Here’s What 20 Channel Execs Did To Help Their Channel Partners Weather The COVID-19 Storm

The CRN 2021 Channel Chiefs recount the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their channel strategies.

Managing The Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing millions to work from home, IT vendors and their channel partners had to quickly shift gears to meet the changing needs of their customers. Some solution providers scrambled to meet soaring demand for laptop computers, collaboration applications and other WFM gear while others struggled as IT projects and sales deals were put on hold amid the uncertainty.

Channel chiefs responded in numerous ways to support their channel partners, launching initiatives to help partners absorb the economic blow from the pandemic. Many assisted with generous financing terms, flexibility in using market development funds, and free or subsidized training opportunities.

Other vendors stepped up their online marketing and lead-generation assistance for solution providers who suddenly had to conduct their sales and marketing efforts virtually.

We asked the honorees of the 2021 Channel Chiefs list to tell us about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their channel strategies and their partners and how they responded. Here’s what some of them had to say.

Acer America

Philip Burger

VP, U.S. Channel

COVID-19 impacted each of the verticals differently - some negatively as business stalled to a crawl, while other verticals were experiencing record growth. At Acer, we had to pivot early to make sure we were properly aligned to where the opportunity presented itself. Early on some OEMs were giving prices for air shipment versus sea shipment production. Acer has been flying product in from the onset of COVID-19 and absorbing these extra costs that were not forecasted by us. In a lot of cases, we have drop-shipped product directly to the end-point destination, saving our partners money on SG&A costs.

Cisco Systems

Oliver Tuszik

SVP, Global Partner Organization

Despite the economic impact of COVID-19, our channel strategy did not change. We continued making investments to help our partners perform to achieve their quarterly targets and to transform by building new revenue streams and growth opportunities. At the same time, we quickly mobilized to provide relief for our partners’ businesses during the pandemic. This included free Webex and security trials, a $2.5 billion financing program to help partners provide financial relief to customers whose cash flow was impacted and extending competency requirements due to [partners’] inability to complete training or take an exam, among other actions.


Matt McDonough

SVP, Business Development and Strategy

COVID-19 is an acceleration catalyst for partners and channel strategy. The need to modernize legacy applications - supply chain and ecommerce – or enhance customer intimacy in a fully digital, mobile/remote world has benefited global systems integrator partners driving digital transformation programs. COVID-19 created urgency to quickly ideate, validate [and] scale technology architecture.

Our cloud and technology ecosystem partners are crucial enablers helping customers quickly deploy Couchbase. Many new SaaS and other application/vertical-specific ISVs find COVID-19 an opportunity to disrupt legacy/incumbent vendors. Our ISV partners built powerful modern applications leveraging Couchbase as the underlying platform in telco, payments [and] other specialized verticals.


Matthew Polly

VP, Worldwide Alliances, Channels and Business Development

The COVID-19 pandemic drove significant new vulnerabilities for companies with entire workforces suddenly thrust into a mandatory work-from-home scenario. CrowdStrike quickly mobilized to create new product capabilities and commercial structures, including a no-charge, limited-time option to allow our partners and customers to transition quickly from in-office to the new normal of work-from-anywhere. The Home-Use program helped hundreds of customers and tens of thousands of their employees make the transition seamlessly and safely without interruption to their cybersecurity coverage. This program earned CrowdStrike and our partners significant trust and goodwill from our customers.

Dell Technologies

Rola Dagher

Global Channel Chief

While we’re not with our partners physically, partner communication and our open-door policy are stronger than ever. Our leadership team has been talking to partners to ensure we’re available to help. We’re looking at this situation through two lenses: How can we help partners today and continue to empower them for the future. We rolled out a payment flexibility program in April, which included 0 percent interest rates for several months and payment deferrals until 2021. We also created a $9 billion fund to finance critical technology needs.


