changes, sort of, happening around us, and so, for us, a lot of things we’re doing are consistent. Still focused on making sure that we’re really being intentional about the relationship. Still focused on being thoughtful about, you know, what it is that we want to go to market with, and still focused on being in that place where we can be masterful about the execution

Now, there’s some additional tools in the tool bag, some additional relationships that we’re bringing to the table, but I would say that the biggest change is that we’re just trying to empower folks. Take some of the things off that, in a large part, people are engaging in. From my team in particular, a lot of the function is the same, but we’re really just trying to take some of the things off of their plate, that maybe they’ve been doing in the past, that really wasn’t as true to that simplified function of, how do we make sure that we can place a bet with a partner, take that bet and drive it scale together?

Vince Menzione:             So, they’ll focus more on that. Is that repeatable solutions? Is that IP, as well, or is it also just practices?

Eric Loper:                       You know, we’ll work with partners and engage with them across all modernization models. I do believe, if you think about, sort of, as we’re pivoting where we think that there is a lot of opportunity. Being in that place where we have repeated play with a partner is something that you’re going to see. The partners that are in my portfolio, you’re going to see a lot of focus on. We think that that is just being in a place where we’ve clearly defined, and these are business development 101, right, but being in a place where we clearly defined this scenario where we win every time. You know, what a fantastic place to be.

So, that aligns well with Microsoft’s focus on industry, that aligns well with just being able to place a bet, being able to clearly call that out. So, we will focus on that, but the intent, the design point for the business, is to go with the partner wherever the partner goes despite the modernization model that they choose to invest in.

Vince Menzione:             Have you changed the nomenclature? You know, you had a national Solution Provider team at the time, I believe you have a larger organization now. Does your team go by a different name now?

Eric Loper:                       We’re still working through the branding. I think at a super high level, you know, we choose the term Solution Provider, wanting to get away from some of the maybe, the other potential antiquated terms. The net is, yeah, we do have a larger portfolio. We’re continuing to work with partners that we think we can take to scale in a national way. That we feel like we can invest in and have a deeper sense of connection and coverage in, but we’re still working through, how do we brand each of the different investment levels?

We probably will never do that in an external, formal way. It won’t be a program, but the program, we’re in a place we can communicate, you know, “If you do these three things, you get these three things.” Given it’s an engagement model, which is really about how we have a relationship, we probably won’t do that super externally, but people may hear different terms as we go into this next year.

Vince Menzione:             Larger team, larger, or deeper set of responsibility on the build with function. Do you measure success the same way, or differently this year?

Eric Loper:                       Well, we’re living in a Cloud world, right? So, lots of focus on consumption and usage. We want to be in that place we can tie together the investments that partners are making, and be able to trace those back to, you know, specific and tangible outcomes. So, there’s a lot of continuity, like, philosophically, with the directions that we maybe, have been heading, but its just about the driving and the rigor, and the connection. Doing that, and being synced.

Vince Menzione:             So, Sati outlined four key business imperatives around modern workplace, business applications, applications and infrastructure, and data BI. Are you organizing your team differently to support these four areas, and if so, how are you thinking about cross support on competencies or partner types?

Eric Loper:                       We’re trying really hard not to bucket partners, not to bucket people. Recognizing that ultimately what we want to try and drive is this transformation for our customers. That’s the conversation we want to have with the customer, right? What is it going to take for you to evolve your business and be supported with that from a technology perspective?

There are some slight shifts. You know, taking on a greater focus around ERP, and a number of those individuals, as a number of those individuals moved into my team this year. Really, I would say, the opportunity is in being able to tell the story correctly, right? As we talk about operations, we need to be talking about data. As we talk about customer engagement, you know, it’s not just what’s happening within the CRM, right, there’s all the opportunity to be talking about the analytics, machine learning, all those pieces that come together to deliver the connected story.

So, you talked with Bill, and you were talking about the Venn-diagram. We’re trying to be really intentional about being in that place where we’re having the holistic discussion. I think we’ve come a long way, from a Microsoft perspective. I mean, you and I could probably, you know, think about, and joke about when we had 30 products and we were trying to be a solution sales company.

Vince Menzione:             Right.

Eric Loper:                       I think we’ve come a long way, but that’s something we just have to be tenacious about every year, and so I see that being just another area where it’s, tighten the focus, make sure that we’re living up to the things that we’re aspiring to.

Vince Menzione:             From a technical resource perspective to support those areas, what do you pull from? What organization are you pulling from to support your partners?

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, so, I think there’s investments that are happening in a couple of different ways. I mean, we’re trying to be really thoughtful about a couple of new role types. We have investments in some technical specialists that were investing with partners. There’s some deeper investments that those partners have the ability to pull from. Obviously, we’re looking at that based on opportunity, right? So, with a broad audience, like this, those partners may, or may not, have access to different levels of investment.

Then, what’s surprising is that in a lot of scenarios, the partner is the customer, right, the partners model as they are going to market, or the customers model as they go into market, is partnership with Microsoft. So, actually seeing a number of scenarios where ultimately we’re talking about that same outcome, we’re talking about making our customer successful. One way of doing that is partnering with Microsoft. So, we’ve been able to make even some additional investments, above and beyond what we might have traditionally thought about from a partner perspective, with that customer, given those scenarios.

Vince Menzione:             Nice. So, does the scope include more of the … When you think about … When I think about when you said, about partners as customers, I think about maybe a customer who created a SaaS based solution, maybe to serve a business need, an IP. Is that something that’s now within your purview?

Eric Loper:                       For some, right, I mean, I wouldn’t say that’s … There’s a lot of folks that are thinking about that, but if you just take a step back and say, “How is the Microsoft ecosystem evolving?” We had a set of partners that hooked up washing machines, like, did technology deployments, if you go back, you know, 10 years. What we are focused on now, right, it’s not about taking this one thing and doing it this one time, and having that new thing come once every 18 months. We’re having conversations with customers about, ultimately, you know, “How is it that we can get you to the place that you’re looking to, and do that through the use of technology?”

So, what we have seen is that, as we look at the landscape, that process has changed. So, in some cases, we found that, gosh, as we’re having the conversation with the customer, the best way that we can help them maybe it is their SaaS solution, you know, maybe it’s helping them extend their consulting business. The best way that we can help them is from a partnership perspective, and so, I think, that’s something that’s not just unique to me, or the partners I’m working with, it’s probably unique to the partner ecosystem. It’s a unique thing that we feel like we can offer to some of those customers, right, who are looking to do things on a global scale, and they’re looking to engage in global sales, with a global sales force.

