Zoom Channel Chief: Video Giant Sees Partners As ‘Force Multipliers’

“The 2.0 version [of Zoom Up] is not a done version. You continue to really enhance, you learn, and you get feedback, and you really have to keep going with these things. We’ll never cross the finish line,” Zoom Channel Chief Todd Surdey told CRN.

Videoconferencing giant Zoom is now doing about 30 percent of its business through the channel globally, a figure that the company is only looking to increase as it leans more heavily on channel partners of all kinds, Todd Surdey, head of global channels and business development for Zoom, told CRN.

The company, once a video provider that focused on going to market directly to business customers as well as consumers, is pouring more resources into its partner program, Zoom Up. At Zoomtopia 2023 this week, the company also hosted Partner Connect led by Surdey to go over the revamped Zoom Up “2.0” program, as well as share updates and enhancements to the portfolio of collaboration solutions that partners should know about.

Two of the biggest opportunities for partners, according to Surdey (pictured), are within contact center and Zoom Phone, a cloud-based offering that debuted in 2019. In fact, more than 60 percent of Zoom Contact Center bookings closed through partners in the first half of this year.

Surdey sat down with CRN to talk about the updated partner program, the new investments and resources that Zoom is offering partners, the “insane” contact center growth that came through partners in the first half of 2023, and his goals for the company’s channel partners and what Zoom partners can expect heading into 2024.

Here are excepts from the conversation.

Does Zoom has its sights set on different partner types and new partners?

We’re going across many different partner types, for sure. If you look at the base of our program and starting where Zoom started, it really started more so in the TSP [telecom service provider], sub agent market for us. And why? Because it’s a very direct model. At the time we were very direct, so the referral model, it comes in, you work with reps, you grow that. Where we are right now in that journey is how do we get to the force multipliers? And that is really about bringing in resellers. It’s about bringing in the disties. It’s about bringing in GSIs [global systems integrators]. It’s about accelerating and growing and maturing our service provider business. It’s about accelerating our ISV business. We have an investor alliances group also that works with PE firms and VC firms, and how do we do right programs by these different types of companies?

So, the [Zoom Up] program is really enhanced to actually take care of those wider sets of partners. We will continue to evolve and mature that. The 2.0 version [of Zoom Up] is not a done version. You continue to really enhance, you learn, and you get feedback, and you really have to keep going with these things. We’ll never cross the finish line.

How crucial is it for Zoom that its channel partners expand on the Zoom services they are offering today to help grow their collaboration businesses, as well as Zoom’s own business?

I clearly think the opportunity with the partners is to expand on our portfolio. It is a massive opportunity for them for sure. When you expand on the portfolio, it doesn’t just mean products. It means specifically services, and that’s a big part of why when I went through some of the [Zoomtopia and Partner Connect] announcements, we talked about how we can work with them and their services.

The services are going to do a whole bunch of things for Zoom. One, we really want to make sure that customers, when they buy their products and the offerings, that they’re obviously getting deployed and used, and services will help to do that. Two, the value of what they’re actually looking to buy has to be done in a lot of cases around services offerings. Contact Center [for example] is a big services play. When you start to work with those types of things, it really becomes a super-competitive advantage for all of us when we go in because a lot of times those services are dynamic or specific or unique to that partner. And so relationships, obviously, still play a massive piece to this. And the partners all have those incredible relationships. If you think about as we move up the chain, a lot of these TSPs and the referral partners, we’re not getting out of that business by any stretch, what we’re going to continue to do is invest and look at them and understand, but we want to start to do other things with other partners, and it will grow for us as we move on that ladder, if you will.

I think I have my aha moment more and more when we just explain what we do. We’re in an unbelievable opportunity with a set of products that work and fit together. The classic saying for Zoom is it just works. The entire platform just works. I did an offsite [meeting] in Florida and many of our partners were around the room. It was almost to the point that they were just so excited to better understand the platform. They knew a lot of the products, but they didn’t know the depth, and they’re like: “Holy cow. The things that I can do with this. Why would I sell any of the other products that we have?” And these are major TSPs, our resellers and some new ones that we’re bringing on. They were super excited about that.

How big is the contact center opportunity for partners and what are the other areas that Zoom partners should explore?

We’re very early days with Zoom Contact Center. [But] the contact center numbers and percentages that we have are insane. If you think about this, we launched with Zoom Contact Center in 2022. In the first half of this year, [more than] 60 percent of the Zoom contact center bookings closed with or through our partners. That’s huge. And we haven’t even tipped the iceberg of what’s there. Zoom Phone is the same case. These are two areas of [opportunity] in the overall portfolio of what we have.

