Tableau Channel Chief Julie Bennani On New Partner Program And What Being Acquired By Salesforce Means For Partners

The new Tableau Partner Network, with tracks for resellers, service providers and technology partners, is designed to provide partners with more opportunities and incentives, better visibility and more consistent requirements and expectations.


New Channel Initiatives At Tableau

Tableau, one of the leading companies in business analytics software, was acquired by cloud application giant in August in a $15.7 billon deal. But also of great importance to Tableau’s channel partners was the appointment of Julie Slocum Bennani in May as senior vice president of worldwide partners and alliances.

Bennani joined Tableau from SAP where she was global vice president of the SMB Partner Ecosystem for a year and a half. Before that she worked at Microsoft for more than seven years, serving as general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, and before that worked at systems integration giant Accenture for more than 10 years.

Bennani sat down with CRN at the recent Tableau Conference ’19 conference in Las Vegas to discuss her first six months on the job, the launch of the new Tableau Partner Network partner program, the importance to partners of the Tableau Blueprint framework for helping customers develop a data-driven culture, and possible channel synergies from Saleforce’s acquisition of Tableau in August.

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The following is an edited version of the interview.

What has been your focus during the first six months on the job?

In the first three months it was getting to know the leadership team [and] the partner ecosystem from a macro perspective, what business models we had activated, at what scale. And understanding the differences—we call them ‘theaters.’ And from that, understanding what we had from a sales motion perspective, an incentive perspective, program perspective. All the core things you need when you are running a partner ecosystem globally.

So that was the first three months. And then recognizing a couple of major gaps. We have not changed, essentially, our program approach for quite a while other than tuning incentives for resellers and doing a few things in-market. And so that priority of shaping what we just announced as the Tableau Partner Network, really getting a holistic approach there and a consistent approach across the three business models of reselling, services and ISV. That was a top priority. It was also a top priority for our CEO and an ask of my boss, [Executive Vice President of Sales, Services and Support] Dan Miller, so it was on the list as I came in.

The good thing is I have a team of very good partner leaders, three global leaders by major business models. I have one individual focused on our global [systems integrator] relationships with Accenture and Deloitte, from a sell-with perspective. I have a global leader focused on our technology partnerships, which is two partner types: our cloud service providers in AWS, Google and Azure from Microsoft. This leader, just within the last six months, his team, in combination with our Asia-Pacific team, booted up a relationship with Alibaba for China, which is going to be great.

The third global leader is driving our embedded approach, which is kind of a mix of partner types. Tableau had an old OEM model for on-prem[ises]. When we look at the direction of the embedded strategy from a technology perspective and customer adoption, you kind of bifurcate the channel approach or the partner approach. We needed a more modern OEM approach and so we are rebooting that OEM piece and right now are piloting some things on the back end to get clear on the core direction there. In addition, we’re trying to activate high-potential ISVs.

So that’s the three global leaders. And then I also have three theater—regional—partner leaders. They’ve all got really good industry experience. Between those six leaders, from the partner sales perspective, it was a good team to land with. I also have to build up some global functions. When I talked about the priority list, I have to build up a muscle within Tableau at a central level and a team around strategy and programs. That was also part of the gap, how to make fast progress on a program, and then also start building this team within the global organization.

What has been your biggest challenge in the six-month time frame?

Well, just given that landscape that I told you a little bit about, it’s been a mixture of priorities and resourcing. This is always the case. Prioritization is the biggest challenge. And setting expectations with partners. The good thing is that our Tableau ecosystem is very patient and very dedicated to Tableau. But as we start to really combine with Salesforce and figure out the leverage across [the two companies], I think the pace will increase. We just need to continue to think about what are the core foundational pieces that we need from a global running of the ecosystem versus what can we do nimbly in-market and then build up as we continue to mature the partnering model, generally across the board.

What was it about Tableau that attracted you to the job?

Two things, primarily. I’ve been aware of Tableau as a Seattle native-ish, living in the area for 30 years. One is I’ve always heard great things about the products themselves—coming from Microsoft I haven’t had a ton of exposure, given the role I had. Looking [at] and playing around with the products and the offerings I was, like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a completely different approach to data analytics. And a much more leverageable one across more people.’

You hear the word ‘democratization’—we really do want everyone to be able to see and understand their data. And the founders were brilliant in how they thought about this new language of VizQL [Tableau’s proprietary programming language] and creating a very different paradigm in what has been kind of a specialist, high-end function in the industry, as you think about data scientists.

And then the linchpin for me, as an employee, the company culture was attractive for certain. The culture is fantastic, the values that Tableau has really resonated with me. In particular there’s one that I always mention—it’s in quotes because it’s kind of a translation between trust and community, ‘humble-smart,’ is how a lot of people talk about the culture.