Vince Menzione:             That’s very interesting in terms of the perspective on what a partner is today, so, do you think there are different attributes today, that you need from people looking to be successful in role, in your organization?

Eric Loper:                       Working for me, or working … Or, for a partner in my portfolio?

Vince Menzione:             First for you, let’s talk about you for the first part. Like, does your organization need to think differently, right? It’s no longer about hooking up the washing machine, and you know, let’s use Office 365 as that, right, that connection, like, turning on the switch for O365. It sounds like today, in this rapid age of transformation, this disruptive age, you’re almost looking for, or trying to excite, or ignite, a technology, right? Take it to the next level of development and build with that partner. Sound like that to me.

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, so, if you just think about how fast the industry is moved. We used to be in these 18 month release cycles, and so, I guess I’ll give a similar answer to what I said before. If you think about, you know, being in that place, if you were to put yourself in the shoes of the customer, where we want to go and have the transformational discussion with the customer. A lot of times that conversation is, you know, “This is what technology can do for you now. Let’s talk together about how we help you on your journey.” That’s not a hunter/gatherer conversation, right, that’s not a, “I’m going to come in one time. I’m going to help you understand this thing that we’ve built. I’m going to show it to you, you’re going to deploy it, and then I’m going to leave.” That’s an ongoing, continuous, “We are joined together in success”, type of discussion.

That’s what we hope to bring to our partners, and so as we look at how this evolves, you know, you’re asking like, how do things change? My flippant answer would be, well, we need autonomy. Just given, sort of, the size of the team, but being really, really pointed, I mean, we want to set the standard for business development in the industry. We want to be in a place that we are able to not just come and have a GTM conversation with the partner, and take a PowerPoint, and stamp it three times, and say that we did something. We want to be in that place that we can help that partner through that transformational journey, and really, it’s about this ever evolving opportunity, ever evolving landscape, and figuring out, you know, where is it that we have equity together, and doing that continuously.

So, that’s the journey. I do think things are changing. I think they’re evolving super, super quickly, and, you know, this is an opportunity for us to really set the bar and invest heavily and find the right people who are able to take advantage of the amazing opportunity that’s in front of us.

Vince Menzione:             So, let’s take that from the angle of partner and customer, what’s different for them? How do they need to come to the table differently, and be thinking, and what attributes are you looking for, for them to be successful?

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, well, for one, I think if you’re not fully present then you really just risk the opportunity of being left behind. We’re in a place where business models are changing, business models are evolving. I’m shocked watching the partner profitability journey over the last, let’s say, three years, or the last seven years. Seeing markets open and shut, profitability areas, open and shut. How fast things are changing, and so, the belief of, we’ve always done it this way, or, maybe we have a good thing going here, if you’re not careful, you run the risk of missing out.

So, we think about it as being in that place of being present. Some people might talk about it being focused, like always competing, but I think for a partner, that making sure that you’re constantly being thoughtful about the strategy, and how you’re moving forward, what opportunities you want to invest in, being really, really intentional about those. We’re in an evolving world, and I don’t know that everyone has those muscles to the place that they need to have those muscles today.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah, that’s a really good comment. Now, let’s take this a step further in terms of how your organization aligns with the other organizations in the OCP, or One Commercial Partner organization, you have to build-with function, and then there is a go-to market function, and a sell-with function? So, talk to me a little bit about that hand off, if you don’t mind, from build-with, to go-to market, and then to sell-with.

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, so some of it is simplicity that we’re driving that our partners may not see. We have organized all these functions into one group, and that may not seem … The weight of that may not be completely, immediately evident, but knowing how many different conversations it might have taken to get something done in the past, I just have a ton of optimism about having one leadership team that can make a set of decisions and move forward quickly.

So, that’s some of the benefit of, you know, putting people into some functional groups. Just allowing us to be, you know, thoughtful and efficient, and agile, all the things that you would want from partnering with a group like Microsoft. Some of those groups we have a heritage with, so when I think about like, the GTM function, that’s something that we go a long way back. Especially for my team of being able to sit at the table together, to have a conversation as the owner of the relationship, and be in a place that we have someone who can come and talk about, you know, what are the investments that we want to make in this current year? Some of those things are evolving. I think the definition of, you know, that channel manager role, is something that, you know, we’re really trying to get clear and pointed on.

The net is that we want to be a place that we’re able to help partners across the journey. From being in a place that we’re talking about making investments, whether they’re massive investments, like, which are the companies that we should be partnering with? What are the ways that we should be thinking about growing? What are the investments that we want to make as we think about going to market, or we even think about the right resources that we need. All the way through to, how do we make sure that we’re making connection within a given and specific account?

So, this really gives us the ability to have clear, defined roles and expectations. You might remember a previous life, when a lot of people had the same title. So, we’re being more clear and specific about all of the parts. I think a lot of it is about just being crisp, and just being thoughtful. There are channel managers, we’re doing a set of things. A lot of those things are similar to, maybe, things that they might have done in the past. What we’re really trying to do is, maybe, offload some of the things that they might have been doing, that, maybe didn’t necessarily align to the role, but they might have just been the person who was most likely to receive that task.

So, I think there’s a lot of opportunity as all of the different, sort of, wheels come together on the bus. Some of it are things that are probably similar in shape to how we’ve done things in the past, but if we can be effective in how we work together, and we can be more purposeful, we feel like we’re going to get a lot more efficiency.

Vince Menzione:             Yeah. It sounds like it, and you know, having the accountability, as you mentioned, at the executive level, right? So, one organizations comments that have accountable, up through the leadership chain, that makes a lot of difference.

Eric Loper:                       Absolutely.

Vince Menzione:             Let’s talk about you and the organization that you’re leading now, if you don’t mind. From a communication approach, with a larger partner eco-system and team, how’s Eric thinking about that? How are you preparing to lead this bigger organization?

Eric Loper:                       Well, look, leadership at scale is definitely an interesting challenge. You know, it’s done with, you think about culture and consistency, and thoughtfulness. You know, I feel like I’m continuing to refine my craft there. What I love about it is that just forcing function for new ideas, right, like, you can’t talk about all the myriad … I actually got a couple of ideas of how you may be able to, potentially, help me with some of those. I think about communication.

