Meet the Channel: Brooke Cunningham, Splunk

Meet the Channel: Brooke Cunningham, Splunk

Brooke Cunningham talks about how small partners can maximize their marketing efforts and what vendors should be doing to help. 

When it comes to running a business in the channel, having the right marketing strategy is critical. So this week on Meet the Channel, we sat down with Brooke Cunningham, AVP of Global Partner Programs and Operations at Splunk. Cunningham has been working in partner alliance channels for nineteen years. "It sounds crazy to me," she says. "But it's true: time goes by fast when you're having fun."

She started her career in field level roles working with partner marketing programs at companies such as Seagate Software and Business Objects, eventually working her way up into global roles at SAP and CA Technologies. Today at Splunk, she's responsible for leading the company's global partner program, operations and marketing.

"I have a really fantastic role and opportunity here with the integration of those functions to really deliver on partner experience, partner success, and ultimately support Splunk in growing to our goal of five billion dollar through the partner leverage."

The VAR Guy: I’d like to talk about the evolution of the traditional reseller. Are we reaching the end of the golden age of the traditional VAR as partners either retire or move toward a recurring services model?

Brooke Cunningham: I definitely don't believe that it's dying. I believe it's evolving. And I believe that partners are needing to transform, as all of the technology transforms and we as vendors and how we're working is transforming. I think the interesting thing is that the “value added” part of it is as important as ever.

I was actually speaking on a panel yesterday at the ASAP Summit and we were talking about the channel transformation and we actually had pulled together some data from CompTIA that was from 2016. There's a 36 percent decline in IT partners since 2008, and a lot of that is really around these lifestyle VARs, these lifestyle partners. About 40 percent of them are going to be retiring in the next eight years. And then we've got this new entrance of millennials, where 75 percent of the channel will be millennials by 2024.

So we're seeing these interesting trends. I don't believe that the business models are going to go away, but what we are seeing is a shift. Some of the more traditional, what we call VARs or resellers, are thinking about how they continue to evolve their business. We do see some of our resell partners also adopting MSP models in addition to traditional resell. And we also see the born-in-the-cloud type of partners who are only MSPs doing a lot of really exciting things to service customers.

TVG: So what do you see as the next stage in this evolution you’re describing?

Cunningham: We’ll still see this hybrid because we have to think, ultimately, about the customer in this equation. Five years sounds like a long time, but in terms of technology adoption, innovation happens quickly. Partners need to make sure they understand use cases so that they’re enabling their team with the right skill set to address all these new IoT and cloud use cases. A lot of this is around cash flow models so that they’re able to successfully support these in a profitable manner. I believe those are some of the critical components of what’s going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to be a switch-over to be all cloud, for example, in five years’ time.

TVG: Partners are getting a lot of seemingly contradictory advice on how to navigate the digital transformation. For example, they’re hearing they should specialize, but also provide end-to-end solutions. What’s your take?

Cunningham: This is a huge one because the technology landscape is getting so complex. You’re absolutely right. Partners can’t necessarily solve for everything, but they can focus. You mentioned verticals, and we really see it here at Splunk in terms of use cases. I’ll go back to that security example. Our partners that are really successful are the ones incorporating Splunk into a total security solution. That’s where we see partners really bringing together the best of breed. We’ve taken a focus around making sure that we have some really strong global alliance partnerships to help bolt together the technology pieces, and that creates opportunities for the MSPs or MSSPs. For example, with some channel partners we’ve have some go-to-market plays driving a cybersurity defense solution that includes Splunk, Accenture, Tanium and Palo Alto Networks. We’re seeing those types of solutions really, let’s call it greasing the wheel for some of those opportunities to start to drive customer adoption.

TVG: I’d like to pick your brain about marketing since that’s where your background lies. What should partners be focusing on to maximize their efforts, and how can vendors help?

Listen to Cunningham’s answer below.

TVG: What about smaller partners with limited resources. How can they maximize their marketing efforts?

Listen to Cunningham’s answer below.

TVG: What technology or trend is coming around the bend that gets you excited to work in the channel and occupy the space that you do?

Cunningham: What Splunk can do with unstructured data and bringing greater insights. I get excited around what were maybe formerly thought of as consumer uses of IoT where we’re seeting some really amazing business uses. So for example, we’ve actually had demonstrations where you can ask Alexa to Splunk your data. We’re really at the beginning of all that the IoT space is going to bring us, and there’s just untapped opportunity for partners with all of this. The partners that are excited and embracing that change, skilling up their teams making sure that they’re enabled, hiring the right talent to keep them at the forefront—those are the partners that are going to continue to grow and win. I just see so much opportunity, and partners bringing their solutions into the space is going to continue to help us drive the industry.

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