Dell-EMC's New Global Channel Chief Talks About Pushing The Full Portfolio, Eliminating Channel Conflict And The Drive To Beat HP, Cisco And Lenovo

Dell-EMC: 'Primed To Win'

Dell Tuesday named John Byrne as global channel chief of the soon-to-be-combined Dell-EMC, answering one of the big questions channel partners have had since the $62 billion acquisition was unveiled last October.

Byrne has been overseeing Dell's channel operations since joining the company as global vice president of sales strategy, operations and channels a year ago.

In an exclusive interview with CRN, Byrne said Dell-EMC's channel is "primed to win" against its rivals. But that effort will require partners to get serious about selling the entire Dell-EMC portfolio, particularly the EMC partners coming into the fold that currently do not sell Dell's product lines. Partners that do will find Dell makes it very lucrative, Byrne said.

The entrepreneur and 9-year AMD veteran spoke with CRN about his plans for brining EMC partners into the fold, eliminating channel conflict and driving channel growth.

The following is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

What's your vision for Dell's channel?

Together we are primed to win. Those are easy words to say, but I mean it. We're going to bring two phenomenal companies together with a portfolio that frankly is unsurpassed in the marketplace. We want our channel partners to work with us and take those products to the market aggressively. My commitment is they're going to be profitable. In a flat-to-declining market, you have to change your attitude. You're going to have to take something from someone else. We've acquired the best people on the planet, the best team on the planet, the best products on the planet, and ultimately, the best programs and incentives on the planet.

How does that translate into success for the channel?

People care about making money, and about winning. No more so than [Dell Chairman and CEO] Michael [Dell] at the helm. Those are the tenets I'm going to be bringing to our channel partners on Day One. It's an exciting time. I want to work with the best. We're going to be very, very thorough in terms of partner selection, partner criteria. Those partners that want to work with us, work with the portfolio, and attack the market, are going to get rewarded handsomely. That's my message. That's my vision.

What's the most important thing you want to bring to Dell's channel business?

The channel, I want it to be very, very simple. I want the rules of engagement to be very predictable, predictable in your roadmap, predictable in your messaging, predictable in your incentive program. I want to make money. That's the way we're looking at it. You look at the net-net-net of the portfolio and say you're selling the whole breadth of the portfolio and you're also acquiring new business, you're out hunting in the marketplace, then lets over-incent those partners that have that capability. I want to go live on Day One with the new channel program. That isn't a lot of time. We've got to get hustling, the EMC program team, the Dell program team coming together.

What kind of growth are you targeting for the combined company's channel business?

Our channel business is up dramatically. And they're excited about adding EMC to the portfolio. The EMC partners, I want to bring the Dell enterprise portfolio to them. We have 60 percent overlap in the EMC and Dell partner ecosystem. That other 40 percent, I want them selling the whole Dell portfolio, and despite what the competition says, I want us to be overly aggressive, overly competitive. We'll reward partners that are attacking the marketplace. Incenting my own sales team is something Marius [Haas, Dell's chief commercial officer and president of enterprise solutions] and I have been working on over the past year, to get out there and grab market share. We're gaining market share in PCs, retaining our share in servers, and I want more. We want more. The biggest opportunity I see right now is with the channel. The channel business is going to grow, and it's going to grow aggressively.

A lot of Dell partners say their main competition is still Dell's direct sales force. What do you say to those partners?

Dell has done a phenomenal job with what they've done in the channel. To grow from what it was eight years ago to now is pretty spectacular. As we evolve and mature in your thought process, there are a number of things we can do better to avoid that conflict. One of the things we're looking at now is [in relation to] our top customers: what routes to market are we currently serving? How do we continue to win that business? How do we stop our guys from fighting over the same piece of business between direct and channel? We're being very descriptive around, "this is a route to market, this is the customer, this is how they want to buy." There's no need to have conflict.

How do you prevent that conflict?

