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Vonage Ushers In New Chapter with Microsoft, VMware Vet as Channel Chief

Bob Crissman previously was channel chief at Alfresco Software.

Edward Gately

October 2, 2017

9 Min Read
Q&A

**Editor’s Note: Click here to see which channel people were on the move in August.**

CHANNEL PARTNERS EVOLUTION — Vonage‘s partner program and channel strategy could use some tweaking to make them more effective and attractive to its network of master agents, subagents, ISVs, VARs and other resellers.

That’s according to Bob Crissman, whom Vonage has hired as its new senior vice president and channel chief. He previously was channel chief at Alfresco Software, where he was responsible for building a new partner program, which grew partner revenue from 50 percent to 70 percent of the business in two years. He also held channel leadership roles at Microsoft and VMware.

At VMware, he oversaw partner strategy, program development and the partner-led midmarket sales model, which grew from zero to $200 million in revenue in less than two years.

Kyle Johnson previously was Vonage’s senior vice president of sales, and Crissman’s role is an expanded channel leadership position. Johnson’s LinkedIn page lists him as the chief sales officer at OnSolve, a SaaS provider.

Kenny Wyatt, Vonage’s chief revenue officer, said Crissman’s appointment as channel chief represents a new chapter for the company and its partners.

Vonage-people-Crissman-right.jpg

Vonage’s Kenny Wyatt (left) and Bob Crissman

“We have someone now who’s an executive dedicated to the channel irrespective of if you’re the largest of SIs to one of our fantastic-producing agents or subagents, and everything in between,” he said. “He’s dedicated to the success of that entire channel. Putting an executive leader in place who wakes up, breathes, eats and lives the channel every single day is an important step to this evolution to get to the growth that we want to with the channel.”

In May, RapidScale acquired the hosted infrastructure services portion of Vonage’s business. RapidScale acquired the employees of this Vonage business unit and the following services: IaaS, hosted exchange, virtual desktop, IT services, hosted firewall, backup services and Microsoft Skype for Business.

This week, Vonage announced it has opened an office in London as part of its global expansion.

In a Q&A from Channel Partners Evolution last week in Austin, Texas, Crissman talks about what differentiates Vonage from its competitors and how he plans to work with partners.

Channel Partners: What made you decide to take the channel chief position with Vonage?

Bob Crissman: One was meeting Kenny (Wyatt) and the rest of the executive team, and there’s really kind of a shared vision for where the business is going. Everybody was in alignment. And two is really what they’re in alignment about. Yes, we have unified communications as a service (UCaaS), but we have the communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) technology as well, and how those two things converge really makes Vonage different than anybody else I can see out there based on the due-diligence that I did. There [are] people that have the CPaaS piece and there [are] people who have the UCaaS piece, but nobody else brings it together. And with the background that I have in software and platforms, I see that and go, “That is pretty amazing,” kind of what I call the secret sauce because …

… all of a sudden you’re not just selling a UCaaS system, you’re selling a solution to business problems, and my experience is what businesses want is solutions to their problems. They don’t care about the technology behind it as much, but they’re like, “I want to get to my customer faster, I want to be more intimate with my customer.” And I think what we have here can solve a lot of those problems from what I’ve seen in the past for those businesses.

CP: What’s your take on Vonage’s current partner program and channel strategy?

BC: Kenny and I have talked about this. We did talk before I got here, and I think we have a lot of great pieces in place. There [are] pieces of greatness, it’s how do we bring those pieces together into something that’s a little bit more cohesive. My experience with channel partners, and this is everything from your smallest boutique VAR or agent, to your biggest SIs, is there [are] a few things they really want. They want you to be easy to do business with and they want consistency. And I think we have a lot of these pieces, that although they’re really strong pieces, because we haven’t tied them together as well, we probably haven’t been quite as easy as we need to do business with and we haven’t been quite as consistent. So I think a lot of this is going to be bringing these pieces together to really make it hum. And so I see that and I’ve kind of seen this movie before, so I feel it’s all very fixable.

And then when we talk about the channel strategy, we’ve really got to go back and take a look at the all-up go-to-market strategy because I can have a great channel strategy, but if it’s all different than what Kenny’s thinking from go-to-market all up, that’s not going to fly. So it’s really how this comes together and how do you have direct sales, channel and marketing, and then delivery, too, a very important piece of it. How do all come together with one strategy as we’re going forward? So I guess my hope would be I don’t have a channel strategy, but we have a go-to-market strategy collectively.

CP: So we’re likely to see channel program enhancements?

BC: Yes. But I never want to do that in a vacuum. For me to come in and say, “Well, I know the answer to all of this,” would be really obnoxious. … I’ve got to really get to know the team, and find out from them what’s working and what’s not. And what’s been great about being here (at Channel Partners Evolution) is getting to talk to the partners because I have an end customer, but the partner is my customer as well, so I want to find out what works well and what doesn’t work well from their perspective, and then if there’s somebody who’s doing it great, let me know what it is that makes it great so I can go and replicate that. There’s no point in my reinventing the wheel if there’s a great way of doing it already. So I always kind of like to see what I can do to take those best practices and bring it together.

CP: What have you been speaking to partners? What are they telling you?

BC: Just the energy and excitement that these guys and gals have is amazing, and you don’t always see that. I’ve worked for a lot of companies and some of the companies I’ve worked for the partners might have respected us, but they weren’t really excited about us or they didn’t love us. These partners seem really excited about Vonage, about the offering we have and about the potential moving forward. And a lot of that goes back to the statement I made before about CPaaS and UCaaS coming together. These partners are smart; they see what’s out there and they see that as something that can not only …

… allow Vonage to differentiate ourselves, it’s going to allow them to differentiate themselves from other partners that are out there, other agents that are out there.

CP: Is there something in your previous experience concerning partner programs and/or partner strategies that you see as applying to your new role with Vonage?

BC: What’s important is being transparent. We want to be transparent with (partners) and we need them to be transparent with us. So there needs to be a level of trust there and that takes some time to build. These partners don’t know me from anybody at this point. I’m meeting these people and I can tell a good story, but I need to be able to walk the walk. So my hope would be as we move forward, three months, six months, a year from now, they’re going to see we’re not just talking, but we’re walking, and that we’re in this together, and we’re being transparent with them about here’s something that’s working and here’s something that’s not. So it’s more of a philosophy that I bring to it than any one piece I can point to. We’ve all built channel programs before and you have your pyramid and your different levels, and there [are] only so many ways to do that. But I’d say it’s more the philosophy of being open, of being transparent, and making sure you approach it as a partnership. It’s a 50-50 deal, I’ve got to bring something to them and they’ve got to bring something to us.

CP: So how are you approaching your new role and preparing on a daily basis?

BC: I’m lucky in that I’m coming in at a great time because we’re wrapping up the year and obviously there are plans in place for this year, but I get to be involved in helping to set the agenda for next year, which to me is pretty important (as opposed to) if I walked in on Jan. 1 and everything was baked and we execute on somebody else’s plan. I want to figure out the right plan to put together and the way I want to do that is to go out and talk to as many partners as I can. Again, I’ve got to figure out what works for them. Whatever I think might work is great, but if it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t make any difference. So it’s really going out, talking to the partners, understanding what might work and what will work, and also I’d like to segment the market … and kind of figuring out what’s going to work down at the lower end of the market versus what’s going to work at the higher end. And understanding that from the partners that play in those spaces so we don’t just have one program that “peanut butter’s” it, but we have a program that differentiates based on the way that they think of the customers. So it’s really listening, digesting and then turning around and putting out something that’s going to work for them.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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