It’s been about three weeks since Dell Technologies integrated its channel organization with its OEM and IoT solutions group, bringing Dell veteran Joyce Mullen in to replace John Byrne as head of global channels. (Byrne has moved to head Dell’s North American commercial sales division.) It’s Dell’s latest move to keep up with an industry that’s rapidly and drastically changing to accommodate a post-digital transformation world, say Mullen and VP of global channels and alliances Cheryl Cook, who sat down with Channel Futures today to talk about how the first year went for the newly combined Dell EMC partner program, and what Dell’s strategic focus will be in 2018. (The transcript below has been edited for clarity.)
Channel Futures: How are the changes happening within Dell reflective of what’s going on in the channel as a whole?
Mullen: Whether we’re speaking with large disties like Ingram or tiny regional partners, the consensus is pretty consistent that the speed of change in the tech sector is unbelievably exhilarating. Customers (both end users and partners) are looking for guidance and expertise around the big transformations, looking for simplicity in deploying solutions and getting to the outcomes they’re looking for fast.
There’s no place there’s more obvious than IoT because you’re looking for something that’s going to help you reduce shrink in your factory or improve the safety of an intersection or figure out how to help organizations improve faster. No one can do that alone, so you have to figure out how to stitch together various technologies from different companies. The fact that Dell has a big broad swath of IT and solutions that help deliver a predictable and valuable infrastructure layer is a big help....We have various categories of customers--OEMs, VARs, ditties, SIs, service providers--and the lines between all of those categories of partners are really blurring. Having a program that’s flexible enough to adapt to those changes is important.
Channel Futures: Speaking of different types of Dell partners, we’re seeing the emergence of a new, solutions-based channel that exists alongside the more traditional channel of VARs and MSPs. How do you make sure that both demographics are taken care of?
Cook: If you look at the structure, we’ve got two paths. One really recognizes the more traditional path where you’ve got partners that might be filling a lot of volume of a single product or a single part of the portfolio, and we’ve got another path that encourages and rewards and recognizes those more solution-oriented partners that are making the investments in multiple lines of business, leaning into the change around trying to offer their specialization—it may be infrastructure-centric, which is what we do, but it’s leaning more toward those transformational opportunities. We thought hard around trying to create dual recognition programs for the evolution of these partners, really crafting, even if it’s loosely coupled, incentives or rewards that would just strategically harness the value in Dell Technologies for those partners.
Channel Futures: Leading vendors including Dell have included simplification of partner programs, at partner demand, in 2017 messaging and 2018 agendas. How would you grade Dell’s performance here since you’ve merged your two programs? Where have you knocked it out of the park in terms of simplifying things for partners? Where have you struggled?
Cook: When we brought the two organizations together, these two tech titans, we talked about the cross-sell opportunity in the partner community and how complementary our positions were within the marketplace. That’s being realized. We’re seeing it in the results when you look at the level of growth in the marketplace overall, when you look at the level of growth in our server business, when you look at the number of lines of business our partners are selling—all of that potential and opportunity is being realized. That’s a function of the degree of change that everybody absorbs, to be candid…
Mullen: These partner advisory boards Cheryl’s team leads are really amazing. They’re frank conversations with a subset of partners who are very vocal about things we can do better as well as what’s going well. We got some feedback on rebate structures, we’re going to be simplifying that going forward. We just don’t want our partners spending extra time on administrative things that isn’t helpful for them.
Cook: Some of the foundational things, I think, we delivered against. We offered a dual path in the program both on revenue thresholds and on training, and that’s a very simple way for partners to embrace the breadth of the portfolio, make the investments and expand. From Day One when we brought the programs together, we had a single deal registration program, single portal.
If I’m honest, and we’re completely transparent, we still have work to do on some of the operational sides of keeping it simple for the partner. We still have different quoting tools, and we still have different management. There’s room for us to improve there for sure. We’ve made improvements on our MDF proof of execution, but I’m not done there. Most of the partners, candidly, said they expected it to be worse. There’s a whole lot more we want to work on, but one year out of the gate, I think the results speak for themselves.
Channel Futures: You’ve said that Michael Dell describes Dell Technologies as a “company with big ears” because you listen to partners and customers. What mandates are you getting from partners that guide your strategy in 2018?
Mullen: We’re hearing, “Help us be more adept around these transformational areas.” That’s an enablement and training requirement and request, and it’s great because it’s consistent with how we want to go to market and differentiate from some of our competition. They’re definitely telling us there’s some operational issues that are still too tricky to navigate or take too much time, so we’re working on streamlining those and improving the speed of our responsiveness on certain topics. There’s definitely improvements we’re making in the deal reg process and how we communicate with partners. We’re adding capabilities to our portal, that one-stop shop. That’s all at the request of partners.
Cook: Many of these partners are both VMware partners and Dell partners, so you saw us announce that VMware named Dell a distributor; that’s in direct feedback to partner requests. Leveraging their knowledge and training already in our competencies--giving them test-out capabilities, essentially--so we give them the benefit of expertise they already have, that’s something that’s direct feedback. But to be fair, they’re growing faster in their Dell businesses, they’re making more money, and that helps heal a lot of ills. As long as we stay humble and transparent, and try to earn it every day, there’s a lot of opportunity.
Channel Futures: Stepping back a little, what are the channel trends we’re going to see next year, and how are you positioning Dell’s partner program to jump on them?
Mullen: I’m not even going to come close to being unbiased in this response. The strength and opportunity associated with IoT is enormous. There’s a lot more ‘show than go’ still, but the opportunities to instrument environments that have never been instrumented before and to yield insights and make decisions based on the data you can collect and analyze in those environments is going to be a ‘change the world’ kind of thing. Some of the solutions our partners are developing—trying to improve the efficiency of the food supply chain so less food is wasted, improve the quality for water for seaside villages, improve the distribution of medical treatments to places that haven’t had them before—it’s goosebump kind of work. Not all of it will happen in the next year, but we’re making really steady progress to putting those outcomes in the reach of everybody.
Cook: Everybody is moving at their own pace on this transformational journey. Consolidation is going to continue. You’re going to continue to see outcome-based decisions be made. Companies are trying to get closer to the line of business, to measuring with analytics more data than we’ve ever had before to inform the business with insights. You’re going to see converged infrastructure, customers wanting to narrow the number of partners they do business with. We’re extremely well-positioned to provide this breadth of technologies to free up our partners to really begin exploring where these IoT outcomes and emerging applications are going to really inform the business. We’re well-positioned to innovate, as well, with software-defined architectures to be a trusted partner for them to shore up their infrastructure needs while beginning to explore these opportunities and what they’re going to yield.