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VMware's Jenni Flinders: Partners, Find Your Niche

After a skyrocketing career at Microsoft, Jenni Flinders returns to action as VMware’s global channel chief. Here she offers insightful advice for channel partners looking to grow their businesses, make the right investments and align themselves with the best partners.

“Successful partners are known for specific things,” explains Jenni Flinders. “They have a very clear value proposition.”

VMware's Flinders climbed up through the industry during her time at Microsoft. While her gentle voice and lilting accent reveal her origins in South Africa, where she joined Microsoft in 2000 as a midmarket manager, it does not immediately reflect the fierceness of her drive or the passion she brings to her work.

A short seven years later found Jenni serving as general manager of the worldwide partner group and then vice president of the U.S. partner group from 2009 until her departure in 2015.

At the time of her exit, Flinders posted advice on LinkedIn which includes, “Give back, coach, mentor and make others around you great. When someone falls, help them upl when they are up, help them shine brighter.”

She lived what she preached as a board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bellevue, Washington, and the Tateuchi Center, an organization dedicated to promoting “Music, Dance, Theater, and Life.” She serves on both to this day.

Earlier this year, VMware jumped at the opportunity to have Flinders join their team as global channel chief, a role in which she's responsible for developing and executing global channel strategy and programs for VMware’s global ecosystem of solution providers, distributors, OEMs and telecom partners. With many of them working to transition to monthly recurring revenue (MRR) models, Flinders' experience helping to build the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) program enables her to provide extensive leadership to them.

Understand Your Skills

Flinders' immediate response when asked what her best advice to today’s channel partner would be is, “Understand what you’re good at, your niche.”

Jenni insists that today’s channel partner cannot be the proverbial “jack-of-all-trades” any longer, and that they must promote and convey their differentiation.

Jenni Flinders

“There must be something that you do, in your own wheelhouse, that differentiates you across the rest of the industry,” emphasizes Flinders.

She points out such specialization creates opportunities to partner with other partners to fulfill other parts of various projects, pointing out that doing so leverages that differentiation across partnerships that bring more customers and drive new revenue.

Aligning with Vendor Priorities

Just as important as building partnerships with other solution providers is to revisit and refine your vendor strategy.

“As you evaluate your vendor portfolio, identify those who augment your progress in your niche. At the same time, get close to each vendor’s priorities as well,” advises Flinders. “It’s really all about building layers of focus and homing in.”

She then puts her words into action by discussing VMware’s priorities and how partners can best align to take fullest advantage of their VMware partnership.

“Our strategic priorities around technologies include modernizing data centers, integrating public clouds, transforming network and security, and empowering the digital workplace,” says Flinders. “That gives partners several choices, so they need to ask themselves how they can best partner with VMware to build their business and bring value to customers through their solutions.”

Flinders also is quick to point out that “it’s a two-way street, of course. I have to construct programs and tool sets that align with and fit the partner's business model as well, that make it easy for them to engage, that gives them choice, and gives clarity as to how they can monetize the opportunities.”

How to Best Leverage VMware as a Partner

Flinders explains that VMware invests in their partners through the programs and resources they put in place for them emphasizing, “but it’s also about asking what are the partners doing to show they have the commitment, the capability and the confidence to drive VMware sales.”

The most important things to do to show your commitment, capability and confidence include:

  • Getting in front of customers and having conversations.
  • Getting to know who your local VMWare sales team is.
  • Working with your top managers to make sure they are advocating the wins you're driving.
  • Show real examples of customer-success stories that demonstrate your ability to drive projects from end-to-end.

VMware's Most Desirable Partners

Flinders emphasizes that it is not enough just to sign up for the program.

“As our portfolio has advanced dramatically, this year alone we’ve come out with two new competencies; VMware Cloud Competency, and our Master Services Competency.”

She then provides pure clarity on the kind of partners with whom VMware most wants to work.

“The traction we have seen with partners that have aggressively come on board with great capabilities, those are the partners we want to go to market with — those who really show that they want to invest in these areas. And they’re committed, showing that they want to blaze a trail with us, differentiate themselves in the market and show how they definitely want to win with VMware cloud to drive additional growth in their business by helping customers deploy and consume their solutions.”

“And the proof for me that these are the partners I want to work with,” adds Flinders, “is that they burn deep in their investments. Earning all of those competencies requires investment of their time, so that’s where we will lean in.”

Parting Thoughts

Flinders has had the opportunity to see the best partners in action. When asked what the best of the best had in common, she immediately responded:

  • “Those who are quick to identify market trends, stay close to how things are developing, and get in early.”
  • “Those who know it’s a journey and they have to be patient as they build new practices.”
  • “Those who align themselves where they can best differentiate.”
  • “Those who know where to lean in and make the right investments.”
  • “Those who focus on customer value.”
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