Channel News

2023 Channel Chiefs: Providing Channel Leadership In Uncertain Times

CRN Staff

Solution providers today face a long list of challenges, from economic uncertainty and supply chain disruptions to shortages of skilled workers. Successful channel executives recognize the increasingly strategic role played by solution providers play and develop strategies and create partner programs that help partners meet those challenges. Here are our 2023 Channel Chief honorees.

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The IT industry and the channel entered 2023 with what may be the greatest economic uncertainty in decades with businesses facing inflation, rising interest rates, ongoing supply chain disruptions and warning signs of a possible recession.

Add to that the accelerating rate of technology evolution, the shift to hybrid home-office work practices, cybersecurity threats that are growing in number and sophistication, and the never-ending search for skilled tech workers, and you’ve got quite the list of challenges facing IT vendors and their channel partners.

Solution providers are playing an increasingly strategic role in how IT vendors go to market and meet the needs of their customers. And that means more demands on channel executives and the partner programs they develop and manage.

“Partners are choosing their line cards very carefully,” said Frank Rauch, global channel chief at Cato Networks, Tel Aviv, Israel, in an interview with CRN. “The economy is probably not where we need it to be, and this is a time of choice for some channel partners even though they may be very, very comfortable with some of the vendors on their line card right now.”

As it does each year, CRN has assembled the CRN 2023 Channel Chiefs, a list of the preeminent channel chiefs in the IT industry. On you can find the complete list of the CRN 2023 Channel Chiefs, along with their profiles, their channel achievements and other information. We also provide their answers to such questions as where they want their channel partners to invest this year and what they see as the biggest challenges for partners in 2023.

The 50 Most Influential Channel Chiefs of 2023 are an elite group drawn from the larger pool of channel chief honorees each year that represent the cream of the IT channel crop – leaders who drive the channel agenda and evangelize the importance of channel partnerships.

As part of the channel chiefs application process, we also asked channel executives a number of deeper questions and we have posted a sampling of their answers. Questions included where channel chiefs would like to see partners invest in 2023, what they see as partners’ biggest challenges in the new year, their opinions on tiered “metals-based” channel programs, and even their personal philosophy of the channel.

Successful channel chiefs understand the need to convert more solution providers into strategic partners in the midst of an uncertain economy by investing heavily to help partners differentiate themselves from the crowd. Across the industry top channel executives are developing strategies to provide channel partners with the products and resources they need to be successful.

“Customers are looking for business outcomes: fast, flexible, simple solutions and more automation and self-serve capabilities. They expect offers and services to be more personalized, provide an even better experience, and create value through innovation. It‘s clear that no customer, vendor, or partner can deliver all this on their own. We need to build offers and solutions together, co-creating and co-developing to deliver an amazing customer experience,” said Oliver Tuszik, Cisco Systems senior vice president, global partner sales, and general manager of routes to market, in his channel chief questionnaire.

At virtualization tech leader VMware, the channel strategy for 2023 has two prongs: One is to get solution providers to take on higher-level services, and the second is to drive more opportunities to partners, said Ricky Cooper, head of worldwide partner and commercial sales at VMware, Palo Alto, Calif. That includes VMware’s new Partner Connect 2.0 program, slated to officially launch in this year’s first quarter, that will place more emphasis on partners becoming technically proficient, offering systems integrators points for services as well as test and development work.

“We will make a huge effort to ensure that we’re passing as many services opportunities as we can to our partner ecosystem, and you’ll see a huge change there,” Cooper said. “Things are really opening up [for partners].”

One key initiative to create more strategic relationships with VMware partners is creating a new top partner tier dubbed Pinnacle. “The relationships with our Pinnacle partners will have a much tighter level of engagement such as executive sponsorship, managed account coverage and joint business plan development,” Cooper said.

There is sometimes a knee-jerk tendency to pull back from channel investments in uncertain economic times, but the “smart” vendors leverage the channel’s wealth of talent, said Scott Winslow, president and founder of Waltham, Mass.-based Winslow Technology Group.

“We have sales, engineering, marketing, finance services, managed services folks that we are employing on our payroll that are available to our [vendor] partners. What better way for them to become more efficient themselves than to do more with a channel?” Winslow said.

“The first and most important thing is partner profitability and making sure that our partners are successful in doing business with us and through us to our customers,” said Riya Shanmugam, group vice president, global alliances and channels at New Relic, a San Francisco-based developer of observability software.

In 2022 New Relic launched a significant revamp of its channel program with the goal of helping partners move beyond reselling New Relic products to providing services around the New Relic platform and become thought leaders in the observability space. The new program offered an expanded lineup of training and accreditation opportunities, sales tools and resources, marketing campaigns and additional personnel support.

“We‘ve got to craft the right incentive model that not only incentivizes our partners for bringing in new business and working with joint customers, but also aligns incentives that best map with how [partners] can help grow product adoption and usage of our products that translates into growth and revenue both for them and for us,” Shanmugam said in an interview with CRN.

Karl Fahrbach, SAP chief partner officer, said his top priority in 2023 is to amplify the value partners bring to customers and SAP. “SAP’s cloud software and services are essential to helping customers grow their business, and partners are instrumental to bringing this transformation to life,” Fahrbach said in a written response to CRN. “In 2023 my focus is on empowering partners to grow and scale their business profitably, especially through our public cloud offerings. Partners can expect a sharpened focus on the key enablers that will help them expand their market reach, boost innovation, and accelerate customer transformation.”

Another vendor looking to win more partner mindshare by investing heavily in the channel is Amazon Web Services. The Seattle-based cloud giant is forming strategic collaboration agreements (SCAs) with more partners, laying out AWS’ commitment to train, enable and pass along customer opportunities to partners if they agree to invest in areas such as hiring AWS professionals, growing their AWS portfolio offerings and winning new customers.

Fast-growing solution provider Innovative Solutions recently signed an SCA through which AWS is investing to help the Rochester, N.Y.-based partner build new sales teams that are business-outcome-oriented versus transactional, quickly train and certify new hires, and offer dedicated AWS salespeople to work hand-in-hand with Innovative Solutions.

“AWS wants us to help drive 1,000 net-new AWS SMB customers over the next four years, which is a huge lift that we wouldn’t be able to do without them,” said Justin Copie, Innovative Solutions CEO. “As part of the SCA, we’ll hire 200 new people. … Even in this economy, we’re hiring – not firing.”

AWS is helping partners build new practices at breakneck speed in high-demand areas like data analytics and machine learning, while also helping partners sell faster via the AWS Marketplace.

“They need armies of partners that are aligned to the core values of AWS,” said Copie. “They’re really looking to see where their most strategic partners can lead customer journeys instead of AWS leading those journeys. The opportunity is just so massive.”

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