Channel Chiefs Share Why Customer Experience Is Now a Key Success Metric

Customer life cycle is a KPI of how vendors measure and recognize partners.

Jeffrey Schwartz

December 20, 2019

5 Min Read
Channel Chief Panel at CPinsights, 2019

(Pictured above: The 2112 Group’s Larry Walsh, Xerox’s Amy Belcher, Trend Micro’s Frank Rauch, Hitachi’s Kimberly King and 360insights’ Steve Kellan all offered their insights on the importance of customer experience.)

As customers find a widening pool of modern technology solution options with new implementation, usage and cost models, vendors are changing how they leverage their channels and the way they measure their success their partners bring, both individually and collectively.

The ongoing transformation of the channel is nothing new, nor is the upheaval surrounding it. Looking at its current state and the coming years, a group of channel chiefs representing a diverse set of vendor types last week reflected on current business and technology shifts and shared their views on critical strategies for success. Channel executives from Akamai, Barracuda, Bitdefender, Check Point Software Technologies, Commscope, Hitachi, Ingram Micro, Toshiba and Xerox were among those who gathered last week at a speakeasy in New York City’s Chelsea district.

“Ultimately, it’s about scale and reach, that’s why you have the channel,” said Amy Belcher, vice president of global marketing at Xerox, one of three channel chiefs who spoke on a panel at the Channel Pulse East gathering, organized by 360insights, a provider of channel incentive management software. The question of how to scale in today’s environment, underscored the theme of the one-hour discussion. “We have multiple partner types at Xerox, but at the end of the day, regardless of their business model, it’s scale and reach. How can we have more feet on the street? How can we scale better for more customers?”

The panel discussion, presented to invited attendees including Channel Partners, followed a private roundtable of about 10 channel chiefs, moderated by both Steven Kellam, senior vice president of global alliances at 360insights and Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group. Extending scale and reach may be an obvious strategy, but the vendors last week explained how they have made significant changes in the expectations of their partner communities, amid the transition to cloud technology and customers transforming their businesses.

“Increasingly, the point of sale isn’t the relevant issue, it is the customer experience,” Walsh said. “So how is that changing the way that you’re all thinking about your strategies, your value propositions and the things you need from your partners?”

Belcher responded: “I think that customer satisfaction survey feedback is critical.”

Hitachi Vantara channel chief Kimberly King added that customer satisfaction has become a key metric. “What we are measuring other than revenue that is valuable is customer sat, it’s implementation, it’s the ability for our partners to move across platforms or across products as we acquire other companies or other solutions are built,” King said.

Frank Rauch, who became worldwide head of channels at Check Point Software Technolgies in February after six years leading VMware’s Americas partner organization, said Check Point has joined the growing number of vendors who are measuring and rewarding partners who provide positive customer experiences. It starts at the time a sale is booked and continues by proactively ensuring that the client is getting ongoing value from a product or service, he explained. “You reward and recognize partners, not only for…

…getting the original deal, but also being able to burn down what you sold,” Rauch said.

Check Point, which sells 100% through partners, uses its channel to the effect of having five times the resources of its internal sales organization, according to Rauch. “So basically, you may be selling deals, but literally they’re in there, day in and day out, operationalizing what you sold,” he said. “And if you don’t get that consumption, then obviously you’re going to fail and you’re not going to be able to renew in a year, two years or whatever. And you’re not going to be able to land, expand, renew.”

Vendors still need to improve how they communicate the importance of customer experience and the risks partners face of holding on to the old model of taking a transactional approach to deals,” said 360inisghts’ Kellam. “Because if they think of a sale as the end, they’re done,” he said.

It also means broadening who they consider a partner. Oftentimes, that means having a less traditional or constrained view on what constitutes a critical partner, Hitachi’s King noted, pointing to the company’s recently announced partnership with Disney. “Think about that: Traditionally, you wouldn’t think Disney would be a partner, but they are, and they’re a very significant analytics partner with us,” she said.

The partner landscape for Check Point is also bringing in new players. For example, in health care, Check Point increasingly is partnering with companies that make medical devices. “It’s definitely changing,” Rauch said.  At the same time, he underscored that adapting to those changes doesn’t mean forsaking traditional sources of customer and revenue growth. “It’s all about balance. You still need to be able to perform while you transform, don’t get rid of the legacy, evolve the legacy and acquire the new,” he said.

Given the shifts to cloud computing and increasingly to modern cloud-native software, Check Point has also broadened the types of partners in terms of their technical competency that it has added into its ecosystem, Rauch said. “When you look at the legacy of the security model, it was mostly pure-play type of security partners,” he said. “Now it’s something totally different. It’s about being born in the cloud, where it is mobility and now it’s born in IoT and born in containers.”

Indeed, maintaining that balance is key. While transforming is critical, Belcher said for certain companies such as Xerox, it can’t come at the expense of revenues. “Being with a publicly traded company, we can’t take our foot off the gas,” she said. “What Frank [Rauch]said is accurate, that it’s a balance. In my case, we’re driving up software skills, software capabilities and competencies while we balance the other. You can’t just stop one and start the other because, at least for a publicly traded company, that won’t work.”

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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