ARN talks to Juniper Networks senior vice-president worldwide channels, Frank Vitagliano, about the vendor’s call for channel partners to go on the offensive.
How do you perceive the role of partners in the kind of dour economic climate that we have?
Frank Vitagliano (FV): There are a lot of vendors that don’t get it and I won’t mention any of them because that is not appropriate. But what I mean by that is, what happens in a lot of companies is they cycle people through various jobs and the guy who was the best end-user sales executive now runs channels. He comes in and doesn’t fundamentally understand channels. It is more than just being a go-to market partner – that is important, but there are a lot of nuances and a lot of subtleties. Part of the philosophy in our company is I think we get it, I think we understand the nuances. We look at it as a partnership as opposed to just finding somebody that will fulfil product for us because it is not cost-effective to do it ourselves. It is much broader than that.
The push you are making with Junos and your overall strategy reflect a more community approach to things rather than just a business relationship with partners – do you take this view?
FV: I do, but the only thing I would say about the Junos software development kit [SDK] is there are selected partners that it makes sense for, and there are a number that it wouldn’t because it is basically highly technical and gives partners the ability to take the code, work with it, support it, and integrate it. Not everybody can or wants to do that. But what does make sense from a community standpoint, and you will hear us say it all the time, is we believe Junos is our differentiator. If you asked me as a customer or as a partner what the one thing that differentiates us is, I would say the Junos operating system. That is critical because if we can figure out a way to build a community of expertise and folks that get that within the partner community, that is what makes a huge difference.
You are having specifi c geographic partner summits this year, rather than regional events. Which is better from the standpoint of trying to build a stronger community?
FV: It is a good question and this is not a cop out because I will honestly tell you what is rattling around in my head. But I don’t know the answer yet and I will tell you why. When I talk to partners about why it is important to engage with us and come to an event like a partner summit, what they will tell me is two or three things. They want to understand the company strategy and what we are doing, what our philosophy is, what our product roadmap is, and so on. Or they want to engage with senior executives – they want to talk to the CTO or the CEO. And they want to engage with other channel partners to share experiences. So, traditionally, those have been the things that mattered to partners. Partners are making decisions every day about the people they want to invest with and they want to be comfortable about those decisions. You clearly get that either way: At a regional or local event, we will tell you the strategy and what we are doing. The second one is harder because we are not going to be able to rollout six regional events, spread over eight weeks in Hong Kong, Korea, Australia and so on, with the entire senior executive team – you just can’t do that. When we did the event in the US, we had just about the entire executive team, and the same in Europe. Here it is a little bit harder. But of course you do get the partner engagement and in Asia-Pacific what we find is that is probably more relevant for Australia and New Zealand partners to talk to each other than the Chinese, Korean or Japan partners. So I am really mixed on it. While I like the intimacy of this [Byron Bay], what you miss out on is the senior executive team all coming together. What we are going to do is finish the summits this year, step back and evaluate it.
Can you guarantee you are going to go ahead with partner summits in the next couple of years?
FV: I don’t think you can give a guarantee on anything in the environment that we are in, but what I can tell you is we consider them extraordinarily important. The fact we are doing them this year in the face of everything that has gone on the last six to nine months, means we held to the commitment. We obviously spent a lot of time looking at it. We cancelled our internal sales summits – we were going to do an internal sales meeting, but cancelled it for cost reasons and kept the partner event. It shows to some degree how important we consider it.
Your theme at this event is playing offence to combat the economic climate. What does this entail in terms of resources? Do you foresee increasing headcount or providing more funding for R&D?
FV: Yes, we are doing that. From a channel standpoint, initially it includes the investment or enhancement of programmatic things that can be delivered at the local level. I am a big believer in developing a platform and strategy at a corporate level and then deploying it at a local level. It might be a little different in the way you do it. We enhanced the J-Partner program and that was a pretty big deal, and we enhanced all our training, we built a configurator, we built a partner locater and in addition we have market development funds for our channel, which we have increased this year. I consider what we are doing as definitely playing offence and we expect we will get a return on that investment. Everything we do is geared to that. Fundamentally, what is happening is we know we are gaining share, and partners are telling us we are doing the right things. I believe we will continue to make the investment and continue to do the things we are doing.
Some vendors are specifi cally targeting their competitors’ partners to win them over. Do you want to go down that path?
FV: It is a really good question and one we spend a lot of time talking about internally because we have a general philosophy that partner profitability is at the forefront of everything we do. When you are focused on that, it gets to the point where it is hard to manage partner profitability. We have a program where partners can consistently feel they can win money. If you have eight partners trying to fight each other to win a deal, there is a fine balance you need to sort it out. So what I would tell you is we are not actively going after or targeting competitors’ partners per se, but what we are doing is making sure from a capacity standpoint that we have the bandwidth to continue to grow at the rate we are growing. If it requires us to go find new or additional partners, we will certainly do that. But what I am trying not to do is do this at the risk of impacting profitability. I don’t want to get into a scenario where I over distribute the product to the point where I have to figure out back-end rebates and all these other things. I don’t think that’s an efficient way of running the business.