Vince Menzione:             Let’s talk a little bit about partners that want to engage, that aren’t engaged today. Like, what is the best way to engage? You know, we talked a little bit about attributes, what is the best timing? What is the best method for those partners to engage with your team?

Eric Loper:                       Well, all the partners might not engage with my team, I mean, essentially, you know, I think about my charter as the hundred best partners. So, you know, if there’s a partner, and they feel like they’re in that place, hopefully they have some kind of relationship with Microsoft, from that perspective, and you know, open to having a discussion. It’s probably going to come from somebody that they’re already working well within Microsoft. I think for the broader partner community and, you know, certainly we want to be in a place, I think, that the message for partners is, this is our season. This is our time together.

The partners are super, super important, and we have somebody who’s here to engage. Whether that’s from a MSP perspective, or whether that’s from more of a consulting perspective. Whether that’s from, you know, repeatable IP, we have teams in place that are here to engage and want to invest the time to build a plan together and think about how they can be thoughtful. So, I think for partners, given the opportunity and this season, it’s about, how do I take advantage of that?

I would challenge partners to think about focus, and I will tell you, the partners that I see with the greatest growth, are the ones that are most intentional and most focused. We are just seeing a ton from partners that have decided to invest and bet, and be 100% focused on Microsoft. That may sound a little self serving, but when I look at the growth rates in the marketplace, that is what we see baring out. That given the number of features, and the number of vendors that are out there, and what is possible, and how that’s evolving every day, its pretty difficult to be a master of everything.

Vince Menzione:             You know, one of the things I talk about when I speak to partners is about the cadence of Microsoft, right? We are at a certain point in time now when, kind of, the flood gates are going to open up any moment now. Traditionally it’s the Q2 and Q3 that are really when partners need to step it up. Is there any advice there for the partners that are in that top 100, that they need to do? Or how do they think differently, in terms of focus, these next two quarters?

Eric Loper:                       Well, look, we’re in consumption world now. So, consumption world, I mean, we need wins, like I need wins this week so that they can consume all year long, and continue to land and drive those results for us. So, you know, I think for partners, I do believe that, you know, we’ve put a lot of change into the model, and that will start to feel thoughtful and predictable. They flywheel will start to turn. Partners will start to feel that over the course of the coming months, but that being said, we have to find a way to get things done. If you’re in my group of partners, we have to find to get things done last week, so that we can be successful together over the course of this year, and continue to see the investment that all of us want to see.

Vince Menzione:             So, are there any best lessons or career advice that you’ve been given over the years that you’re bringing forward right now, or you’re being reminded of right now through this time of change, reorganization? It’s an exciting time, obviously, for you and, you know, kind of, building this new muscle for Microsoft. Was there any best lessons, or advice that you could think of, or you’ve been thinking of based on this time?

Eric Loper:                       You know, someone was asking me about this, this morning, just, “How do you drive with a larger team?” I was thinking about, kind of, how similar it is to having kids. At least it’s something you want to be intentional about, that you’re very invested in, that you care a lot about. I was thinking about going from, you know, one kid, to two kids, to three kids. I have some friends that have, you know, four or five.

That first … You have that first one and it’s like, your life changes, it’s, “How can I ever get things done?” You have the second one and you’re now in that, kind of, man-to-man coverage. Then we had our third, and it was not exponentially harder, right? I can see why my friends would say, “If you have four and five, you know, at some point, it’s not that much harder to, you know, shepherd and run the family.”

So, I was just thinking about, sort of, growing in scale across this team and how much it can feel daunting when faced with a new challenge, but really, it’s about being able to take and master your craft. I found that when you have those things anchored in, in the right way. When you’re in that place where, you know, you have those core skills in a really strong way, that it doesn’t always feel as daunting when you have to take those to scale. So, that’s the piece that’s been encouraging for me as I’m thinking about all of the opportunity and the days when I feel challenged. You know, thinking back to, some of the, we’ll call them ‘previous fires’, in life. That really solidified some of the areas of my, if you want to call it, of your craft, or of who I am and how I lead.

So, you know, I don’t know if that’s encouraging or helpful to folks, but, you know, I think recognizing to stay true and focused, and really get good at the things you’re doing and the place that you’re at. Then when it comes time to scale, you know, it doesn’t always have to be an overwhelming or a daunting challenge. You know, sometimes it’s just about taking the same things that you’re doing and then being able to do that on a broader platform.

Vince Menzione:             Yep, that’s really great advice for our listeners, anyone who’s leading a larger organization as well. I was thinking about when you were talking the kids, about that zone defense going from two to three, and three to four, and five, and so on.

Eric Loper:                       There’s … I’m sure there’s some moms out there that are going to like, completely disagree. You know, two to five kids, like, “Heck no, you’re out of your mind and your wife deserves a vacation.”

Vince Menzione:             Yeah, your sitting in the office today, right, and she’s back like …

Eric Loper:                       She does, but that’s just my … That’s my personal experience, and feel free to disagree.

Vince Menzione:             No, I love it. So, you know, we have talked about the rapid pace of change. We talked about that on our first interview, back on episode two. You mentioned it today as well. Where are you seeing the change the most rapidly? I mean, what are the things that are coming, happening so much faster? There’s certain technology segments, is it internet of things, is it AI, is it machine learning? Where are you seeing the real, exponential growth right now?

Eric Loper:                       Well, you know, some of it is specific silos, and some of it is the silos coming together. If you just think back over the last 100 years, right, and you think about like, which things happened every 10 years, there is a convergence. So, when I look from a technology perspective, you know, we’ve all known that data is going to be big. That’s the conversation we’ve been having for 10 years, 15 years, and you know, certainly data has been governing decisions. If you look into the space, we called it BI for a long time, but I do believe Microsoft, we’re on this path and this journey of, you know, democratizing AI, right? We want to make it easy for people to use, not just machine learning, but you know, that artificial intelligence.

So, looking down that path of what is possible when you do that, you know, a year from now, 18 months from now, today with what’s available, that gets super, super compelling and exciting. Then if you go and take it one step further and you marry that with experience, and that experience, you know, may come in several forms. It may come to the devices, it may come through augmented reality. There’s just a lot that you can potentially bring to the table, that can land in terms of how you, you know, grow and interact with that data.

