New Relic’s Riya Shanmugam shares lesson learned in her first year as channel chief.

November 29, 2022

4 Min Read
12 months in wooden letters

By Riya Shanmugam


Riya Shanmugam

Twelve months ago, I took on a new role as group vice president of global alliances and channels at New Relic. I faced a challenge familiar to many leaders who have built channel organizations in Silicon Valley: take a company that thrives in product-led growth and chart the next phase of sales success at scale with a new and redefined partner organization. Building a partner organization is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m proud of what we achieved during this first year. New Relic established the foundation for long-term growth in its channel organization, and we made it easier for our partners to grow and succeed. But these successes didn’t come without hard work, healthy tension and the ability to learn from our mistakes.

Here’s what I learned over the past 12 months, and what other channel leaders can take away as they grow and develop their own partner organizations.

Build the Foundation with Feedback

Feedback is a gift. It offers insight to help guide thinking, planning and execution, and I knew from my first days at New Relic that we would need to use feedback to guide our first steps. We collected feedback directly from our partners to better understand where we were, where we needed to be and how to get there. We also invited our partners to participate in internal sales kickoff events, partner advisory boards and all-day sessions at our annual company conference, aiming to establish as much in-person contact as possible.

While I came into New Relic with clear ideas on how to build and scale a successful channel organization, the feedback we got from our partners was invaluable. We recognized the need to invest across the board, particularly with enhancements to the resources our partners use daily to learn about and promote our products. Most importantly, we launched new feedback mechanisms to ensure that we always know what’s going on in the field.

Make Partners Part of the Company DNA

When we think about the most successful product companies, many of them achieved success using a product-led growth model. These organizations prioritized launching incredible products and solutions, then using steady improvements to those products to start the sales engine and achieve grassroots growth.

Product-led organizations don’t naturally have the partner DNA that we see at tech behemoths like Oracle, IBM, Microsoft or SAP. One of the biggest challenges during my first year at New Relic was making the channel part of our overall DNA. New Relic will never look or operate like IBM or SAP, but we sell to the same companies and we need to be able to speak a common language with enterprise customers.

For product-led companies to effectively integrate channels and partners, we need to have leaders evangelizing for the importance of a partner ecosystem and the potential cost of not evolving. Of course, advocating for a new sales model and new priorities will always lead to healthy tension or constructive friction. We undoubtedly experienced some well-meaning pushback within the company as we set to expand our channel organization, but we took the time to educate others and make the case for why partners would be indispensable for the next stage of the company’s growth.

Move Forward with Conviction and Grit

Partnerships succeed based on three factors: people working directly with people; mutual trust; and a deep commitment to winning together. Over the last year, I’ve found a tremendous level of conviction both among our alliances and channels team here at New Relic, as well as among our network of partners around the world. We know that an indirect sales ecosystem is essential to reach our long-term goals, and I’m awed by the commitment I see throughout the organization to making that happen.

But for channel leaders at high-growth tech companies, commitment and conviction aren’t quite enough. In order to establish a seat at the table and make the case for an ambitious partner strategy, channel leaders need grit. We need to be persistent and tenacious as we advocate for our role in an organization’s overall growth strategy. I’ve found that grit is contagious in channel organizations and setting that example can make the difference in getting an organization over the goal line.

Success is hard. Change is even harder. I’m grateful for everyone at New Relic and in our partner ecosystem who committed to change and grow during my first year, and I look forward to many more years working together on a foundation of conviction, grit and trust.

Riya Shanmugam is group vice president of global alliances and channels at New Relic. She joined New Relic from Adobe, where she was the global head of cloud adoption and customer success. Prior to Adobe, she served as a customer engineering leader at Google Cloud. She also held technical and strategic advisory roles for IBM, AMD, Infosys and several hyper-growth startups.

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