The Doyle Report: Riverbed ‘Rises’ to the Midmarket Opportunity
That’s the number of key reseller partners that Riverbed once counted on to achieve its revenue goals.
For a period, the strategy worked. Working with a relative handful of partners, Riverbed was able to penetrate a number of targeted accounts and build a sustainable following among federal government and enterprise customers.
But then the San Francisco company’s ambitions grew beyond WAN optimization technology. In the years that followed the debut of its SteelHead product in 2004, the San Francisco-based company expanded into performance management and control technology (2009), hyperconverged infrastructure solutions for remote office and branch office (ROBO) environments (2012) and SD-WAN (2016).
As its portfolio grew, so did its need for additional partners.
Enter former Cisco channel partner marketing veteran Bridget Bisnette. Originally brought in to assess the opportunity for Riverbed to go down-market, Bisnette accepted an offer to oversee the Riverbed channel in May 2017. Today she serves as the company’s vice president and global channel chief of commercial sales. Since joining the company 10 months ago, she’s relished the opportunity to take Riverbed to places it’s never been. This includes the midmarket customer segment, which represents as much as $4.6 billion in incremental revenue, according to company estimates.
Bisnette likes the new role. She even likes commuting to downtown San Francisco from her home in the East Bay, save for the BART train.
“I love the city,” Bisnette says. “I’m energized and excited every time I’m here.”
Over coffee recently, Bisnette and I discussed Riverbed’s new Rise channel program while peering out the windows of one the company’s sixth-floor conference rooms. They overlook the remodeled San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (It, by the way, has a new exhibit that runs through the end of May that features the conference room used by the famed husband-and-wife design team of Charles and Ray Eames.)
The opportunity to acquire new customers and drive account penetration is equally stimulating, Bisnette says. To achieve her goals, she has had to develop new strategies that run counter to the company’s traditional culture. Before Bisnette arrived, for example, Riverbed relied on a high-touch, people-intensive sales model. Every deal was unique, every customer installation bespoke.
Knowing that wouldn’t scale to the midmarket, Bisnette launched the redesigned Riverbed Rise partner program in early 2018. The design objectives were simple: Increase sales velocity and align go-to-market efforts with emerging customer buying and consumption habits.
The latter are particularly important to Bisnette, who believes significant changes are afoot. In a mere few years, selling technology will be different than today, she says. Channel companies will not need as many technical engineers to satisfy customer demands; instead, they will need more business strategists who can help customers get the most from their investments.
Recognizing this shift won’t happen overnight, Bisnette built the new Rise program with as much flexibility, simplicity and profitability as possible. In the new program, for example, there are four times the number of financial rewards available as before.
With the introduction of the Rise program – along with a new partner portal, expanded marketing tool set and simplified discount schedules – Riverbed is moving from a traditional, compliance-based program with rewards tied to certifications and revenue to a new performance-based program. In the Rise program, for example, discounts are decoupled from certifications. Furthermore, external goals are harmonized with internal objectives.
“Unlike most programs, the things we are asking our partners to do are in parallel with what we are asking our salespeople to do,” says Bisnette. This includes cross-selling against the entire Riverbed portfolio, and acquiring new “logos” or customers.
With a nod to simplicity, Riverbed designed Rise to accommodate all partners, regardless of business model. Instead of separate programs for companies that offer managed services, resale and integration or business consulting, Riverbed built one program for all.
“Whether you resell, buy for yourself or offer technology as a service, we have one program for all of our partner types to coexist within a very simple framework. Partners decide where they want to focus,” Bisnette says.
To help partners achieve success, Riverbed has introduced a new customer-segmentation strategy, which helps to improve resource allocation and reduce channel conflict among Riverbed’s inside sales team, its field sales force and its third-party partners. Riverbed has also embraced a Retain, Acquire and Develop (RAD) marketing strategy, which helps prioritize opportunities among the 23,000 commercial accounts identified by the company as prospects. (Prior to Bisnette’s arrival, Riverbed had identified just 1,300 accounts in the midmarket customer segment worth targeting.)
With so many more accounts to pursue, Riverbed is obviously bringing on new partners. But it hasn’t put out a “help wanted” sign per se, at least in North America. This is because Riverbed knows who it wants to sell to. If a partner can help penetrate one of its targeted customers, then it will be recruited into Riverbed’s fold.
Take a company like Howard Medical, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of medical carts to health-care providers in the U.S. The company is a division of Howard Industries, a $500 million technology reseller with a footprint in transportation, lighting, power and more. With Riverbed technology integrated into one of the company’s medical carts, Howard Medical can offer customers carts whose condition, whereabouts, security and utilization can be tracked in real time.
“They are a perfect partner for us,” says Bisnette.
And so are plenty of others in markets and industries all across the U.S. In all, Riverbed today does business with roughly 3,000 partners around the world. In the U.S., the company continues to do most of its enterprise business through a relative handful of companies. But in the midmarket, things are changing. In addition to welcoming new partners, Bisnette is focusing her efforts on existing Riverbed partners that sell only one or two of its innovations. Increasing the productivity of these companies is the fastest way to grow revenue, Bisnette says.
As the world leader in WAN optimization technology, Bisnette believes SD-WAN supremacy is her company’s market opportunity to lose. To that end, she is very excited about several announcements that the company is expected to make in the March-April time frame that will strengthen its position in the market.
Shortly thereafter in August, Riverbed will launch the full implementation of the Rise program.
Like many brands and monikers associated with the company, the name “Rise” comes the world of fly fishing. When sufficiently stimulated, a fish will jump or “rise” out of the water to take a bite at a lure. While Bisnette gets the tie-in to the company’s legacy branding efforts, she is adamant that pursing one opportunity at a time in the midmarket won’t work for Riverbed.
“Where Riverbed could historically stand in the stream with one pole and look for one fish, we are now at the mouth of the river and need a net to catch those fish. And we need partners to help hold that net,” says Bisnette.