Herve Tardy

VP and General Manager

We quickly realized that our planned 2020 channel programs focused on growth would become irrelevant when many channel partners were just fighting for survival. We changed gears and introduced a new program named XFactor, intended to help partners generate revenue from mining their installed base for upgrades instead of chasing new projects, while providing extended terms to help their cash flow situation.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise

George Hope

Worldwide Head of Partner Sales

The pandemic highlighted the resiliency of our channel. However, early on into the pandemic, we wanted to ensure our partners were armed with the tools, resources and financial initiatives to not only weather the storm but grow and thrive.

In addition to the $2 billion in financial support from HPE Financial Services allocated early on, we quickly reinforced our support to partners by suspending revenue thresholds, accelerating liquidity for distributors, and even shifting all of our training, demonstrations and more into virtual offerings. In 2021 we are keeping many of the core requirements the same to ensure consistency for our channel.

HP Inc.

Luciana Broggi

Head of Global Routes to Market

HP’s partners have been incredibly resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic, and many were able to maintain results throughout the year. To assist with financial challenges due to COVID, HP introduced a 360-support program with a variety of short-term, market and country-specific incentives for partners.

In addition, HP implemented a more predictable, flat-rate incentive program and relaxed compensation models to allow for more partner flexibility with linearity while extending deadlines for submission of proof of performance and reporting. HP has been recognized for its robust COVID support for partners and we are continuing to assist partners as needs change.


David La Rose

General Manager, IBM Partner Ecosystem

We took multiple steps to help partners focus on two challenges we knew they were facing: Creating new ways to support their clients and increasing their resiliency to survive and thrive.

Key initiatives:

-Launched IBM My Digital Marketing, [a] state-of-the-art marketing platform to help partners execute end-to-end digital campaigns and provided 100 percent funding for digital campaigns.

-Extended PartnerWorld Program revalidation grace period enabling partners to maintain level/competencies.

-Offered no-charge Entry Partner Package to enable partners to explore IBM technology.

-Added performance incentive funds for Power and Storage partners.

-Provided new skills/offerings for AI and cloud.


Jason Kimrey

General Manager, U.S. Channel and Partner Programs

Intel extended its evaluation period to 18 months to meet the standards for [the] Intel Partner Alliance. Intel has also extended benefits on the reward programs so points don’t expire as quickly, and partners can still utilize [them]. We are customer-obsessed and work every day to understand our customers’ ambitions and challenges so we can anticipate their needs. Our customers’ success is our success. Despite the uncertainty in the market, there is still a lot of business opportunity for channel partners to deliver the technology needed for business transformation, and Intel is providing the platform and solutions partners need to be successful.


Rob Cato

VP, North America Channel, Lenovo Intelligent Devices Group

COVID-19 required us to move quickly. We created our Partner Stimulus Package to ensure that we were doing everything possible to support the challenges that our partners were facing. Our goal was to improve cash flow through better terms, faster payments cycles and more consistent earnings. We are proud that we were the first to market with this type of investment.

Second, we worked closely with our partners to ensure that those customers with critical needs were taken care of first. Our partners have been amazing, helping us get solutions to healthcare providers and ensuring that students had access to devices.


Michael Tarbet

VP, Sales

The pandemic prompted us to adapt our channel strategy to focus on supporting our existing partners. We implemented this strategy to protect our margins and maintain pipeline generation with the support of our internal sales team. We also rolled out free skills trainings to ensure our partners have all the intel[ligence] they need to sell LogicMonitor’s platform. We also supported partners by preselling and co-selling our platform to increase win rates, along with promotions to drive customer engagement.


Chris Lamborn

Head of Global Partner GTM & Programs

During the COVID-19 pandemic NetApp helped its partners enable business continuity and progress for our customers. We’ve helped organizations support remote-access workers, ensure the availability of data and applications, and prepare for and avoid the next wave of potential disruptions.

Understanding the potential related impacts on credit and cash flow due to continuing business disruptions, we extended partner credit terms by 30 days, extended eligibility for achievement in [the] partner growth program, extended all certification expirations by six months, allowed more time for customer deployments, and delayed compliance reviews. We want our partners to know we’re in this together.