So, when I think about, when I make a comment that, you know, things are changing, some of its about how things that we’re doing are used today. Some of its about new things that are coming, and then, honestly, some of its about watching where are partners getting profitability from? Right, and that shift from 15 years ago Microsoft was about reselling a license. Then it was about deploying a server, and everything that we had with SharePoint. Certainly some partners still have profitable businesses around SharePoint. We all took this journey to the cloud, and there was a big focus on, you know, exchange and how do we upgrade that to these SaaS services?

Now, we’re seeing this massive, massive playground, that’s continuing to evolve in terms of the intelligent cloud. So, I think there’s going to be a lot of businesses that evolve there, and when I look and I think about my kids, and I think about their experience. I think about, where will they be when they’re my age, and how will they engage with technology? I think we’ll look back and reflect on these days and we’ll feel like we were only at the beginning.

Vince Menzione:             That’s great, and it’s such an exciting time right now, this disruption that’s happening. I mean, you know, we’re all touched by things like Uber and Airbnb, and you know, now you’re seeing the work with autonomous vehicles and it’s just an amazing and exciting time around every business aspect. So, as you’ve been thinking through these organizational changes, any advice or books specifically, that are coming to mind that you’re applying to the new business challenges?

Eric Loper:                       Yeah, no book today, although I did … I was talking with one of our executives in the industry last week, he was reminding me that the average CEO reads 60 books a year.

Vince Menzione:             Yep.

Eric Loper:                       So, that’s part of my challenge is, figuring out how to consume that much information. I think the thing I’m just reminded of in times of change is just, we need works of authenticity. I think that there’s a lot of room, people will give you a lot of room and a lot of grace, if you’re authentic.

I think from a business development perspective, we talked about, you know, sort of, how do we align and grab that equity together? That just seems to be the sentiment. So, everything that we’re doing, and everything that I’m doing through this season of change, you know, that’s what we’re just trying to bear in mind, as making sure that that’s how we’re living, and represented, and thinking. Trying to be authentic about our values, and trying to be authentic about our passion to really do the right thing, and make sure that as we’re thinking, we’re thinking about our partners first.

Vince Menzione:             So, any closing advice for our partners out there, all our listeners? That some of them fit in your top 100, some of them don’t today, but maybe aspire to. What would you say to them?

Eric Loper:                       You’re important, we care, and as we’re in this season of change, we’ve got to transform how we sell.

Vince Menzione:             Nice, nice, and for our listeners, best way to reach Eric?

Eric Loper:                       Well, look, I think if you’re in the top 100, I’m sure you have a relationship with somebody and I would say have that person reach out, and we can have a conversation about if our partnership, if it makes sense for us to invest together. Outside of that, probably a great way to connect and I think they way that most people are reaching out is through, like, LinkedIn. So, looking forward to, you know, the opportunity to work with all of you. We’re all here together on this journey.

Excited about the work that you’re doing, Vince. Just bringing people together around this opportunity, and you know, over time, it feels like we all find a way to work together. So, looking forward to the continued journey together.

Vince Menzione:             Eric, thank you so much for joining us today. I know how busy a time of year this is for you, and for you to take the time to spend with our listeners, it just, I’m so appreciative of that. Great to have you on. Great to have you on again, for this encore, and thank you for joining.

Eric Loper:                       Awesome, thanks Vince.

 

 

#22: Opportunity for channel partners with VMWare, with Shawn Toldo.

Shawn Toldo 2012

This episode features Shawn Toldo who leads the Worldwide Solution Partner Program as a VP for VMWare, Inc.. In this episode Shawn shares the opportunity for channel partners looking to engage with VMWare.

VMware, Inc. is a subsidiary of Dell Technologiesthat provides cloud computing and platform virtualization software and services.[2] It was the first commercially successful company to virtualize the x86 architecture.[3]

In this episode Shawn tells the business story and value proposition to partners of this  cloud computing and platform virtualization software and services company, how he thinks about what makes great partnerships and his personal and professional journey.

I’m also excited that Shawn offered to join the podcast in the days leading up to VMWare’s big VMWorld Conference in Las Vegas, NV and what was an outstanding event for its partners and customers.

A full transcript of the interview is below in the show notes.


If you have not listened to the podcast, now is your chance by going to iTunes , Google PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players or by going to my website “Ultimate Guide to Partnering“. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

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Thank you for following and listening.

Vince Menzione


Transcript of our interview.

Vince Menzione :            Shawn, welcome to the podcast. You and I have had the opportunity to work closely together for many years and I’m really excited to have you on today to share with our listeners VMware’s unique value proposition, how you go to market, what you look for in successful partnerships, your career journey, and your personal story. Welcome.

Shawn Toldo:                  Thank you, Vince. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to speak with you as well as the audience and looking forward to the discussion today.

Vince Menzione :            First, for our listeners, tell our listeners a little bit about who you are.

Shawn Toldo:                  Yeah, so from a professional standpoint my name is Shawn Toldo. I have been at VMware for almost a year now leading the solution partner route to market. Our collective team is very focused on accelerating VMware’s growth through helping our customers digitally transform through the use of our technology via our partners. Prior to my time at VMware, I spent 12 years at Microsoft in a variety of roles in the US partner business there. Fantastic experience and that’s been awesome coming to VMware and having the opportunity to leverage it here.

Vince Menzione :            Tell our listeners a little bit more about your role and the mission of your organization.

Shawn Toldo:                  The mission of our organization is to deliver customer success through the best solution partner engine in technology. We have a global team that’s focused on building processes for partner engagement and profitability. We collaborate very closely with the geo leadership across AMER, EMEA, and APJ. They’re responsible for channel sales and the local partner relationships across the world.

Vince Menzione :            You overlay those organizations I guess essentially, right? When you say geo organizations for our listeners that don’t understand that, those are the geographical business units within VMware, correct?

Shawn Toldo:                  Within the global organization we’re responsible for setting strategy and overall management of execution within the route, which is our solution partner route to market. Our geo leaders are responsible for the execution locally from a channel sales perspective as well as the partner relationships within the geographies.

Vince Menzione :            Great. VMware basically invented the virtualization market. Others have entered the market and other technologies have emerged like containers. What is the company’s key differentiators today in the marketplace? Why is it different than, let’s say, what a Microsoft or Citrix are offering?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think we’re different due to our platform. Meaning when you think about end to end from the data center to the device, VMware plays across that entire gamut. We provide partners the opportunity to drive solutions and services across that gamut that digitally transform our mutual customers. When we think about that digital transformation we look at four solution areas: modernize the data center, transform security, integrating with public Clouds, and empowering digital workspaces. Across those four solution areas is where we have the opportunity to differentiate against our competition.

