Rapid7 Channel Chief Looks To Hit Reset Button, Says Small Steps Made To Repair Partner Relationships

A year ago, Rapid7 had a reputation in the channel. It wasn't a good one.

In February, the security vendor brought on new channel chief John Ryan to change this, charging the new director of Americas channel to revamp the company's historically direct go-to-market and re-engage with partners.

Now, almost a year into the company's journey, Ryan said Rapid7 is starting to see progress when it comes to the channel.

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"We're starting to see a lot from an incremental standpoint. Most of the business that has closed post-program launch has been incremental from the channel and pass-through business. Our reps are engaged and on board in ways they haven’t been in the past," Ryan said.

Ryan called the shift a "calculated risk," one he said extends all the way up to CEO Corey Thomas and COO Andrew Burton. Over the past year, that risk has included the launch of a complete overhaul process when it comes to partners, including a new partner program. Ryan said the new program is focused on the two pillars of services and turning over more Rapid7 business to partners.

With the launch of that partner program, Rapid7 also re-evaluated the partners it was working with. The security vendor realized more than half of them were just holding paper and not transacting business, he said. The company worked with its legal department to terminate many of those contracts, focusing instead on narrowing its focus on boutique companies in different regions, according to Ryan. The company used to have 400 or so partners, but now has about 160, some of which are net new since the changes were made, he said.

"It's not for everyone," Ryan said of the new partner program. "We have a very narrow focus group that we're spending our time with. It's not just an open door here. We have made some calculated risks across the country and up in Canada. It's paying off for sure."

Trever Smith, executive vice president of Victor, N.Y.-based Brite Computers, said this is a transition his business has seen first-hand. Brite Computers, a systems integrator focused on cybersecurity, has partnered with Rapid7 for a few years. He said the first year and a half of the partnership were "pretty weak," saying the company really only engaged with the vendor if it happened to find an opportunity.

"If we found an opportunity they would allow us to sell it, but there was no real healthy program," Smith said.

Smith said he has started to see the partnership change in recent months with the launch of the new partner program, adding Rapid7 has made "huge steps" with partners. Channel account managers have been spending time with Brite Computers around field communications, account mapping strategies, and encouraging field reps on the benefits of the technology. As a result, he said Brite Computers' pipeline with Rapid7 has grown five to 10 times larger than it was in years past.

"We're now putting a lot of resources behind getting up to speed with them," Smith said. He said Rapid7 also solves growing customer concern around application security, vulnerability management and pen testing, a trend exacerbated by recent high-profile breaches. "I think there's always areas of improvement. … But I think they're doing the right things now and getting the field reps engaged with the channel."

Dave Doebler, vice president of sales at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Mission Critical Systems, said he has seen a similar change at the company. Mission Critical, a dedicated IT security reseller and integrator, started working with Rapid7 about seven years ago, Doebler said. The company worked with the vendor "on and off," primarily because it liked the technology, he said. But working with Rapid7 was like "swimming upstream," Doebler said, adding that Rapid7 didn't offer consistent margins and would often not approve deal registration if it wanted to take a deal direct.

"We felt like we were in competition with Rapid7's direct sales team," Doebler said. "They weren't' seeing the value that good channel partners can bring to them."

However, Doebler said Mission Critical has seen a "complete 180 in the Rapid7 focus" and that the "mind-set has dramatically changed" over the past few months since Ryan took the channel helm. The new, formalized partner program allows for consistent margins and engagement expectations with the company for the first time, he said. Mission Critical has only been involved with the new partner program for the past three or four months so it's hard to tell exactly how much growth it will see with the vendor over time, according to Doebler, but it is working to build those relationships.

"They still have some way to go in the field with engagement with the field teams, but they are absolutely on the right track," he said. "I'm willing to give them a chance and hit the reset button with them."

Ryan said Rapid7 is also looking to change its internal culture to a channel mind-set, something he said is a work in progress. The company is working on a "sales campaign internally" to help convince sales reps that working with the channel is the best way to go, he said. What has been helping, according to Ryan, is engaging resellers in deals that Rapid7 might not have been brought into otherwise and using those as internal case studies going forward.

"This is going to sound corny, but it's a hearts and minds game," Ryan said. "The biggest thing I stress for my internal team is to find pain points, regardless of what they are and how tedious they might be, and remove the pain point for that person. Now, you have established trust. That's the approach we have taken."

The transition hasn't been an easy one, Ryan said, adding that the company had an "aggressive timeline" for transitioning to the channel internally, but quickly realized that it would be a longer transformation than anticipated.

Outside the company, Ryan said Rapid7 did run into reputational challenges as a traditionally direct company. The company has leveraged some past relationships at partners and other companies to get the transition started, he said. Rapid7 also worked with some resellers one-on-one who didn't want to sign up for higher program levels because of past experiences, Ryan said, but he has personally helped focus on those partners to gain trust and "hope they want to move forward."

"It's been a work in progress," Ryan said. "It gets back to the trust factor."

Brite Computers' Smith said personal relationships have helped go a long way to repair that broken trust relationship with partners. Channel team hires, like Ryan, have helped convince partners to give Rapid7 a second chance, he said. Ryan most recently served as regional director of commercial and channel sales for ForeScout Technologies, but has also held channel roles at EMC and Verizon.

"It’s a really tough battle to go from direct to a channel company when you have so many people thinking that way. Rapid7 bringing in a really mature, tenured channel team was fantastic," Smith said.

Mission Critical's Doebler said that willingness to own up to past mistakes around the channel is a key factor in the company's ability to re-establish trust with its reseller partners. That "honest dialogue," which he said appears to extend up to top management, is key.

"I think that their openness about realizing they were not a channel-friendly company, realizing that they needed to hit the reset button, and their openness about where they were has opened up the door for an honest conversation about what they're doing and what they are doing to remedy that. … When someone makes a mistake and owns up to it, I think that creates a culture for an open, honest dialogue," Doebler said.

Rapid7 has been appealing to partners based on the services opportunity its technology presents, according to Ryan. Rapid7 is working to move more of its own services over to partners, and its application security and vulnerability management technology allows them to expand on existing investments made by customers around security and offer new services, he said.

Going forward, Ryan said the investments around the channel will focus on technical enablement. That includes enablement around new technology Rapid7 is rolling out for existing partners, as well as technical enablement for the full portfolio for new partners, he said.Rapid7 has also invested in technical support for some of the higher levels of partners.

"We're trying to create an environment that’s a lot friendlier than we have been in the past. We think investing in these types of outreaches and these types of engagements are going to go a long way for us," Ryan said.