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CRN Exclusive: NetApp Simplifies Channel Program, Extends Benefits To All Partner Types

NetApp's channel program changes recognize the fact that legacy infrastructure and new areas including cloud, DevOps and digital transformation are all crucial to success and that it needs a way to support partners regardless of how they approach customers.

Storage vendor NetApp is making a number of significant changes to its channel program to simplify rebates and ensure that partners of all types, even those without a traditional hardware focus, can benefit.

NetApp is not rolling out a new channel program but is instead expanding and simplifying its existing one to make it easier for partners to differentiate themselves and get the benefits regardless of their business types, said Chris Lamborn, NetApp's head of worldwide partner go-to-market and programs.

"Simplicity will be huge," Lamborn told CRN. "There's a lot of complexity out there."  

[Related: NetApp Ties MAX Data To Intel Optane SD, Makes Server Memory Part Of Cloud Infrastructure]

NetApp is moving in the right direction when it comes to building a channel program that benefits all partners, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime NetApp channel partner.

"This is not an either/or," Woodall told CRN. "You have legacy business out there which has years of opportunity [left]. But you also have the new DevOps and cloud business you need to go after. NetApp has the footprint needed on both sides."

With the changes to its channel program, NetApp is driving for consistency around its go-to-market activities related to hybrid cloud, partner-led services, and partner rewards and levels, Lamborn said.  

"We want partners to not be afraid of what customers are buying," he said. "We want to make sure they benefit regardless of what they buy."

The first big change to the partner program is to ensure that partners get paid automatically when bringing in new business, Lamborn said.  

"We will be paying partners automatically every time the partner sells into a new customer or increases its footprint in existing partners," he said. "We'll cut a check. There's no need to apply. We're still working with a new business cap benefit of $220,000. We're just making it easier for partners."

That’s a good move, Woodall said. "There are bonuses and rebates," he said. "But let's face it: Everyone likes faster payments."

More important is how NetApp is recognizing the significance of how quickly the profile of individual customers is changing and rewarding partners for expanding business in existing clients, Woodall said.

"When you sell all-flash arrays, you're not talking to the person who buys cloud in the customer," he said. "But it's still a NetApp customer. There's a whole team of people in cloud and DevOps who we need to talk to about the business. That's also the definition of net-new."

The second change is how NetApp will bring on new partners by shifting from a focus on the company's Ontap-based products, Lamborn said.  

"Now partners can join the program with a focus on cloud solutions, or HCI [hyper-converged infrastructure] solutions," he said. "We're starting to appeal to new partners coming into NetApp. Before, we focused on traditional partners. We are no longer looking at how partners label themselves. We look at how they sell, and where they sell."

The third change is a new "as-a-service" certification targeting those partners who add services related to NetApp, Lamborn said.  

"It's hard for many partners to expand the services business," he said. "So we're supporting them with our services. We'll put NetApp people who came from hyper-scalers or large service providers into accounts to help them build their services business. They came to NetApp to act as a consultancy for partners, including those who are having problems with how to comp reps and charge for services."

A lot of NetApp partners still sell things, but they need to be able to ask customers what they really need, including on-premises infrastructure and on-premises or hybrid or public cloud, and the required managed services, Woodall said.

"When customers get tired of building infrastructures, they want to move forward with managed services," he said. "The new as-a-service certification reflects the reality that as customers move to services and multi-cloud business, there are some skills they don't have."  

Deploying infrastructure is easy, but the day after everything is done, customers need services, which opens the door for new types of partners to benefit and for existing partners to grow, Woodall said.

"The new certification allows partners like us to participate with certified partners on joint solutions," he said. "We have partners in our portfolio we work with on services but who have not been certified yet. The certification makes it easier for us to work together."  

The fourth is to increase partner differentiation by introducing a new top tier, the Global Star level partner, Lamborn said.

"These will be highly selected partners with global selling rights and certified across multiple geographies," he said. "We'll work with partners on unique programs for them."

For other solution providers looking to differentiate, NetApp is also adding a new recognition for those who can help customers with digital transformation, Lamborn said.  

"We need to identify partners with digital transformation capabilities, recognize them, and differentiate them," he said. "We're adding more trainings and certifications. … But we realize that new capabilities like digital transformation don't just result from single vendors. So we will recognize partners' capabilities, and not just their NetApp capabilities."

NetApp's message has been focused on Data Fabric, which is not just a technology but a connection across the customer's entire infrastructure, Woodall said.  

"The ability to call out a partner for digital transformation shows how Data Fabric is a key component of that strategy," he said. "In a world of digital transformation and other trends, people need to know NetApp sells great storage. This is a way to communicate that."

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