Vince Menzione :            Let me get this right. Four key areas: modernizing the data center, transforming security, integrating with public Clouds, empowering digital workspaces. Who are some of your key customers in the market and why did those companies continue to choose VMware?

Shawn Toldo:                  Our customer basis is vast and diverse. If you think about how we grew up through the server virtualization world we have a massive footprint. I’ll leave numbers out of it but you can imagine. As a result, customers choose VMware for our innovation, flexibility, and choice that we offer them to support private and public Cloud scenarios as well as digital workspace in a user computing scenarios. From a customer perspective, we’ve done a nice job of creating a deep base that we have been able to attach additional solutions to.

Vince Menzione :            We live in an age of rapid digital transformation, right? Everything is going so fast today. What do you believe are the greatest opportunities for continued growth? How do you see your business evolving in this time in digital transformation and Cloud computing?

Shawn Toldo:                  It’s evolving so fast. In the 10 months that I’ve been at VMware it’s fascinating to even see the differences within our organization from a solution perspective, from a platform perspective, et cetera. Cloud is everywhere and we’re focused on helping customers get the most value across their technology platforms, both from a private Cloud and public Cloud perspective.

As I mentioned before, I think we offer customers the opportunity to have flexibility and choice in terms of the platforms they choose to leverage in their environments. If you look at our partnerships with an IBM or VMware Cloud on AWS that are just a couple of examples, we’re bringing this to life within the platform to leverage multiple sets of services coupled with VMware.

Vince Menzione :            What are you seeing customers more willing to do today than they were in the past?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think they’re betting on a variety of solutions and they’re betting on a variety of partners to support those solutions. When I think about the partner ecosystem of today versus five to 10 years ago customers are looking at our partners from not only a, “How do I deploy this technology? How do I deploy this hardware and software set?” They’re looking at it from a, “How do I really digitally transform and drive business value?”

As a result, our partners have had to shift in that manner. As a result, our customers I think are willing to take some bets that are a little bit different on the types of partners that they engage and the types of services that they leverage.

 

Vince Menzione :            I know VMware has been making increasing investments in industry solutions and industry areas of focus. I know healthcare was a recent add or the formation of healthcare was a recent add to the business. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your industry focus?

Shawn Toldo:                  The fact is all businesses are healthy and growing within VMware, whether that be across our segments from a global enterprise or commercial standpoint or into the individual verticals that you mentioned as well. I don’t think there’s one vertical that’s doing more than others because of the breadth of our solution offerings and the breadth of our customer base.

I think what’s key in our world is that flexibility and choice message coupled with our focus on solution areas is really resonating with a multitude of customers.

Vince Menzione :            As you might know, we started these podcasts with an early emphasis on Microsoft but we’ve been expanding the platform tremendously. I know that a lot of our partners are also partners of VMware. Some may not be today. If I were a potential partner of yours and we were both on an elevator ride together and I asked you, “Why should I partner with VMware?” What would you say to me?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think it’s all about the customer. At the end of the day, the opportunity with customers will be massive and is massive with VMware today. A lot of that has to do with the transformational requirements that customers have from a business and technology side. Our platform enabled through the solution areas that I mentioned before will allow partners to drive profitable solution and services scenarios based on customer projects that will make that happen.

I think the other component is we’re really evolving the platform to be able to look at everything from not only the transaction but all the way through managed service and everything in between. As a result of that, I feel like we provide an excellent opportunity for our partners to profit with VMware.

Vince Menzione :            Those four areas that we talked about a little earlier then really come into play here?

Shawn Toldo:                  Absolutely. When you think about how we help customers through our partners modernize the data center, transform security, integrate with public Clouds, and then empower digital workspaces the various solutions that can be developed by partners and delivered by partners is significant.

Vince Menzione :            You came from the channel. We both together worked in the channel for quite a number of years. You’ve got quite a bit of experience building channels and teams. What do you believe makes or what characteristics do you believe make a great partner?

Shawn Toldo:                  That’s a great questions. I would say a few things. There’s a willingness to learn, invest, and innovate on both sides. It’s not just about the partner. It’s also about the technology vendor or whatever the vendor may be in that relationship. There’s an understanding of the competitive landscape in an ability to differentiate. What I find is the partners that have a bit different story and a unique way to tell their value prop are going to do much bigger projects with customers.

Transparency, when you think about partnership there’s some good things. There’s some bad things at times. There’s some things in the middle. Transparency in feedback is key. Making sure that we’re able to talk about our respected businesses and the needs that we have in a very direct fashion with respect is critical.

Then the last piece is at the end of the day it’s all about extending the customer relationships that we have in partnership and where we co-sell together. If we can co-sell that means we’re really partnering and that is a critical element when I think about the route that I have accountability for.

Vince Menzione :            How do you think about co-sell? I think about it in the sense of two salespeople going into an account together? The partner seller as well as the end user seller. Is that how you see it?

Shawn Toldo:                  I see that as the second step. I think the first step is really the ability to identify the appropriate value proposition. What’s our value proposition to the customer? What’s the value proposition of the partner to VMware? What’s the value proposition of VMware to the partner?

If we are really crystal clear on that then we can do step two in a really flawless fashion, which is having sellers going to accounts together or leverage knowledge of those customer accounts and build bigger projects together.

Vince Menzione :            You’ve got a really big role here, right? You’ve got a global responsibility for a solution partner ecosystem at VMware. What do you look for? What challenges do you believe partners face today?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think the first thing is the speed of innovation. When you think about the technology marketplace there’s just so many things that are happening, right? Trying to stay up to date on what solutions are out there, what platforms are out there, and how to take advantage of those is probably the biggest challenge I would see.

Then the ability to build a strategy that truly captures the available profit pools based on that speed of innovation and change is fast. I think strategies can change in three to six month time periods and they can change on a dime. I think leaders of partners have to be very cognizant of that.

Then I think the last piece is a commitment to balanced execution for today and the future. Talk about speed of innovation but at the same time there’s a balance that has to be struck between, “Okay, what can I make happen for a customer today?” Also, “How do I invest for the future to make sure that the competition doesn’t go past me?”