That means bringing in more discipline around the deal registration process. It also impacts how we're thinking about incentives. We're also going to be more focused and more disciplined around the rebate structure. Ultimately, you're a fulfillment partner or you're bringing real value-add, selling solutions, selling the portfolio. My rebates could look pretty similar. Not everyone is built equally, so we want to bring more discipline into it, and frankly, more transparency.

What are your goals for growth in Dell's channel business?

I care about getting after net new business. I want us to be aggressive. I want us to be [going] after the market. I want get after market share. They have to make money; they have to feel like they're part of our team. Ideally, I want partners to have the capability to sell the breadth of our portfolio. I can bring [the programs] together, and make the incentives rich, front and back end. We're going to work that part out. I think EMC does some things well. I think we do some things very well as well. A Dell sales person, an AE (account executive), gets comped whether he sells directly or whether he sells through a channel partner. Win the opportunity. Win the business is the guiding principal.

Are you a big believer in customer choice versus partner-led?

I believe in customer choice. I want to win every single opportunity. I want to beat HP, I want to beat NetApp, I want to beat Cisco, I want to beat Lenovo. So [priority] one is working with customers to win new business. I believe partners provide a unique capability, be it technical capability, be it skills capability, be it relationship capability. Those partners will bring significant value add, and we want to work with them. The reality is there could be some partners that work in a fulfillment model, and I still want to deal with that partner. But if you work with the full breadth of the portfolio, you attack the market and you win share, that's how we're going to think about shaping incentives.

So it all comes down to the customer?

It's all up to the customer. Michael [Dell] has built a phenomenal organization, a phenomenal business based on customer relationships. He'll happily meet any customer at the drop of the hat, and that's where I'm coming from. I've got one year at Dell, so I'm coming in and I just want the best. I want the best team, the best programs, the best teammates and the best channel partners. That's what people are going to find from me. I'm going to hustle. I'm going to get in front of them super quickly. We're going to have partner advisory boards. This is unbelievably important to this organization. I'm all-in, and I think partners are going to be excited by it.

How do you plan to organize your team?

You look at some of those names, industry legends. You have the opportunity to choose the best of the best. We're going to be reaching into some of our top partners to say, look, what are some of the pros and cons of some of these people? We want to hit the ground running when we start the new year. We want to look at what is the best of the EMC program, what's the best of our program. Let's bring them together, let's bring the brightest minds together over the coming weeks. We really have to get this locked [down] so when we hit the new year, off we go. One message, one program.

So it's possible that some of them could not be there when all is said and done?

That's a possibility.

How can you leverage being a privately held company? What does it mean to channel partners that you'll be the largest, and privately held? How can you use that to drive channel growth?

Just think about it. A year ago, all of our competitors were actually taking cost out, reducing coverage, reducing salespeople. We added over 1,600 new salespeople. Those salespeople are rewarded equally via customer choice. The channel, by default gained 1,600 incremental salespeople helping create demand and support for the channel. Our competitors don't have that lens.

How do you plan to work with Dell's Premier Plus partners to grow your business?

You want to win with winners around the globe. Get relevant to the big guys, build it out, build a strategy. That Premier Plus is going to be the top of the top of the top partners that we want to be working with, and they're going to be rewarded handsomely. We're going to grow share with them. We've grown share, but there's still a long way to go. I want to be very particular about who gets that upper echelon of our program, and I want to be simple, I want to be predictable. I want to be very clear what that looks like. I just need time to build it out.

Dell boosted new business incentives significantly earlier this year. Has that been successful? Do you see yourself rolling those incentives into the combined company more widely?

I think it's too early. In the places where we've piloted it, we've seen nice buds of light, nice growth, but it's too early to say this is something we want to be doing. As we go forward, we want to get after new business, and, so far, indications are very positive.

H ow do you intend to keep your teams focused?

