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Red River Exec: Investment Keeps Us On Growth Track

EVP Jeff Sessions explains how Red River's business strategy drove huge growth, propelling it into the top 50 solution providers in 2015.

Jeff Sessions

Red River has been around for just two decades, but the Claremont, N.H.-based solution provider for the federal government has seen nothing but more business over that span, helping it climb 129 spots up CRN’s Solution Provider 500 list last year, landing at No. 49.

Although its growth spiked in 2014, Red River’s revenue has grown at an average annual rate of 20 percent during its 20-year lifespan, according to Jeff Sessions (pictured), executive vice president of corporate strategy. He credits the growth to Red River's "New England work ethic," as the company builds on its capabilities while it shifts toward a recurring-revenue model, staying tightly focused on its core business of services and technology solutions.

"There is a kind of metamorphosis," Sessions said, explaining that the company has, over time, evolved from being a reseller to a VAR to a technology integrator that manages hardware and software for clients with its internal capabilities, such as its network operating center.

[Related: At The Top Of Their Game: The 2015 Solution Provider 500]

"It's been a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "It was a lot of hard work to get there, and I expect that growth to continue, but the hard work will only expand."

In 2013, Red River invested in its recurring-revenue business plan, refocusing the company as a technology integrator by building out its managed services business and unveiling its full-time, 24/7 network operating center, which it later made available to federal clients in 2014.

Sessions called the NOC "the heart" of Red River's managed services business and said the decision to transition to an integrator is the chief reason behind its 95-percent growth from 2012 to 2014.

"When we built our NOC and started adding managed services, we opened up doors within other agencies that we didn’t have before," Sessions said. "That post-sales support that we previously did not offer … (expands) our capabilities through that, and we have hired around it."

Talent Investments

Red River has invested in its personnel, creating a ’capture’ organization that lands large contracts. It has also hired a better-equipped sales force, invested in its engineering staff, and added to its leadership team to fit its evolving business.

Red River's capture organization is headed by Jeff Snider, who came aboard in 2012 to build the team. It has won about $70 billion in contracts from government entities and the private sector, turning more than 90 percent of its sales efforts into deals, Sessions said, making it a huge payoff. "We will still have to compete for parts of those contracts," he said, "but that provides us with the opportunity and that is part of it."

Sessions also said Red River has focused on changing the sales organization by focusing on the potential new growth that comes from a recurring-revenue strategy. He said the sales organization is now better at managing relationships with customers, and assisting them throughout the lifecycles of their business transactions instead of just stopping at the point of sale.

The sales organization is now supported by a program management team, which Sessions said was a "big, heavy investment" that has begun to pay off.

Before that team was created in 2012, Red River's sales personnel handled both sales and implementation. However, as the solutions became more complex, the company saw the need to create a program management group from scratch, recruiting employees with government relationships, OEM knowledge, technical expertise, Project Management Professional certifications and extensive contract management experience. Sessions said Red River will continue to invest in this team to ensure implementations continue to operate optimally.

Even at the top, Red River has been changing, appointing Paul Krein as vice president of digital and cloud solutions in November 2015 and bolstering its previously non-existent cloud business. Krein had previously built and run the Federal Cloud Team at Deloitte after creating the office of chief technology officer within the federal government.

What’s Around The Bend?

Red River will continue to invest, Sessions said, by gaining the highest certifications from its OEM partners – especially for security, collaboration, Big Data and virtualization - and hiring a deep pool of engineering talent.

When the company invests in its partners, Sessions said, it gains a level of comfort with them and its customers because an OEM feels it and Red River are more strategically aligned, making customers more confident in Red River’s capabilities to deliver.

"Although there is no guarantee that business is going to come, you have to make that investment and get there," Sessions said.

However, as Red River continues to offer more progressive technologies such as expanded managed services offerings and its NOC, federal clients may be wary of jumping on board before understanding exactly what the technology can do, or knowing how it can work more efficiently, Sessions said.

But, thanks to the atypical way the company's business is split, with only 5 percent of sales coming from the private sector, Red River has found a way to reassure its government clients.

By implementing its newer and more advanced technology in the private space, Sessions said Red River can smooth out any inefficiencies before it presents the technology to federal clients. That’s what happened with the NOC, Sessions said.

"I didn’t expect it to move into the federal market quickly, because that is a difficult area to play," he said. "But we have had some incredible success with this in the federal government sooner than I expected."

However, new technology is not something Red River is always seeking out for its own sake. Sessions said one of the largest keys to Red River's success is its ability to say "no" to technologies and solutions that don’t fall within the company's core expertise. For example, Sessions said he was anti-cloud for a long time and, initially, did not want to offer the technology. But Red River has since embraced it.

"I try to say to people. ’What defines you as a person and a business is not what you say yes to, but what you say no to,'" he said. Even if a technology may look attractive at first, he added, the company must evaluate it before adding it to the portfolio.

"You have to play that long game, and you have to think about the foundation that you are building and you have to make sure that every step along the way, you are building upon that foundation and not jumping too far out."

Sessions said Red River will continue to evolve toward a recurring-revenue model while investing internally to for future growth.

"As we move along, I think we will start and growing bigger and faster in the future. … Right now, we are just building a bigger foundation for the future. "

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