Palo Alto Networks

Karl Soderlund

SVP, Worldwide Channels

Many of our customers went from having roughly 20 percent of their workforce remote to 100 percent overnight. This has created a massive spike in security demand as schools, hospitals and businesses all attempt to adapt to working securely in a global pandemic.

In March we took immediate action to reduce our NextWave program requirements so our partners could focus on their families, communities and employees. We eliminated our annual performance requirement (bookings) and we reduced the number of individual certifications and NFR required to maintain compliance in FY’20. The result [was] record breaking partner-initiated bookings in FY’20.

RSA Security

Brian Breton

Senior Director, Global Channel Strategy & Americas Channel Sales

During the high pandemic-driven demand for RSA solutions, we were faced with the need for order processing speed, accuracy and delivery. We removed a number of steps in our standard process and ensured that partners would receive full benefits for their orders without having to complete all the standard steps. Additionally, we re-educated our partners on some of the less known options that could help customers more quickly deploy RSA solutions.


Karl Fahrbach

Chief Partner Officer

We mobilized quickly to help partners adjust to the rapidly changing world. We did so in two ways: We made program adjustments to help partners themselves, and we took strong measures to help them help customers who found themselves thwarted from opening their offices, transacting business in a traditional way and/or caring for their customers.

To help partners, we streamlined programs, waived fees and accelerated everything cloud, which helped organizations power through. In our second quarter, we saw a 40 percent increase in the number of certified consultants that we had as well as an 80 percent increase in cloud revenue.

StorageCraft Technology

Andy Zollo

VP, Worldwide Sales

We kept a close eye on partners throughout the pandemic. Our partners heard consistently from their dedicated sales resources, we had several virtual networking events to talk about the pandemic’s impact, and we utilized two survey tools to understand their experiences specific to their revenue and profitability, the distributed workforce, technology initiatives engaged in, and vulnerabilities to customer data present in the current landscape.

From there, we identified a need to offer 24x7 support to partners purchasing subscription-based products, introduced two dedicated relief programs, and consistently relayed feedback to our product management team to ensure innovation plans were on point.


Bob Gagnon

VP, Channel Sales

Our partner engagement model/go-to-market plans were greatly impacted when COVID-19 first breached. We had to resize our business and pivot away from a heavy in-person field model to 100-percent digital while trying to maintain our pipeline trajectory.

As we migrated over to the new paradigm, we took stock of the ‘work-from-home’ opportunity to focus on partner certifications and training. Education was a key area of investment while COVID-19 was in progress. These two factors – the switch to digital marketing and advancing the knowledge base of our partners – helped maintain top-of-mind during this challenging period.


Chris Carvacho

VP, Channel & OEM

COVID-19 has had various impacts on partners. Some thrived due to trusted advisor relationships with customers. Others that were simply facilitating orders seemed to struggle with less budget going to non-essentials. We have seen massive transition to moving to the cloud faster and our partners in this space seem to be thriving most. Michelle Curtis of Presidio said: “The industry is starved for comprehensive solutions that support simple, cost-effective, seamless migrations from the traditional data center to modern multi-cloud hybrid estates. The Virtana hybrid and multi-cloud optimization platform serves as rocket fuel for the Presidio cloud and digital infrastructure portfolio.”

Watchguard Technologies

Michelle Welch

SVP, Marketing and Channel

For partners, the global health crisis changed everything. Most notably, it impacted a) onboarding and training, b) product stacks, c) pipeline development, and d) cash flow.

In direct response, WatchGuard moved swiftly to a) shift to a virtual training and certification process and introduce self-service training resources; b) add new products, services and bundles to address the top use-cases for end customers (mobile workforce, etc.); c) shift the field marketing team’s focus from branding and events to digital-based business development; and d) offer maximum flexibility with regards to business models and payment terms (extensions, grace periods, etc.).