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2020 Channel Chiefs: Laser-Focused On Partners

As managers of the juncture between IT vendors and their partners, channel chiefs have a tough job. But with a laser focus, they are rolling out new incentives and training, updating programs and making sure the channel’s value resonates far and wide.

With the economy holding steady, earlier fears of a recession fading and global IT spending expected to grow 3.4 percent in 2020 to reach $3.9 trillion according to research firm Gartner, these remain good times for the IT industry and for the channel. The challenge for the channel today is meeting the demand for IT solutions that go beyond core functionality, providing the software, services and expertise that customers are demanding as they grow, adopt cloud computing architectures and undertake digital transformation initiatives.

All this means more demands on IT vendors’ channel programs–and on the executives who manage those programs.

As managers of the juncture between IT vendors and their channel partners, channel chiefs have a tough job. They are responsible for making sure that partners have access to a vendor’s product portfolio, have the necessary training to sell and support those products, and have access to sales and marketing resources–all while offering partners the right incentives and preventing channel conflict with a vendor’s own sales operations.

Their jobs also include ongoing change within the channel as resellers morph into solution providers and solution providers evolve into strategic service providers, and sales start to shift toward recurring revenue from cloud services and consulting expertise.

Channel chiefs have responded by launching new channel programs and initiatives to recruit and support partners. Google Cloud’s debut of its Partner Advantage program in July, for example, is the fulfillment of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s vow to increase investments in channel programs and recruit more partners who sell Google Cloud products, provide services around those products and build solutions on the Google Cloud Platform.

“We're seeing massive momentum within our partner ecosystem. Our goal is not to flood the market with a high volume of partners, but to create a vibrant customer focused pool of partners with the highest level of customer satisfaction, vertical expertise, and depth of knowledge in unlocking the innovation of Google Cloud,” said Carolee Gearhart, Google vice president of worldwide channel sales, in answering a channel chief application question about partner community growth.

Gearhart recently told CRN that the number of Google Cloud certified partners has grown 300 percent year over year. In that timeframe there has been an 85 percent increase in the number of partner-sourced deals and a 190 percent increase in partner-influenced Google Cloud revenue.

Intel gave partners a new way to grow with the December debut of the Intel Solutions Marketplace, a major pillar of the chipmaker’s revamped channel program. Also in December, Amazon Web Services rolled out the AWS Service Ready Program, part of the AWS Partner Network, designed to showcase partner products that integrate with AWS Lamda, AWS PrivateLink and Amazon Redshift. And Aruba Networks, an HPE company, launched Aruba Edge Certification, a cross-domain certification that reflects the converging IT industry by certifying expertise in mobility, switching, design and security.

For SAP Chief Partner Officer Karl Fahrback, partner feedback has been key. “We want to make sure we are listening to our partners and improving the partner experience,” Fahrbach said in an interview with CRN. He did just that in January, traveling the world, meeting with partners at regional and country-specific sales kickoff meetings and establishing global, regional and country partner councils. His goals for 2020: Ensure partners have the capacity to deliver SAP systems like S/4HANA, develop the business models they need to innovate and develop intellectual property that extends SAP technology, and use partner feedback to help SAP meet their needs.

And top channel chiefs succeed by making sure partners are prepared to take advantage of every market opportunity. In an interview with CRN, Microsoft channel chief Gavriella Schuster noted that partners have massive opportunities in security and trusted cloud, in modern workplace collaboration, in AI service delivery and in data management and analytics.

Here we present the 2020 Channel Chiefs, this year’s edition of CRN’s annual list of the leading channel executives and what they’ve been doing to stay on top of today’s rapidly changing IT industry and channel community. Our 50 Most Influential Channel Chiefs of 2020, designated with a star on the following pages, are an elite group drawn from the larger pool of honorees.

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