Vince Menzione :            Do you see resistance to change? We talked about this earlier, right? All this change is happening so rapidly but partners are making money in the old models today. You talk about this with the balance. Do you see some partners that just totally resist it?

Shawn Toldo:                  Some. I think some are resistant because they’re comfortable in how they’re executing at that point in time. I think some of the best partners are constantly challenging themselves to what their value proposition is to the market and to customers. I do believe that commitment to balanced execution is absolutely critical. You have to think about today. I get it. You have to pay the bills. At the same time, you have to have an eye on the future in terms of how the solution offerings that you bring to customers are going to change and evolve. Succeed today, but don’t forget about tomorrow because it’s going to come up fast.

Vince Menzione :            Have you seen situations in your 10 months at VMware where partners just totally didn’t get it and they failed in the execution? What would you say to them now if you could?

Shawn Toldo:                  I don’t know if I’d say that I’ve seen partners that totally don’t get it. I think that they are challenged with that balance. It’s, “Yeah, that sounds great but if I spend a whole bunch of money over here how do I know that the return is going to be there?” I think that’s where we have an accountability from a VMware perspective with our people as well as with our platform as well as with co-selling with them to make that really relevant from a profit perspective with our partners.

I feel like from a VMware perspective we’re changing and evolving fast. We have to make sure that our partners understand where they can profit with us and help bring them along. We own just as much accountability as they do.

Vince Menzione :            Do you do things there to further incent partners for new solutions areas? Are the models that work better for new solutions as you bring them to market?

Shawn Toldo:                  Absolutely. When we look at some of our incentive programs as it relates to partners if you think about the newer solutions that we have in market the opportunity to profit within those is bigger. I think that from a services perspective, not just the transaction side, the opportunity with customers is bigger as well.

Vince Menzione :            Shawn, is there one thing that isn’t taught but you believe to be true to successfully partnering with VMware?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think this is not just a VMware statement, I think this is everywhere, but there has to be a level of trust. We’re in it together, we’re trying to make the best thing happen for customers, and at the end of the day when we get up against something that’s hard or we have a challenge that there’s going to be a trust level that we’re going to make it right. I think at the end of the day that’s what’s key.

Vince Menzione :            Trust and also from what I think I heard you say, “We’re in it together”, right? There’s a mutual success, a shared vision, a shared purpose in the relationship?

Shawn Toldo:                  Absolutely.

Vince Menzione :            What other advice would you give for partners wishing to work with you in your organization?

Shawn Toldo:                  It goes back to that speed of innovation thing. You have to take the time to understand how we’re evolving the platform and what that can mean for your business and for customers. I’d probably reverse the order. What that can mean from customers and as a result to your business.

I think that’s the part where taking the time to understand what we’re doing is extremely important to all partners within the technology landscape.

Vince Menzione :            Shawn, when you think about the four solution areas we talked about earlier how are you helping partners monetize for that?

Shawn Toldo:                  It’s a good question. It’s an expanding conversation for our people within partner roles. It’s broader than it used to be. What I mean when I say that is we come from a world inside VMware where the transaction was key inside the server virtualization space and we grew very quickly. Now we’re in a place where the solutions need to be sold in a little bit different form and fashion.

As a result of that, plus what we’ve done for the platform, where partners can monetize are across different buckets. If I start with how we grew up it was quite transactional. If I think about where we’re going there’s a set of intellectual property and managed services capabilities that we evolve within the platform that partners can take advantage of. In the middle of that, there’s a set of advisory and project services scenarios that partners can take advantage of as well.

Where I think we are today is we’re in a place where we have to have that conversation across that spectrum and there’s a pivot on managed services and intellectual property with VMware, which is broader and better than it’s been in years.

Vince Menzione :            Do you provide technical resources to help bring those partners along in those areas?

Shawn Toldo:                  Absolutely. We’re actually investing there pretty significantly. It’s an area where we have to do a fantastic job with our partners and help them in that process to make customers more successful with their platform than ever.

Vince Menzione :            It sounds like a lot of exciting things happening at VMware. I’m excited for the event at the end of the month. I’m going to hope to be out there with you at VMworld. Can’t wait to hear more about the announcements and all of the exciting things happening for partners out there for you.

I’d like to shift at this point, if you don’t mind, as you might know from listening to other episodes of the podcast I like to focus in on the personal and professional journey of each of my guests. I know you have a fascinating story. Our listeners like to hear how you got to this particular spot in life. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions about your path to VP at VMware. How did you get started in technology?

Shawn Toldo:                  I started my career in the consulting world. I was at a career fair in college and ran into a recruiter from Ernst and Young. Didn’t really know what I was going to do and next thing you know I’m in the consulting world. I’m on airplanes. I’m traveling around the US. Some international things as well.

I got to know people. I think at the end of the day those relationships and a connection with people that happen as a result, I got a phone call from an old manager of mine at Ernst and Young and said, “Hey, do you want to come to Microsoft and interview? There’s a role that we have that I think you’d be perfect for. Would you like to come out?”

I hadn’t thought about it. I never said, “Hey, I want to go work for a technology company.” I hadn’t gone down that path. I came out, did the interview, and it was kind of life changing. I think that the lesson in that for myself as well as for other people is it’s all about relationships, it’s all about a connection with people. If you have that and you work hard, you’re in the right place at the right time, good things happen. For me, that’s kind of how it all happened.

Vince Menzione :            Once you were at Microsoft what did you learn then? Was there a best piece of advice that you got from someone when you joined?

Shawn Toldo:                  You know, it was kind of the same thing. It was relationships and a connection with people kind of starts everything. There’s hard work with any opportunity that you earn, that you have to go make happen. Then I think the thing at Microsoft that I learned was the power of collaboration. Working with a lot of different smart people. Similar kind of thing in the VMware world now.

You have an opportunity to learn and you have an opportunity to help. I think one of the best lessons that I was given in my time at Microsoft was from a gentleman named Greg Erkheart. He pulled me to the side and he said, “Always come off as help. Always be there to help people when they need something.” I think that that was really profound for me.

Vince Menzione :            I like that. What is the most fun aspect of work for you?

Shawn Toldo:                  It evolved to a place where it’s impact that I can have through helping other people achieve success. It probably goes back to the help comments that we were making before. That’s the exciting thing, right? As you grow as a leader, it really becomes much less about you and much more about everybody around you and the people that you work with. I think that’s the thing that is the most fun aspect for me.

