Rackspace Brings In Former Microsoft Exec To Lead Channel Sales, Revamp Partner Approach

Rackspace Hosting has brought in former Microsoft executive Will Knight to head up its channel program and drive the development of a more strategic partner approach, the company said Monday.

Knight said he plans to reinvest in the channel and refocus on partners in his role as vice president of channel partner sales.

In particular Knight said that, under his leadership, Rackspace will focus on creating specialization and simplification for its partners to understand how to make more money. He said the company will also work to focus on transparency to make it clearer how partners will engage with Rackspace and get the most profitable growth from their partnership.

"I think the great thing is we have a great environment to [move forward with] some of the things we want to do with partners but had been challenged to get the bandwidth for in the past," Knight said. "I think you'll find that across the board that we're simplifying the program [in terms of] how to engage with us and [we're] specializing partners," he said.

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Knight brings more than 20 years of experience in the SMB market, including more than 15 years at Microsoft both in the U.S. and overseas. He most recently served as the senior director of Microsoft's Asia Pacific SMB business. Knight will be in charge of building out the channel programs and pushing forward sales at Rackspace, San Antonio, Texas. Knight was first brought on board in December, but was not publicly announced until Monday.

With all of the competition out there from cloud giants Google, Microsoft and Amazon, Knight said that Rackspace is seeking to differentiate itself on the depth and specificity that it can provide to and through its partners, instead of trying to compete on price.

"We know that we have to be targeted because we're not going to compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon on price because we will not win," Knight said.

Where Rackspace and its partners can win, Knight said, is on its specialist capabilities. Rackspace is looking for partners with tens and hundreds of deals, rather than thousands, he said, because they are able to go "deeper in customer engagement."

Anurag Mehta, COO of SkillNet Solutions, Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Rackspace partner, said that Rackspace's realignment and Knight's push further into the specialized program is allowing his company to bolster its global retail system integration expertise with the hybrid cloud solutions and Fanatical support. By joining those two, Mehta said the specialization allowed him to help create a "more custom tailored and focused solution designed specifically with the retail customer in mind."

"This level of specialization allows us to deliver retail solutions to our clients faster with meaningful and flexible offerings. Collaborating under this new specialized program ultimately helps us to build our businesses together," Mehta said.

NEXT: Partners 'Hungry' For Help

One part of that conversation with partners is the investments Rackspace is making in its technology, Knight said, especially in digital commerce and digital content delivery. The other piece of the conversation, he said, is helping partners engage on a different level with their clients. Knight said Rackspace is helping partners approach their clients more with a business focus, instead of from a purely technological standpoint. And partners are "hungry" for the help.

"With more and more spend going from the CIO to the CMO, we have to shift that conversation. We have to go where the money is, and that’s with the CMO," Knight said. "I think that’s fantastic. I love how partners ask, 'How can we sell better together to the client?' That’s the type of partnerships were looking for," he said.

Going forward, Knight said to expect to see a Rackspace that is "no longer an SMB company, which is exciting." He said to expect continued focus on specialized areas and continued wins in the enterprise space as it bolsters its partner program.