Top Gun 51 Profile: Ribbon Communications' John Macario: 'The Business Is Based on Relationships'

John Macario has been a channel fixture for going on two decades.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

November 2, 2020

7 Min Read
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John Macario has been a channel fixture, and a Channel Partners fixture, for going on two decades. In that time, he has founded and led two consultancies, Savatar and TelcoFuture, guided product strategy at Optimum Lightpath, and overseen marketing and product management at Edgewater Networks. And, of course, he has moderated a number of Channel Partners Conference & Expo panels over the years. All that’s to say Macario, now senior vice president of global channel marketing at Ribbon Communications, stood out as an obvious Top Gun 51 candidate and winner this year. Macario knows the channel and what motivates partners. He also knows how to speak their language, helping them to develop sales strategies and generate leads.


Ribbon Communications’ John Macario

In this Q&A with Channel Partners, Macario talks about his time and work in the channel, his philosophy on leadership, what’s on the horizon from Ribbon, and how he and his team are navigating the difficulties of COVID-19. Hint: Heard of Ribbon Wine Wednesday?

Channel Futures: When and how did you start leading the Ribbon channel?

John Macario: I came to Ribbon through the acquisition of Edgewater Networks in August 2018. Patrick Joggerst, Ribbon’s chief marketing officer, asked me to build out and lead the channel marketing team.

CF: How did you first become involved in the channel? Was it part of your overall career plan?

JM: That presumes that I had a plan [said jokingly]. In the mid-1990s, I had a great job working for the Canadian government as a technology development officer. My job was to help Canadian tech companies sell into the U.S. market and attract venture capital investment. It became clear to me that the only way help was to get channel partners interested in working with my clients. I learned very quickly that having cool technology wasn’t enough. Partners are trying to help their customers solve business problems, so I had to really dig in and understand which of my clients had technology that would do that.

CF: Have you been responsible for building channel programs from the ground up? If so, where did you first start and how has the experience lent itself to your time at Ribbon?

JM: Yes. After a few years of working for the Canadian government, two friends and I started Savatar, a consulting company focused on building channels. We worked with IBM, Verizon, AT&T, FedEx and many others. I learned a lot about partner programs but, more importantly, I got to talk to a lot of partners. They taught me something very simple: Partners will behave in the way your program incentivizes them to behave. I put that to use at Ribbon every day.

CF: What three main channel goals have you accomplished during your Ribbon tenure so far?

JM: The first was to create a team that could support our partners globally. Last year that meant getting on planes and hosting channel events in 17 cities around the world. This year it means hosting virtual events at times that work for partners in Singapore or France, not just New York and California.

Secondly, we found that many of our partners only knew Ribbon for one specific product or service that they happened to be deploying. We needed to do a better job of educating our partners on Ribbon’s very broad solutions portfolio and support them with new product training. We are now seeing partners sell much more of …

… the portfolio and expand their business into new areas like analytics.

Finally, in March of this year, Ribbon merged with ECI Telecom, an Israeli-based packet and optical networking company. The merger brought us a whole new set of partners to support. By October of this year, we have onboarded all of the legacy ECI partners into the Ribbon partner portal.

CF: What makes a channel program successful, and why?

JM: Listening. I mean this very broadly: listening to partners, listening to the market, listening to your analytics and metrics.

CF: One of the reasons you earned a Top Gun 51 award is due to the way you advocate for the channel. Talk more about why that is and why you value the channel so much.

JM: We operate in more than 140 countries and have a very extensive solutions portfolio. There is just no way we could market and sell around the world without our partners. Our partners are advocating for Ribbon every day and we have to do the same for them. When our partners win, Ribbon wins.

CF: What is your philosophy on leadership?

JM: Hire good, smart, driven people, support them and do your best to stay out of their way.

CF: What led you to that philosophy?

JM: The first three bosses that I had in my career were very different people. The first and third embraced that philosophy completely and I loved going to work every day knowing that I could be creative. The second was a micromanager of epic proportions. Everyone who worked for him was overloaded with useless work and knew that if we made a mistake we would never hear the end of it. I vowed that I would never be that guy.

CF: COVID-19 has changed so much of how we all work. What have been the biggest impacts so far when it comes to you and your interactions with the channel?

JM: Not being able to get real-time feedback is an issue. Last year, when we were participating in channel events and sponsoring our own, you knew pretty quickly if an idea was off base or needed to be improved. Putting your feedback or questions in the “chat window” just doesn’t work as well.

CF: How have you navigated those changes — and how have partners responded?

JM: We have been working to have more small group calls with partners, but it is very difficult to scale. We have a mandate on our team that everyone have a decent webcam and that we turn it on. The best calls – the most interactive and valuable calls – are when everyone is on video. Partners appreciate it when they can see you are genuinely interested in what they are saying. Just last week, a colleague and I did a “virtual breakout session” as part of a Ribbon-sponsored event. The instant people joined and saw our video on, the questions started coming and didn’t stop until the end of the event.

CF: What unique approaches have you taken to stay in touch with partners that might fall outside the new Zoom norm?

JM: Ribbon Wine Wednesday! One of my colleagues has a spouse in the wine business. Since April, he has been hosting a group of 10 or so people from a single partner for Wine Wednesday. The wine is shipped to the participants so it arrives a few days ahead of time. We kick off with some small talk, then spend …

… no more than 15 minutes focusing on a single business topic. After that, the winemaker joins and does a guided tasting. This has been a big hit, as you might imagine. Wish I could take credit for it!

CF: Diversity and the fight against racism have become critical topics for business and the nation. What actions do you see the channel taking to improve the situation?

JM: My dad had one piece of advice for me that he repeated over and over: Respect people and they will respect you. I try to practice that every day. For me, this is how we start improving as humans and as a society. Now I’m a dad and I have one piece of advice for my seven-year-old daughter: Be an ally because allies make you stronger.

CF: What plans do you have in store for the Ribbon channel for the rest of 2020 and into 2021?

JM: Our big initiative for the fourth quarter is Ribbon UC Perspectives. We are in the process of running a market research study asking 5,000 enterprises around the world for their views on unified communications, Microsoft Teams and their companies’ responses to COVID-19. We will be sharing that data with our partners through a series of virtual events that will feature country-specific data. In early 2021, we will be working with the channel to launch a number of “as a service” offers for them to take to the enterprise market.

CF: Overall, what have you learned most from your experience with the channel and partners?

JM: Channel people lead interesting lives! It has been great getting to know so many people in our business on a personal level.

CF: What advice would you give someone just starting out in channel leadership?

JM: Never promise a partner something that you don’t intend to follow up on. The business is based on relationships — build good ones.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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