I think the other really compelling event here is that the hybrid work mode is still in the mix. Some companies are deep into it, other companies are starting and wondering: “How do we make this work?” To me, it’s two areas: How do I make sure that I still make sure I have major productivity out of my work force, whether they’re working at home, they’re coming into the office, or both. It’s a hybrid world and I’ve got to make sure I supply that for them. The second thing that we can’t ever discount is all-around culture. The sense of culture now is even more important as you morph this whole thing around hybrid. What are the tools that are really going to help you make sure that you have those connections, and they’ve got to be great connections. Whether you have some people sitting in the office and some people sitting at home, or some person coming and going [saying]: “I didn’t really think I was coming into the office today, but I need a desk and I need a space and I need a phone, and I’m going to do a video and I’m going to do a meeting, so how can I find that super-fast?” Well, you can with all of our products and services. So, we actually have gotten into a much harder state in the world, in my opinion, than when we were all sitting at home.

The last thing I would say is time. The value of time, how do you either give more time back to people or take the time that they have and make sure it’s more effective and efficient and more productive. These things are coming straight at our partners and they’re incredibly excited; the ones that I’m talking to, the ones that are reaching out to my teams and to the company. They want in and they know the brand of Zoom is still just crazy-great. By being associated with their brand and being associated with products that work and work really well and knowing that all these things tie together really provide an incredible business opportunity for our partners.

What changes have you made to support Zoom’s expanding channel efforts?

We’ve got one organization now that’s field-facing. The field-facing portion of our channel account managers actually work with the inside reps and they work to actually understand if there’s tactical things coming up here, ‘let me make sure that the partners are well taken care of.’ Or, things like: How do we think about creating an environment like a territory that we may not be in? Can we work with our set of partners in that field and with that field-level channel account manager to do that? And then we’ve got another set of our channel account managers that we put with the top partners -- in some cases, we have a one-to-one, sometimes, it’s one-to-more than one. They really make sure that we’re facilitating the right relationships, the program’s components, making sure that we’re thinking about how we invest in the MDF dollars. Are we getting the right accreditations? Do [partners] need help around those things? We’re also introducing things like Workvivo and things like that because we know that [partners] are the ones that are getting a bigger return, but we also want to make sure that they’re taking the returns and investing it back into their Zoom practices. Those are probably the major shifts that I’ve done over the last year.

We’ve continued to work through the go-to-markets, meaning our direct sales teams and things like that, and it is amazing to see the connection points and what has actually happened over the last year. We cannot let up on that. This has got to be in harmony -- we don’t want to compete with our partners. We’re doing all the right things around the financials to make sure we’re not competing. But we also have put people in place that help really look at the deals and look at the relationships so that we’re working together in harmony, and constantly communicating back and forth.

What are your goals for the channel heading into 2024?

We have many goals, but I think the biggest goal that we have right now is if you think about the empowerment piece and ease of doing business, this is going to be a never-ending finish line for us. We have really done a lot around the operational elements, there’s going to be some things we’re going to talk about around deal registration and accelerating that. So, we’re going to continue on that journey. We cannot stop. In my mind, we’re never not going to strive to be the easiest company to do business with. That is the goal for us.

The second goal for me and for us as a team and as a company is -- and it’s a two-way street when it comes to this -- making a financial impact. We want outcomes, our partners want outcomes. They’re building their businesses, they’re investing in their businesses, we’re building this business, we’re investing in this business and we’re looking for outcomes. So how do we think about contribution dollars, how do we think about outcomes around pipeline or things like that, or successful customers, or growing Zoom Contact Center and growing Zoom Phone. So, we’re going to look a lot more at how do we grow those, and we’re lining things up to make that happen.

The third thing is, is this program for just a few? Or is it for more than those few? That is, in itself, how we get to that force multiplier. When you think about moving into that disty/resale business, you think about the GSIs and we’re starting to now launch into those really powerful relationships, but you’ve got to be prepared for those.

Those three things for me are so important, but I guess I have to come back to the people. We have been on a journey. The company has been through an amazing journey. We’ve got to continue to grow, we’ve got to continue to mature, and this is directly related to our partners. I want to make sure that people feel like they’re part of something, not only something special, but something they have and feel like they can carve out their own path and think of that journey that they want to go on. Maybe they just want to have a smaller journey that says: “I’m just going to do these things,” or “I want to be the biggest investor in Zoom,” meaning they want to build a massive practice. And so, I feel like that that’s a big part of our goal. That’s why a lot, if not all the announcements [From Zoomtopia] are centered around those things that help build the base for us to continue to grow together.