New CEO, Sales VP Promise To Reinvigorate FalconStor's Brand, Technology

FalconStor's new CEO and new head of North American sales promise to shake up the company's product development and marketing and make the storage vendor much more focused on its channel partners.

FalconStor in mid-January unveiled James McNiel as its new CEO, and hired John Turner as its new vice president of North American sales.

McNiel had been serving as interim CEO since the abrupt resignation in September of ReiJane Huai as FalconStor Software's president, CEO, and chairman. Huai, who founded FalconStor, resigned after he disclosed that certain improper payments were allegedly made in connection with the company's contract with one customer. Turner until mid-January served as the vice president of Symantec's technology sales organization. He replaces Wendy Petty, who served in that position for over 10 years.

McNiel told CRN that his primary goal is to make the FalconStor brand one which both customers and partners can trust when it comes to protecting data.

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"We are in a unique market," he said. "We're protecting customers from a loss of their data. That requires a significant level of trust. The biggest change is, we have to address that level of trust with quality and reliability. I want our brand to be known for that."

Reaching that goal will require some work for FalconStor's new executives. In addition to the resignation of the company's founder, FalconStor has been going through turbulence in its sales and channel teams, according to channel sources.

Turner confirmed reports from those sources about major changes in FalconStor's sales department over the past year, and said those changes stemmed from a move away from the company's long-term start-up mentality to start acting more like an enterprise-class storage vendor.

"A lot of our sales force was not ready for the transition," Turner said. "We had a 50-percent turnover in our sales staff over a nine-month sales cycle. It's significant that our North American market could grow like it has."

Turner said he is working with Brendan Kinkade, FalconStor's vice president of channel management and global alliances, to build the company's channel program core, and that the changes so far are very encouraging.

"I'm building a world-class sales force, and a world-class channel program, to make it attractive for our channel partners," he said.

Turner said he has no plans to build a direct sales force for FalconStor at this point. "Coming from Symantec, I believe in the channel," he said. "I need partners to not only extend my reach in our customers, but also to make sure they are supported properly."

Channel partners should be treated as an extension of a vendor's sales team, with the only difference being the badge they wear, Turner said. "When I was at Symantec, when we did sales training, we had our channel partners take the same training," he said. "We'll bring this philosophy to FalconStor. If Jim will allow me to pay for it, yes, I'll do the same at FalconStor."

Next: New Partner Program, Engineering Processes

FalconStor's channel program is also getting a facelift with new training and competencies, new partner resources, and a new proprietary lead management console that links with, Kinkade said.

In terms of redeveloping the FalconStor brand, McNeil said the company has instituted a number of changes.

The first is a new internal program he called RUM -- short for reliability, usability, and manageability -- which brings in the company engineers to re-evaluate and audit current projects related to a product launch scheduled for early second quarter.

"I want to make sure my developers can look me in the eye and tell me they're building the most reliable, highest quality data protection products in the market," he said.

FalconStor has also brought together its first customer and partner advisory councils, McNeil said.

The customer advisory council will meet on a quarterly basis, at which time FalconStor will brief customers on plans and get their feedback.

"There's no bigger reward for me than for an engineer to hear insight from customers," he said. "Engineers are the smartest people on the planet, but they don't use the products like the customers do."

FalconStor's new partner advisory council, led by Turner and Kinkade, will help the company better understand its channel partners' concerns about the company's direction, McNeil said. The council includes 14 partners, including national, regional, federal, and direct marketing companies.

McNeil's being named as CEO is a really smart move by FalconStor's Board of Directors, said Greg Knieriemen, vice president of marketing at Chi Corp., a Cleveland, Ohio-based solution provider and long-time FalconStor partner.

"Jim's strategic vision for FalconStor and about where the industry is going in terms of virtualization and cloud computing is spot-on," Knieriemen said. "Now it depends on his ability to execute. And he has the ability."

Talk is cheap, and is the last thing FalconStor needs, Knieriemen said. "FalconStor is lucky to have him has CEO," he said.

Knieriemen is reserving judgment on Turner for now, as he has not had much chance to get to know him yet.

However, Knieriemen said, Turner has a lot of work ahead of him with the changes occurring at FalconStor. ’There is a good foundation of data protection solutions at FalconStor,’ he said. "Turner is going to need to capitalize on that foundation and build a good team quickly that is going to exceed expectations.’