Plus, this is an opportunity for me to be a channel leader. I’ve played leadership roles in the industry, but I’ve never been the partner leader. So that would be a third reason.

Here at the conference Tableau channel executives provided details of the major overhaul of the partner program and creating the new Tableau Partner Network. What were the key drivers behind that?

Customer need is the utmost important, and in particular, underneath that statement is the consistency and predictability that we needed to build across our partner ecosystem by theater. So even if you look at our reseller approach, when we look at how resellers are being leveraged by customers, there’s a lot more we could do around ensuring consistent, predictable experiences and delivery of quality with our offerings. That’s just one example. The same with services partners, the same comment with our technology partners —the benefit of a formal program [to] standardize a base level of performance.

Secondly, when you think about the mission-critical nature of this space of data and analytics, it’s been talked about in the industry for a while, but really democratizing the ability to see and understand your data, as well as the other up-front pieces around [data preparation], we have a good thought leadership position that we need to accelerate because the competitive landscape continues to get hotter.

With that we need much more aggressive growth with our partner ecosystem. One of our key priorities for next year, at my boss’ level and across our entire go-to-market organization, is how do we scale faster and more effectively with partners because they are a huge growth lever for us.

Was the new partner program already under development when you started? And if so, what was your role in the last six months in bringing it to fruition?

When I got here there had been a couple of attempts at it. There were some ideas. There is a reseller program that was launched in September 2011. But as far as what we’ve just done with the Tableau Partner Network, there were bits and pieces of ideas. Since I know this space deeply and I had sensed the appetite, we had to go bigger and unify everything more quickly, based on what we could execute, and also what we thought partners could absorb.

My job was to take all those bits and pieces, rationalize that architecture, and, with a virtual team, including my partner leaders [and] a range of other folks, drive it all the way down to detailed design.

In the future I’m building up a programs team to actually run and do future [program] design. But I did a lot of the heavy lifting, with the virtual team, is what I would say.

And that’s OK. It was one of the things that Dan Miller set as part of Tableau. We are leader-doers, we don’t have layers of [management] resourcing. We still have, very much, a startup mentality. It’s just being thoughtful about where we need to build. People, capacity, which is what I highlighted. Basically, week two, with Dan about building up a programs and strategy capability, would be mission-critical. And that just takes time.

CRN had a story in 2016 about Tableau launching a new partner program. What became of that?

I think that was when Dan was looking for a leader, he needed someone who had this balance of all the skill sets that you need in a global partner leader. Those skill sets are not just sales with partners. Those skill sets include understanding finance, legal programs, operations. It’s being a ‘channel chief,’ to use the industry lingo, although I really don’t like the word ‘channel.’ It’s very tactical. ‘Partner’ is more strategic. Partners actually like to be called a ‘partner.’ I don’t know how it makes you feel if I said: ‘You’re a channel of ours.”

I had the same thing at Microsoft, it’s called the ‘Partner Network’ there as well. I was at Accenture, and just being on the receiving end, when you’re called a channel, it sounds like a physical thing. It doesn’t sound like a relationship. I have a lot of respect—even reselling—I have a lot of respect for any partner with any business model. It’s a partnership. If we are really doing what we should be doing, it’s a partnership.

How can partners benefit from the framework of the new Tableau Partner Network?

They are going to get a lot more. We’re going to surface them more precisely to customers, they will get more accurate customer leads and opportunities. We’re going to give them a really clear understanding, and consistently, of what we want from our top partners. There’s a lot of benefits that we’ve put into the Tableau Partner Network, benefits that we’ve never delivered before.

For example, today we are slightly different from the rest of the industry in that we charge a lot for training and we’re shifting that strategy pretty quickly. For Tableau partners, this is a big change. We’re doing a lot of things like vouchers, whether it’s for e-learning, private learning, etc.

We’re also starting to nuance our incentive strategy. Tableau’s been pretty much using a discount strategy. We just added a multiyear renewal strategy. And we’ll start thinking about other levers like back-end pieces and other things.

We’re also formalizing the coverage model. We’ve been kind of structured, somewhat consistently. But when it comes to partners understanding why a partner gets a partner development manager or not, we’re formalizing that coverage model. That’s another piece of work I’ve done with the leadership team internally. We’re adding some more coverage capacity with this territory partner development manager, which also will [conduct] a new function within our partner organization around recruiting—recruiting either a new partner or helping an existing partner build a different practice. Lots of good stuff.

