FireEye's Chris Carter Wins 2019 CRN Channel Madness Championship


Chris Carter had a difficult task in front of him when he took over as FireEye's Americas channel chief in 2016.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based cybersecurity vendor was primarily relying on its channel for low-margin fulfillment business, Carter said, and hadn't been focused on driving deep relationships with its top partners.

Three years later, it's a very different story. Under Carter, FireEye has doubled the size of its Americas channel staff to more than 40, increased its share of product business flowing through the channel from less than 70 percent to 90 percent, and dramatically boosted partner profitability by enabling the channel to provide managed and deployment services with margins in excess of 50 percent.

Carter's work at FireEye has been recognized by peers and partners alike, catapulting him to the winner's circle in the 2019 CRN Channel Madness Tournament of Chiefs. The three-week tournament kicked off March 14 with 32 of the industry's top channel chiefs vying for the title and ended with Carter being crowned the champion.

Sponsored post

"It's a little unbelievable at this point that my team and my channels provided the support needed to beat these larger companies," Carter told CRN. "I'm really overwhelmed and excited. This is just completely unexpected."

Carter, vice president of channels for the Americas at FireEye, won the Channel Madness championship matchup against Jeff McCullough of NetApp with 62 percent of the vote. As far as channel partners that work closely with Carter are concerned, his victory is well-earned.

Carter has imbued simplicity and enablement into FireEye's partner program, said Chris Young, president of ISM, a Rockville, Md.-based solution provider. That infusion makes it the best program ISM has seen from any of the 20 cybersecurity vendors the company works with, Young said.

Carter gets that communicating effectively with partners is just as important as the features in the program itself, Young said, and his team does a great job of making it clear which discounts and incentives a partner is eligible for. He's also been a great champion for partners within FireEye, Young said, getting the sales team and corporate leadership fully on board supporting the channel.

"Their teams get it," Young said. "Their teams understand the channel. They don't see us as competition."

Carter does his homework before making changes, Young said, and doesn't needlessly tinker or meddle with programs that are working effectively, such as FireEye's initiatives in the U.S. federal space.

And on a personal level, Young said Carter is very relaxed and laid-back, and is good at getting his team to act quickly if a partner wants something to be changed.

"I feel good walking up to him and being able to chat with him and have a really good conversation," Young told CRN. "He's very personable, very approachable, and listens."

Carter is most proud of the efforts FireEye has made to improve its field engagement with the company's top 100 to 120 partners in North America. Carter said he tasked regional directors with taking ownership over the success of key partners in their geography, and asked the field reps to focus on building business collaboratively with partners rather than simply passing business along to them.

The efforts have paid dividends, Carter said, with FireEye increasing its deal registrations by double digits on a year-over-year basis. This will help FireEye with its push to expand into the midmarket by leveraging the relationships of its partner community.

"We've built trust with our top partners," Carter said. "We've gone deep with them, and we have good engagements in the field with them."

Carter said his approach to the channel has three key principles: say what you're planning to do and do what you say; build trust in the trenches; and provide a financial opportunity that incents partners to want to engage and lead with FireEye. And Carter said support and engagement from FireEye's corporate and sales leadership have made it possible for him to deliver on his promises to partners.

"It really takes the entire company to make this work," Carter said. "You really need to have the top executives’ support to deliver everything we commit to delivering."

Carter's vast experience provides him with an innate understanding of what's important to partners, and he excels at matching up the needs of the channel with the capabilities of his organization, said Brian Haboush, vice president of sales at Chicago-based Nexum, No. 179 on the 2018 CRN Solution Provider 500.

Carter is good at making sure everyone is heard and working through channel conflict situations in a friendly, fair and professional manner, Haboush said.

"He's a seasoned veteran. He's very charismatic, and knows the channel business better than anybody," Haboush said. "He just has a consistent track record."

Another executive with a consistent track record is NetApp's McCullough, Carter's rival in the final round.

McCullough, NetApp's Americas channel chief, joined the company less than two years ago, but he is already an old hand when it comes to Channel Madness, given that this is his second year in a row to be one of the two finalists.

While he could be forgiven a bit of braggadocio for making it to the finals two years in a row, McCullough would rather give credit for his success to others.

"I certainly appreciate participating in the event," he told CRN. "Last year I said the same thing, which is I don’t think it’s a lot about me. It’s about NetApp’s position in the market. It’s about what NetApp represents to our partners. So, to the extent that my name does well, it’s really NetApp that does well in these kind of things because it’s a testament to what our partners value most."

That sentiment is echoed by one of NetApp's top channel partners, who told CRN that McCullough is all about his team.

"Jeff has built a team of channel people who go out of their way to help me make money," said Glenn Dekhayser, field chief technology officer at Red8, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based solution provider and long-time NetApp channel partner. "It's not just Jeff. His entire team is doing what it needs to do to drive business through the channel."

Success in the channel doesn’t happen without a really good team that delivers its message in person, Dekhayser said. "They are flexible where they need to be, and remain focused on the channel," he said. "That's why we are having a real good year with NetApp."

That said, McCullough deserves recognition as one of the IT industry's best channel chiefs, Dekhayser said.

"It's really the discipline that he drives through the organization that makes the team a good partner to us," he said.

McCollough and his team have made NetApp's channel partners a priority, allowing them to provide as much of the services and support to customers as they are able to.

"Partners want to deliver support services," McCullough said. "They can get authorized to do first-level and second-level support, package that up as a service, and then offer it to their customers. So they can really provide cradle-to-grave life-cycle management for our customers all with their product, with their people. And that to me is the more powerful part of our channel story: what we do to put partners to work and create a really strong economy built around our product portfolio, which is also growing."

McCollough and his team most recently have been helping NetApp partners by providing a full range of channel benefits focused on the long-term transition from on-premises storage to a hybrid architecture that ties on-premises and cloud infrastructures seamlessly with the company's Data Fabric technology.

"Today, we're accelerating and continuing to grow in flash, but we're in HCI, we're in cloud, we're in near-memory platforms which is our MaxData platform, or StorageGrid object-based, or E-series low-cost capacity-based storage," he said.

NetApp's portfolio is aimed at helping partners help customers solve four big challenges, McCullough said: how to modernize enterprise applications, how to tackle artificial intelligence, how to migrate and continue to innovate in the cloud, and how to accelerate and grow devops.

"Those four areas, for us, is how you're going to see us go to market with our partners, and how we want to go lead the conversations with customers," he said.