Q&A: Riverbed's Montford, Meulema on Channel Plans

Last week during Riverbed FORCE in San Jose, California, The VAR Guy had a chance to sit down with Riverbed Technology’s Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer Paul Mountford and newly appointed channel chief Karl Meulema to talk about how Riverbed plans to improve its channel program.

Michael Cusanelli, Associate Editor

November 12, 2014

6 Min Read
Left Paul Montford SVP and chief sales officer and Karl Meulema SVP of Global Channels at Riverbed
(Left) Paul Montford, SVP and chief sales officer, and Karl Meulema, SVP of Global Channels at Riverbed

Last week during Riverbed FORCE in San Jose, California, The VAR Guy had a chance to sit down with Riverbed Technology’s (RVBD) Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer Paul Mountford and newly appointed channel chief Karl Meulema to talk about how Riverbed plans to improve its channel program.

Both Mountford and Meulema joined Riverbed earlier this year, and both spent many years at Cisco Systems (CSCO) in channel-facing roles. Mountford served as senior vice president of Cisco’s Global Enterprise division and channel chief. Meulema’s most recent position was as vice president of Global Services and Partners at Avaya.

Read on to hear what both men had to say about their positions at Riverbed and what they have in mind for Riverbed’s channel ecosystem.

The VAR Guy: Coming from a strong channel background, what do you both think Riverbed is doing well with its channel partner program, and where does it stand to improve?

Mountford: I think Riverbed is a classic company that has grown very quickly to a billion dollars and added product lines in recent years, so the whole dimension of the channel had to change, because when you’re selling a single product you can almost sell it yourself and use the channel as fulfillment—that’s where we came from. As our go-to-market got more complex [Riverbed] introduced accreditation less than a year ago, because now we have this complex range of technology and application performance across the platform—SteelCentral SteelFusion, SteelApp, etc. So it required a really good strategy to determine what channels are out there and which are optimized for the different sort of solutions that we provide to the market, who are the winners in those spaces and then how do we encourage them to work with us where they make good money. So that work is still in progress and Karl has been brought on put that together in an overall plan.

I want Karl to drive that strategy the same way that we have our corporate strategy. Channel strategy should follow corporate strategy and weirdly they don’t. For us it’s about if we’re (providing) a technology or solution set that is fundamental to the company and it’s into a market segmentation where we’re clear about where we need to be. If that’s the company strategy we should be occupying a channel strategy that maps it so that way we have synchronicity in the field with our salespeople as well as with our channels. And we give a clear area for our channels to be successful in where we don’t compete with them and we don’t tread on each other’s feet.

I think many companies are not very good at that. We don’t have a finished version of that yet—Karl’s only just come on board—but it will be a evolution from where we are today with accreditation. I think both Karl and I see the channel as an extension of our own sales force and businesses as well.

Meulema: I think there are two elements to it. One is, as Paul said, making sure that our channel is set up to follow what we from a strategic point of view want to do so making sure that however we set construct our channel programs that it has the capability of addressing that in a crucial manner. The second piece is that Riverbed is still a very young company and a lot of things happen in the spur of the moment because it’s more short-term than long-term oriented. They’ve done a very good job in starting the whole accreditation program, so that’s a great foundation to work from.

Now, the next step is to build out an all-encompassing channel program and telling my team that there will be four guiding principles. One is consistency, one is predictability, one is value-based and one is across Riverbed’s products and services. I don’t accept just a product program; we have to have a program that looks at the whole portfolio and makes sure all those elements are included in that. Because then you can really help the partners understand where we play and where we want them to play and how we can play together and really set that whole framework for them in a meaningful way.

The Cisco Influence

The VAR Guy: Both of you spent such a long time at Cisco doing partner-centric work. What is one thing you can transfer from that experience over to your work at Riverbed?

Mountford: I think its treating partners as an extension of your own business. And if you do that than you treat them in a way where you are consultative with them and therefore you get successful outcomes if you work together. I think the biggest challenge is that if you just come out with something because you think that’s the best thing for your company—and by the way, you can force them to do it—they’re often unhealthy and they often don’t work. But ultimately that’s a road to ruin. Partnerships are what they say. I think it’s just like anything else in business—you’ve got to listen a lot, you’ve got to know the facts, you’ve got to understand the business model of the people you are talking to. And if you get that and put the right program together, it’s ultimately very successful.

Meulema: What I would add is transparency; being transparent about why you are doing things. We’ve made massive changes in the past, changes that at first blush weren’t always very positive for the channel partner. But if we were able to explain why it was necessary in the marketplace to go in this direction and why we we need their support in it and why in the long term this would be good news, they would still want to tweak from time to time. But if you can explain to them why and you can bring them in [to the decision-making process] that is how a lot of them really saw the issues that we were grappling with and that they weren’t as simple as they thought they were.

The VAR Guy: Why did you join the company and what is the opportunity you see in Riverbed?

Paul: We’re looking at this purely as a blank piece of canvas. Riverbed is a great company and it’s got some fantastic assets and that’s why so many people are interested in us right now, because they see the assets, and that’s the tech and the people. That’s why we both joined—for the opportunity that we think this company has, which we don’t think it’s even gotten close to capitalizing on yet.

The channel will be a fundamental part of that strategy because we’ve never really scaled the channel. So it’s still a majority of the business we have today; even though we only have 8 percent of our business direct and 92 percent of our revenue goes through the channel, the majority of that has been fulfillment. And we’re going to try to turn that into scaling and almost reverse it … so that we actually have the channel scaling our business for us and just have our own people occupying concentrating on the top point of the pyramid in the enterprise, where they should be. We think this is a great opportunity.

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About the Author(s)

Michael  Cusanelli

Associate Editor, Penton Technology Group, Channel

Michael Cusanelli is the associate editor for Penton Technology’s channel properties, including The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud. He has written articles and produced video for Newsday.com and is a graduate of Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in New York. In his spare time Michael likes to play video games, watch sci-fi movies and participate in all things nerdy. He can be reached at [email protected]


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