And then the last piece, which is critical to me is, [to ensure] that the online self-service experience for partners is good because their practices are made up of a lot of people. We can’t always rely on person-to-person exchanges of information. So that will be a journey for us. It’s not like we’ll have the perfect approach ever, actually. But we are really investing in this ongoing online experience for partners so that their marketers, their sellers, their technical people, their solution consultants, their solution architects can get seamless access to everything that we’re offering at their own time, wherever they are.

So how does the new partner program further Tableau’s goal of helping customers instill a data-driven culture within their organizations?

Within the program itself there’s a couple of key pieces about data culture. For one, we are really ensuring our partners understand that customer needs are mission-critical. And with that, this is where we’ve landed requirements around renewal rates. We’ve also landed a requirement across all three partner types to invest in a customer success certified professional. Those are two areas. And then linked to that, the Tableau Blueprint itself is something we are building for our customer success, for our own [sales]people. And the principle that I love, that I don’t see all the time—I’ve worked at a few companies in the industry—is when we build something for our people, by role, we release it at the same time for partners for the same role. That’s not always the case.

As we learn new practices, best practices, etc., we share all of that content within a 30-day window, if not immediately, with partners. And that’s part of helping them. The Blueprint itself is actually a road map to help customers build a data culture. It starts with, ‘What’s the vision of the company’s strategy?’ And how does data support that?’ We have a lot of supporting tools that are part of that Blueprint that help both the customer and the partner working with the customer assess where they are on this journey to build a data culture like [CEO] Adam [Selipsky] mentioned this morning [during a conference keynote]. Tableau Blueprint is a really key road map with a set of assets, as well as assessments, etc., that our partners should leverage and tune for their customers. It’s a really, really good set of thought leadership on how to build that data culture more broadly.

And that’s for any company, whether they are large or small. With bigger companies, just building that data culture is a harder, longer journey because it’s more people.

Why is the Blueprint so important to Tableau’s overall strategy and why is it such an important part of the new Partner Network?

It’s important to Tableau because if we’re not making customers happy and successful in using our technology, they won’t be customers for very long. You heard Adam on stage and he’s very committed—this is at the core of who he is —it’s all about the customer and making them happy and successful with what we do.

So that’s the company reason. Why this is, and again, we have a very strong point-of-view based on our long history with companies and customers using these different offerings. As we learn more about what makes customers excited and satisfied, we’ll continue to build that into the Blueprint, the road map and framework—and keep those assets current.

The reason the Blueprint is important for partners is because they are learning directly from us. With our online subscription offerings, we see that [customer] experience very directly through the online service. We also hear from customers and we’re trying to learn together and share those learnings as quickly as we can with partners. The vehicle that is exposing that learning is the Blueprint.

And then the program, the Partner Network itself, is reiterating that importance. The renewal rate requirement [for partners], that customer success professional capability requirement. In the future we’ll do some other things—I’ll keep those in my back pocket for now—but there’s a lot of other things we can do around making sure customers are using our technology and that they’re happy with Tableau—and with partners and the work they are doing.

What does the new program do to reduce channel conflict?

Just let me say we’ll continue to look at improving areas because there are some things that we haven’t fully locked down yet.

We’re revising a lot of our deal registration approach and processes to ensure that the partner development manager has an equal footing with our direct sellers on the decisions around deal registration.

The same is true on lead passing. If, for example, we’ve surfaced an opportunity and we want to pass it to a partner, we’re going to do a much better job, much better, more consistent and fair approach in how we do that. We’re also adding an SLA [service-level agreement] around deal registration and governance. And with that SLA we’ve got what I was alluding to earlier, what we call an approval matrix and a decision matrix underneath all these. As you’re thinking about management of opportunities, either that a partner brings to us or that we’ve passed to partners, we’re really trying to get that footing fair and equal.

And then what we’re looking at—but all the details are still being worked out —is we’re trying to figure out when it comes to the actual comp of our [sales representatives], where we have any misalignment on incentives, as any seller would be versus how we are incenting our partners. That’s what we’re trying to look at right now. We don’t really have it around our support, premier support offerings. It’s much more around the services area that we’re just trying to make sure that we’re clean.

When we look at what services capacity we need to implement and deploy our technology with customers, we’re only going to be able to solve 5 percent of what we know we need right now. We’re trying to make sure that partners understand we need them to do the vast majority, 95 percent, of services.

There is a formal practice certification [under development] where partners with services capacity can be certified by us so that we subcontract and outsource things that come through us. When partners today are obviously, when they qualify their services, practiced generally through the services track, they’ll also promote that. Because in some cases the customer buys from us and we subcontract and in other cases the customer buys directly from the partner.

With Tableau’s transition to a subscription pricing model, there’s been a lot of discussion about subscription renewal rates. How important is it for Tableau—and therefore its partners—to boost subscription renewal rates and why?

