This week we chatted with Scott Erickson, vice president of Channel Sales at M-Files, a secure document management solution provider. Erickson is a 17-year channel industry veteran, and previously served as vice president of Sales at Alibre. Erickson joined M-Files in 2009 to help the company jumpstart its global channel business.
TVG: Did M-Files have any partner program in the works when you came on board, or did it start whenever you joined the company?
Erickson: I was essentially hired to breathe life and formalize our partner program at the time. Just to give you an idea, I was the first channel person hired at that point. I think we had 25 to 30 total employees globally back in 2009, whereas today we have close to 400, and we have 35 people that are really focused on our channel program, including channel sales people, channel marketing people, and what we call channel consultants that are essentially sales engineers helping our channel partners.
TVG: What were the big challenges that you were facing trying to build a global channel program being based here in the states for a Finnish company?
Erickson: The challenges were many to say the very least, I don't know if you've ever interviewed anyone from Scandinavia in technology companies before, but I can tell you from working with them for a number of years now that they have a really strong focus on product quality and product innovation.
That is an absolute strength of our company. And now that we've got our U.S. operation off the ground, a lot of the sales and marketing strengths are coming into play now. It's kind of a really unique, beautiful marriage of the two in how we do business.
The other thing I would add is back then we were the new kid on the block and in a way we still are the new kid on the block because the document management, ECM space is really quite mature but back then no one really knew about us. We were having to really fight for everything we could possibly get. A lot of the more substantial experienced or successful partners didn't really want to talk to us because we didn't have a track record at that time.
TVG: How have you seen the channel change the most, both for partners and for vendors in the last 17 years that you've been in the channel?
Erickson: At its core, M-Files is really a document management system. Given the maturity of the overall document management space, we're carving out a new niche for ourselves because of that exact point. We believe based on our experience that information is kind of a new gold, if you will. We're well tailored to take advantage of that. As companies in the IT industry have figured this out or started to figure out that they need to help customers manage their information, again not just documents but their overall information much better, that's where we turn a ripe opportunity for us because we can show them how to help those customers.
TVG: When it comes to partners today versus partners in 2007, are they facing the same challenges with their businesses? Are they asking vendors for the same sorts of help or enablement or training or have those paradigms changed for partners?
Erickson: Cloud and licensing pieces might be the biggest pieces of the puzzle now, and we work with customers that are enterprise scale all the way to SMB level. They themselves are rethinking how they're managing software and applications and hardware. Many of them are moving to the cloud or have already moved to the cloud. That trend is only going to get stronger in our opinion. We have a track record of helping our partners educate their customers on how can help them do that effectively and cost effectively.
I would also touch on mobile solutions. As you know, pretty much everyone in any company is probably using their mobile device in some capacity whether it's authorized or not. M-Files brings that core competency to the table for our partners. We're arming our partners with all of the required IT tools where they can go to any customer and give them the confidence so they can help solve very specific business challenges or business processes they need help with.
TVG: How is the move to the cloud changing partner's approaches to their own business models?
Listen to Erickson's answer below:
TVG: When a partner is trying to move from a business that is based on one time sales into something that is more of a recurring revenue based business, what kind of challenges are they facing?
Erickson: Well obviously the immediate impact is just cash flow management because it does have an impact that at least initially, so that's one of the top challenges they face. Again if they are committed to it in the long run and they have the financial stability to make that transition, I can't think of a partner I've spoken to that has not been happy with moving to a model like that. Going back to one of my other points, the overall IT industry is moving in that direction. Microsoft has been there for a number of years already. For our purposes, I think we've been quite effective at helping partners make that transition.
TVG: What specific elements in your partner program address helping partners make that transition?
Erickson: As far as our sales model is concerned, you can think of our direct sales effort as a kind of a laboratory. We often do testing to see what works with customers and what doesn't, and then we take those lessons learned and then adopt those lessons into kind of best of class or best of category approaches for our partners. That approach works extremely well.
We try to develop sales boot camps or business boot camps that we often lead in person, and we do a lot of that at our annual partner meetings. We host webinars to speak about these topics. We publish white papers and other pieces of collateral that touch on it. Our product managers that own the cloud solution are all involved with all of our partners, or at least the partners that are actively trying to sell cloud solutions.
We've got a forum that's open for asking these types of questions and then of course all of our channel people are educated to help them make that transition. We're trying to put our best foot forward on all fronts to help partners do that. We try to keep our pricing infrastructure and model quite simple and affordable, which I think is another strength of the program.
TVG: What kind of challenges do partners and businesses face when it comes to shadow IT? Especially in regard to mobile, how quickly are the threats evolving, and how does it impact everything that we do in the enterprise world?
Listen to Erickson's answer below:
TVG: When you take a look at the technology that's just starting to be talked about, like the real emergent kind of cutting edge stuff, what gets you most excited?
Erickson: In our environment machine learning and intelligence is maybe at the top of the mountain for us. We've got some new technology coming out, middle of this year that we believe is going to be another level of a game changer for us, and we've done great work. We've been growing at about 50 percent year-to-year historically the last seven or eight years in a row, and once this product comes out we think that's going to escalate us to an entirely new level because of some of that technology that I'm touching on. Our customers are kind of demanding that, and our partners are demanding that of us now, and we're kind of banking on that to lead us to the promised land, so it's kind of where our collective heads are at this point.
TVG: On the flip side of that question, what gets you most frustrated about working within the channel specifically?
Erickson: I'm a huge proponent of wanting to build the best channel program in this industry on a global basis, and I think we're well on our way to accomplishing that. One of my frustration is that we often can't help as many partners in real time as I would like to. I mean I want to support partners as quickly and as deeply as we possibly can. We do still have a relatively small team, so we do have limitations in what we can do on a daily and even hourly basis but again I'm a huge proponent of delivering best in class support, and just sometimes our response time isn't quite what I want it to be, but again we focus on that and do our absolute best in all cases.