Vince Menzione :            Shawn, what advice would you give to someone you were mentoring that wished to work in your organization?

Shawn Toldo:                  It’s about we, it’s not about you is number one. You have to have that kind of perspective to have success long-term. Especially if you want to grow from a leadership perspective. The second comment I would make is you have two ears, you have one mouth. I think that’s really hard for some people to break through on because they always want to talk about what they’re doing versus listening and having the opportunity to make somebody else feel connected to a process.

I think the other one for me is listen to a diverse set of perspectives and your team and you will be better for it. Don’t just go talk to people that operate like you do. Go talk to some people that operate not like you do and you’ll be surprised at what kind of nuggets you pick up along the way.

Vince Menzione :            That’s some really great advice for our listeners. I’m going to make sure we put those in our show notes. Why do you think you’re good at what you do?

Shawn Toldo:                  I’ll keep coming back to this one. Relationships and a connection with people. I think that if I’m talking to a CEO of a company or the person that’s serving lunch in the cafeteria. It doesn’t matter. You have to connect with them and you show an interest because you want them to have an interest in you as well. At the end of the day that’s one piece.

The second piece is you have to work hard. With any opportunity that occurs, you have to take advantage of it and that only happens through working hard and grinding at it. The last piece, like I said, be helpful. Be someone that people look to to make their environment and their things better.

Vince Menzione :            You’ve had a great career run but I’m sure you’ve had some hurdles along the way. What are some of the hurdles you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think the first hurdle that I had was coming out of the consulting world. It was all about me and how do I show up every day to the partners in the organization, thinking about the senior leadership in the organization as well as to customers. I would try to pull work and show up well.

When I went to a company corporate environment scenario it had to quickly become a we versus a me. I got some great feedback from people that took an interest in me and it was probably the most profound thing in terms of what accelerated my career and where I’ve evolved to today.

I think the second thing is you just have to be a great simplifier. You have to make it easy for people to understand what they’re working on and why. If you can do that then you’re going to accomplish great things.

Vince Menzione :            What pursuits or obsessions do you explore when you’re not working?

Shawn Toldo:                  Well, this is another me to we thing. It’s supporting a lot of my son’s interests in sports. We actually had a football coaches meeting last night. My son is nine years old. He has a golf all-star match on Sunday. It becomes a bit more of an obsession in terms of helping him in terms of the things he wants to do and spending that time.

For me, personally, I’ve been playing golf since I was six years old. I can’t play as much as I would like but I feel it’s the best game in the world. It’s something that as I get into a retirement stage down the road I would like to spend a lot more time at.

Vince Menzione :            Why do you think it’s the best game in the world?

Shawn Toldo:                  I think it’s the camaraderie for me and the connection with people. I think you learn more about somebody in three and a half or four hours on a golf course than you could in eight hours in a conference room kind of a thing. For me, that’s the part that I really enjoy. The other thing is you get really connected into what you’re trying to do out there versus all of the distractions that can go on from a personal and personal life perspective.

Vince Menzione :            Yeah, I tend to agree with you. I think five hours well-spent in an undistracted mode without cellphones and office phones ringing and the like.

Shawn Toldo:                  You’re playing a little too slow, Vince. We’ve got to speed that up.

Vince Menzione :            Okay, four hours maybe.

Shawn Toldo:                  There we go.

Vince Menzione :            Who was one of your role models? Either directly or indirectly. What advice or attributes did you learn from them?

Shawn Toldo:                  Yeah, I’d highlight my dad on that one. My dad was a UAW chairman, so United Auto Workers. He was in that environment for 37, 38 years. The relationship piece I learned there but the second thing was to just always keep driving. You’re eventually going to break through on this. There was some leadership things that he did back in his time that probably weren’t very popular but are implemented today within those environments, which were tough environments. I learned a lot from him in watching those things play out.

Vince Menzione :            Nice. What profession other than this would you attempt if you could?

Shawn Toldo:                  Well, this might sound scary but it kind of goes back to my father. At the end of the day, the union is a political kind of landscape. For me, I think going back to helping a broader set of people and impacting people’s lives, politics while can be a dirty game sometimes I think if you look at really what it’s meant to do from a politics perspective it’s to help make the broader group better overall. That’s one area I’d look at.

Vince Menzione :            Is there a quote you live your life by or you think of often?

Shawn Toldo:                  Yeah. You only live once. Be in the moment. This was one for me that I took a little bit of … There’s a rap lyric from Drake in terms of YOLO, which you only live once. There’s that comment. The be in the moment thing was for me as whatever you’re trying to do just be in the moment. Combine those because I think that if you are in the moment you’re going to have a bigger impact on yourself and others around you. If you’re daydreaming and looking around it’s not going to be as powerful for everybody.

Vince Menzione :            If you had to give advice to your 30 year old self what would that be?

Shawn Toldo:                  It’d be the same quote actually. I think back then it was a little bit, “Squirrel!” and I’d go chase it. There would be a little bit more shiny object syndrome back in that time. I think if I spent a little more time focused and in the moment on some things it would have been better for me.

Vince Menzione :            Is there a book you’ve read often or gifted often that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Shawn Toldo:                  For me, there’s a lot of biographies that I pick up things from, whether that be historical figures or sports figures, being a big sports fan, that I’ve learned from and taken away. I don’t think there’s one. I think there’s many in terms of that.

Vince Menzione :            Is there any one or two that stand out in terms of sports figures or other figures from history that you look up to?

Shawn Toldo:                  You know, Arnold Palmer was somebody that when I think about how he accomplished things with the world and the game of golf and how he treated people around him … The next person that says something bad about Arnold Palmer will be the first person.

Vince Menzione :            Interesting. Interesting. He had a great life, led a great life, and left a really great legacy. I tend to agree with you there. Shawn, I want to thank you for joining today. It’s been great to have you on the podcast. Great to share with our listeners our partner ecosystem about VMware’s unique value proposition and also hopefully get some of our listeners to VMworld coming up at the end of August in Las Vegas. Just great to have you on as my guest. Thank you for joining today.

Shawn Toldo:                  Absolutely, Vince. Great to have an opportunity to connect with you and the broader listener group. I look forward to seeing you at VMworld as well. It’ll be my first one. I’m looking forward to the experience and looking forward to connecting with partners and customers there.

Vince Menzione :            Thanks again for joining.

 

 

#21: Grit, determination and personal transformation uncovered.