There's no question our sales team realizes, 'Here's your target, here's the pipeline expectation, here's the share growth, here's your plan by route-to-market, here are the key metrics we're expecting from you.' We've got to build a world-class team. Your skillset, your sales capabilities are different in a flat-to-declining market where you basically have to go in and take something from someone else. We're being very, very perceptive [along with] our sales team. We're seeing huge progress. We're on a journey, but it's an exciting journey, and I believe we're primed to win, and it's an exciting place to be.

Tell us about your background. What brought you to this point?

I set up my own company when I was 24, just north of London, so I went from Glasgow to London. Basically it was a sales and marketing organization supporting silicon manufacturers. At the time, Taiwan was investing in foundries, and they had the engineering talent, but I realized they had really no sales and marketing expertise in Europe. They had no understanding of the channels. My sales pitch to them was, 'I'll set up your sales and marketing in Europe for you.' We ended up working together for 13 years. That was a company called Vanguard International. They were then the leading memory supplier of Taiwan. From then, my company just evolved. We were setting up channels, setting up distribution channels, working on the brand, working with the press, predominantly in northern Europe and South Africa. That company continued from 1994 to 2009.

But you were at AMD by then?

Well, let me get to that, because people look at my LinkedIn and say, 'What the heck?' So, I had two sales and marketing companies, one was focused on the converged market, and one was focused on the 3D and PC market. I had the European contracts for a company called ATI. Hector Ruiz, the CEO of AMD and Dave Austin, who was the CEO of ATI at the time, said, 'The big guy is buying the small guy, we can't afford for the small guy to disappear, we need someone to come in and run the sales and marketing engine for ATI under the AMD umbrella.' And they said, 'We'll buy your company.' I said, 'I'll come and do it, but I have my other company.' They said, 'That's fine, as long as ultimately you're going to drive the ATI graphics business.' So I joined AMD.

And that brought you to the U.S.?

I loved AMD. I loved everything it stood for. I loved the people. I loved the cause. It was an exciting time in 2007. In 2009, the CEO [asked if I] would consider moving to the U.S. and running AMD's global channel business. So I sold my second company in 2009. My wife and I pulled up stakes with a couple of dogs and a cat and moved from London to Austin, Texas. At the time, AMD and ATI were two very different companies, and they asked if we could collapse them into a single channel strategy around the globe. We quickly identified the channel partners we wanted to work with, the distributors we wanted to work with. We ultimately changed the sales motion from pushing everything through distribution to creating demand through MSPs, through the LVARs. It was actually a very similar model to EMC.

How did you accomplish that? How did you make that transition?

We did it by bringing in world-class people and having a clear channel strategy. We were consistent with the channel and we made it profitable. We grew that business 65 percent in two years. I was then promoted to run their markets. Then I was asked to run global accounts, so that was HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, Apple. Then I was promoted to be chief sales officer, running the global sales organization for AMD across all their portfolio, driving some $5.5-$6 billion end-to-end from sales. My wife and I had twin girls 20 months ago, and I resigned two months after.

What's your message to partners?

Relationships are always about trust, and trust is based on two things: your character and your competence. The competence part comes with what have you done in your career, the relationships you built. People are going to find me very, very, very transparent. I believe it's all about winning. I want teams to win. I watch soccer, and I don't care if the striker scores four goals and we lost 5-4 -- we lost. I want teams to win, I want teams to feel good about themselves, and I want partners to feel good about themselves.

How do you accomplish that?

The last thing I want in any part of my company, or any part of my business is the surprise element. The channel hates the surprise element, and I want to get as consistent as I humanly can. Are there going to be surprises along the way? Of course there are going to be, but I believe if you're extremely transparent in what you're trying to do, if you're clear from my team to the channel partners, [it] should be seamless. That's my vision for the channel partners.

What levers will you use to grow your channel business?

We've had the most robust planning process seen in recent history in Dell. We just went through it. We worked with our business units in terms of their vision, their strategy, their key plays by division, by route to market, by country. We're looking at [whether] we have the capacity, the capability, the tools, and still the channel has blown it out, even with the most rigorous process we've ever had. Clearly, we're doing something right.