This isn’t a new concept in given how prevalent subscription models and cloud offerings are. There’s a couple of reasons. There’s the stat[istic] that it’s more costly to acquire or reacquire a customer than to keep your existing customer. I don’t remember the exact percentages, but it’s quite a bit of time and money. There’s that point.

But also, when we think about retention, this goes back to if we’re not retaining our customers, we’re not doing a good job of connecting and working with them. And we’re not understanding what’s not working. And why aren’t they renewing. So that focus has to happen way before their renewal is up.

And for partners and for Tableau, a healthy cloud business also gives us a much more reliable revenue stream. It smooths out—especially for services partners—it smooths out the revenue stream. So that’s a business reason.

But our primary reason is we want happy customers, we want customers that stay with Tableau. And so today we’ve got decent renewal rates, but we’ve got room to grow, both on our direct and our partner side. This is a big emphasis for both of us.

With that point, the [renewal requirement] levels in the program itself, with reselling partners in particular, you saw targets by country, grouping and by Select and Premier, our two levels that are branded. Those are based on steps we’re both taking ourselves, as well as steps we need our partners to take, and those are minimum thresholds. We’d love to see all of our partners doing renewals in the 90 percent range. And we’d love more feedback from partners on why customers aren’t renewing. Because that just helps us build better offerings, and/or deliver better together.

Given the acquisition of Tableau in August, are there any plans to, in any way, combine the partner programs or partner operations of the two companies, or integrate or link them in some fashion?

To be determined, is what I’ll say about the partner ecosystems. Tableau is operating as an independent business unit within Salesforce, as does MuleSoft [which Salesforce acquired in May 2018], which also has its own partner program. Our ecosystem is complementary in many ways, but with many partners that are unique, given our focus around data and analytics versus things like CRM, which we complement, for certain.

We’ll determine, we’ll figure out areas where synergy makes sense. But we wouldn’t launch a brand-new program, with the investments we’re making if we thought that was going to happen any time soon at that macro level. But we do think there’s a ton of synergy and learnings from each other that we can take advantage of.

One area that gets called out is Trailhead and the [online] learning platform that Salesforce has. That’s a really leading approach and we’re going to look at that one really deeply and see what we can learn from it.

What is at the top of your agenda for the next year as Tableau’s channel chief?

Obviously, as the announcement said, we have to land the Partner Network, so we’ve got a first phase going live in the market with partners in Q2, which is now Salesforce’s fiscal year. So, April-May time frame. And then the requirements, when we actually start measuring performance and holding partners accountable to it, consistently, is November.

That’s a big focus for all of next year. The other thing, as I mentioned earlier, is building up that global program and strategy team. Number three would be continuing to drive the impact of partners in each of our theaters. Partners play a huge role in Asia-Pacific—we’ve got really large growth aspirations in Asia-Pacific generally, whether its direct or with partners, next year. The market is going nuts there, Japan is booming, we have tons of potential in China, we’re just getting started in India. Australia we were fixing some things that are going to allow us to unlock Australia.

We’ve got a lot of good growth potential and we need lots of momentum with partners. Not just market momentum on selling, but also good deployment, renewals and customer success, we’re building those muscles.

The other thing I’m going to work on building under the hood—and we’ll see how far we can go—Salesforce has some things internally that I’m hoping we can leverage, such as research around white space from a customer list perspective. They have capacity models, which is something I built at Microsoft and we instrumented that all the way through from three- to five-year fiscal goals to 12-month goals linked to partner business models. That’s really important when you think about how much capacity you need for any business model. I’m hoping to kick that off next year and we’ll see, hopefully we can make good progress on that.

What did you mean by ‘white space?’

We know the set of customers we have and we know, when it comes to big enterprises, who we want to explore. But when we think about our SMB penetration or even the market below those top brand names, we will still have so many customers to go after. So that’s what I mean about white space at a customer level.

We also have this other ubiquity piece [where] we might have started Tableau’s presence within, let’s say, within the customer’s sales area or operations, there’s [potential] ubiquity within the customer, based on their priorities. There’s a lot of linkage to account planning is what I’m alluding to.

We’re launching a shared account plan for partners this month [where] we’re going to start more prescriptively working together to jointly unify the partners’ perspective and our perspective on where opportunities sit and then really go for growth.

Right now, we’re inconsistent in how we do living account plans. We’re just launching a formal tool to build that muscle with our partners. For opportunities for partners and for where they see opportunity. If it’s a partner that focuses on health care, for example, maybe we’re only focused on three of the 20 high-potential health-care entities that we should be going after. There’s lots of different pieces to this.

Tableau and Salesforce [synergies] will probably be a second wave.