While I was speaking at the XChange 2017 in Orlando*, I was reminded of the stories of grit, determination and personal transformation of many interview guests.

*I really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with so many great friends and partners at the event and wish to thank Robert DeMarzo, Doris Branscombe and the entire Channel Company team for the opportunity.

This 21st episode is a bit of a milestone or a mid year point for the Ultimate Guide to Partnering. We’ve built an amazing body of work through the terrific interview guests that I now share broadly in talks with technology organizations to stay better informed, connect and thrive.

This is a “solocast” episode where I share the genesis of the podcast, a unique story of grit, determination and personal transformation, and ask my tribe of listeners for feedback to make this the best podcast on partnering.

So where do we go from here? Please provide your constructive feedback on what you wish to see or hear in future episodes of the Ultimate Guide to Partnering. Do I focus more or less on the grit, determination and personal transformation I uncover in so many of my interviews? Or do I focus more on the mechanics of busienss? It’s not good enough that I might like an episode or a particular topic or guest, it’s important that it serves you!


If you have not listened to the podcast, now is your chance by going to iTunes , Google PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players or by going to my website “Ultimate Guide to Partnering“. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

You can also follow and like on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

Thank you for following and listening.

Vince Menzione

#20: Google Cloud’s channel partner value, with Eric Rosenkranz.

When I started the Ultimate Guide to Partnering, I set as my objective to “inform the partner ecosystem” on how to best engage with the technology giants. My first series of episodes emphasized my roots and experience at Microsoft. My goal has been to expand and explore the partner strategies of the other technology giants, how they view their partner ecosystems and what they seek from and what makes great partnerships.

In this episode I interview a partner leader at one of the other technology giants, another “hyperscaler”. For those not deep in the technology sector, a “hyperscaler” is one of only a few companies in technology capable of making the significant investments in cloud infrastructure, geographically dispersed data centers, network infrastructure, etc. Only a few companies are capable of these investments at scale and the most notable are: Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

Definition from Wikipedia – In computing, hyperscale is the ability of an architecture to scale appropriately as increased demand is added to the system. This typically involves the ability to seamlessly provision and add compute, memory, networking, and storage resources to a given node or set of nodes that make up a larger computing, distributed computing, or grid computing environment. Hyperscale computing is necessary in order to build a robust and scalable cloud, big data, map reduce, or distributed storage system and is often associated with the infrastructure required to run large distributed sites such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or Amazon.

This interview is focused on Google and I was joined by Eric Rosenkranz, Google’s Cloud Platform Service Partner Lead for North America. Eric was also a former colleague of mine when we both worked for Microsoft.

In this interview Eric tells his story, share his impression of Google’s unique value and his view of partnerships and teams. It’s an excellent view for any channel partner who works with more than one of the technology giants, or just wants to broaden their perspective on the industry.

On his focus…

  • His role – leads the North American team focused on regional and national system integrators, partners doing IT outsourcing and traditional resellers looking to enrich their offering. He is building the partner ecosystem geographically and across vertical and industry solutions.
  • His focus – services partners that build repeatable IP and innovate or leverage the advanced capabilities Google offers – such as machine learning.
  • Perspective on competition – the experience and early bets AWS made have led to dramatic success and public cloud adoption. Microsoft has had big success across many cloud offerings and geographies.
  • Why Google? – the quality of talent and engineering at Google, delivering things like its search engine and adjacent technologies. Google is solving for the big computer science problems around machine learning, containers, self-driving cars, language translation, etc. Google is also a huge contributor to “open source”. Eric references Googles contributions to Tensor Flow, an open-source software library for Machine Intelligence.
  • What is Google doing now? – Google has increased the number of offerings and increased its geographical coverage to support the market. One example we discussed was containerization where Google really stepped out ahead of the market as part of its own development efforts. Video is another great example of the advanced work tied to machine learning and the API’s (Application Program Interface) Google provides for partners.
  • How he views Amazon and Microsoft? – He tells his team to view them more as coalition partners than competition. There is a opportunity for all three to transform the IT landscape to produce bigger impact for shareholders or the mission. He also believes many organizations will have a multi-cloud strategy.

On partnering…

  • What attributes does Eric look for in partners? – Partners that can solve discrete industry use case scenarios and build repeatable IP, and strong depth and breadth of cloud expertise. Work for which Google’s customers are asking. Partners investing in unique scenarios, technical capacity and capability and an investment in both talent and go to market activities. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Core Infrastructure and Containerization were areas of focus he cited.
  • What does he think makes a great partner? – a relationship grounded in trust and integrity. “No matter how strong engineering talent or sales and marketing, the best partners do right by customers and their technology partners.”
  • Common myths about working with Google? – in his first weeks on the job the initial reaction he received from partners was a sense of surprise that Google had a channel strategy or partnership program. He has seen the perception change dramatically in his time in role as Google gets the message of its partner programs to market broadly.
  • Partners that failed – his general experience working with partners that failed in the past occurred when expectation were not properly aligned on a business outcome.

On his career…

What is the most fun aspect of the job – the value the partnership brings to the business, the excitement that builds when relationships are spun-up and joint wins. He also enjoys being part of something that is growing and cites the broad initiatives across Google’s parent company Alphabet to be a disruptive engine to the economy.

His career journey – Eric shares the story of his start in IT and how it ultimately led to a role at Microsoft. He ultimately joined the Microsoft Azure team during its early formative years.

Advice he would give someone he were mentoring? – “Understand your superpowers and double down on them”. People that leverage their “powers” or strengths and find people with the skills that bolster their capabilities are ultimately more successful.

Role Models – his wife. She is CEO of her own company, gets stuff done, and balances many things on her plate at one time.

Advice he’d give his 20 year old self – don’t expect your journey to take a deliberate and predictable path.

Another piece of advice – he is a big fan of meditation to improve his focus and also enjoys yoga as a great way to shut things down.

Personal billboard – don’t wait, meditate!

How to reach Eric: ehr@google.com or on Linked In.


If you have not listened to the podcast, now is your chance by going to iTunes , Google PlayPlayer FM, other Android podcast players or by going to my website “Ultimate Guide to Partnering“. You can also review this podcast by going to iTunes and searching “Ultimate Guide to Partnering” and clicking on the album art and hitting the ratings tab. This helps others find the podcast.

You can also follow and like on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

Thank you for following and listening.

on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

Thank you for following and listening.