Top Gun 51 Profile: Datto's Rob Rae Says Successful Channel Partner Programs Foster Community

Channel partner programs are the cornerstone of vendors’ go-to-market strategy, says a sales veteran.

Lauren Horwitz, Senior Content Director

November 21, 2019

5 Min Read
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It was 2013 when Rob Rae joined Datto, the data backup and recovery software company. The company was on the rise, growing in revenue and in employees, and Rae saw an opportunity to forge deeper relationships with its managed service provider (MSP)-only salesforce.

A seasoned veteran in sales and the IT channel, Rae has 25 years of experience and prior roles at larger vendors, including Compaq (now HPE).


Datto’s Rob Rae

But when Rae was first approached about a role at Datto, he was circumspect. Managed services were in their infancy and he wondered about the crowded field of backup and recovery software vendors. Still, as Rae familiarized himself with Datto, he was sold.

“This was a good product that was looking for someone to go sell it,” Rae said. “It was a no-brainer.”

Today, Rae is vice president of business development at Datto, and he predicts that channel business opportunities in emerging technologies such as the internet of things, cloud computing and security are “immense.”

Rae ardently believes that the channel is the cornerstone of IT vendor sales success and says he is “obsessed’ with fostering relationships with his channel partner community. That’s why Rae is a Top Gun 51 award winner. The program recognizes top channel executives who build and execute partner programs to drive partner, customer and supplier success.

Channel Futures: How do you differentiate Datto from other data backup and recovery companies out there?

Rob Rae: Our engineering — we’re making massive improvements to our product every day. But also, we picked the managed services space and stayed loyal to it; we don’t sell direct. We made the bet to go MSP-only several years ago.

My job is to help MSPs take this to market. They want to know, “How can I make money, be profitable, create stickiness with customers?”

We recently unveiled our “Top Gun 51,” a list of today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

As an example: When I came to Datto, lots of partners were selling the product as data backup for disaster recovery. But then, end users were saying, “I don’t have physical disasters — no hurricanes, fires, floods.”

When we look at actual data loss, 97% of the time it has nothing to do with acts of God. [Threats to data] come from malicious deletions, malware, ransomware. The MSPs need to be retrained to start talking about data protection. It’s helping them reiterate that message better.

CF: What attributes are key for next-generation channel leaders?

RR: A channel leader, in essence, is the identity for an organization. As vendors get larger, as you call the 1-800 number, as executives churn in and out, it’s important to have a consistent face of the organization — that’s been my goal. When people think of Datto, they think of me. If things go bad, they know to call Rob. You have to be willing to answer tough questions for your community and to get yelled at.

I take this as a true partnership. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. In the past, it’s been that vendors hate the channel, and the channel hates the vendors. It’s been this adversarial, “I don’t trust you; you don’t trust me, but we have to work together” relationship. I like to think that’s gone and the MSP is …

… in the driver’s seat and the vendors are taking direction. As long as we have the approach, where it’s, “What can I do to make the channel’s life better?” I think you win.

CF: So this is about accountability and customer (or partner) experience?

To err is to be human. But be there to answer the phone when the mistake happens. You can’t go dark and disappear and just make excuses. If you answer the phone and say, “Don’t worry, we are going to get on this,” you will win them over and build the relationship.

CF: What are your thoughts on the channel ecosystem?

RR: In managed services, MSPs have a bunch of technologies in their stack. A company is outsourcing IT to an MSP. But all these different technologies need to work together in order for the MSP to have a single pane of glass, minimizing the amount of time the MSP has to spend on deploying the technology. All these different tools need to work together. All of us are working together to provide MSP choice in what fits with their business.

CF: What’s your advice for vendors?

RR: It’s really simple. Take care of your customers. Answer your phone, answer your email. It sounds so simple, but that is the one thing that a lot of vendors fall down on — having that connection with their communities. You want to build a brand? Take care of your community. These guys all talk to each other. So, do right by them, help them make money, provide tech support, and they will keep coming back.

So vendors: Take a hard look at your relationships with the channel. If they aren’t your first stakeholder, you need to relook at your channel program. The solution providers are the key to everything in our go-to-market strategy.

CF: What’s your advice to partners?

RR: One person I know who was considering getting into the MSP space has heard the hype. My advice is that the hype is real. But while it’s a great time to jump in, let’s talk about what that means: No longer are we ambulance-chasing trunk slammers. We have to provide fantastic services to users.

CF: What are your thoughts about the future of the IT channel?

RR: We are on the verge of a massive golden age of IT. The growth opportunity within the channel is immense. The MSP is in the perfect position as the experts, and the MSP market is mature enough to deliver technology. We have the opportunity to venture into different platforms, expand our cloud operations, expand into different markets and verticals.

The water’s warm; everybody, jump in.

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About the Author(s)

Lauren Horwitz

Senior Content Director, Informa

Lauren Horwitz is a senior content director on Channel Futures, Channel Partners and IoT World Today.

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