TD Synnex’s Sammy Kinlaw On Major Partner Communities Reorganization

‘Communities are so big and so meaningful to TD Synnex. They’re an audience of partners who were dedicated. And for that dedication, they get favors. They gain other things perhaps that one of our resellers might not get if they don’t consider the community. There’s just a lot of extras’, says Sammy Kinlaw, TD Synnex’s senior vice president of sales communities for North America.

Exploring The Role Of Partner Communities

When Tech Data and Synnex merged to form TD Synnex, the IT industry’s new largest distributor inherited three partner communities: Varnex and Stellr from Synnex, and TechSelect from Tech Data. The question for TD Synnex and for Sammy Kinlaw, who recently became the combined firm’s new senior vice president of sales communities for North America after years as the top channel exec at Lexmark and Lenovo where he sponsored those communities, was whether or not to merge them into a single community.

It is an important question for the channel. Most IT distributors have communities of solution providers who come together to discuss areas of common interest, get unique vendor support, and sometimes collaborate on projects. Kinlaw told CRN that he was originally leaning towards combining TD Synnex’s three communities into one, but after studying the makeup of those communities decided instead to keep all three under a new single umbrella organization called CommunitySolv as a way to fully support all three while ensuring that different types of partners have unique community support.

“All three have an audience,” he said. “All three have different benefits for their members. All three have different benefits for the investing vendors. That’s why I’m going to leave them separate.”

Doing so also brought a new opportunity to Bob Stegner, TD Synnex’s senior vice president of marketing. Stegner, who formerly served as senior vice president of marketing North America at Synnex, was the long-time leader of the Varnex community, but is now stepping up to focus on marketing for all of TD Synnex North America.

The new CommunitySolv and executive changes are just a part of the big changes coming as TD Synnex moves beyond the new merger. For details, click through our slideshow.

Talk about your role at TD Synnex. Is this a new role for the company?

It is a new role. I’ve been with the company a little over a year, and during that time saw a lot of changes. We went through a merger, and we just finished our first quarter and our first year roll-up as TD Synnex. And during the past little over a year, I’ve had two major jobs with the company. I was running endpoint solutions, and that’s where I started at what was Tech Data, coming from running the global channel at Lexmark. And then I transitioned into running sales, and then post merge, I picked up new responsibilities running our communities. And that’s a new role. It’s a new organization. There were disparate communities that rolled up either through sales or marketing, and based on the importance of communities [TD Synnex CEO] Rich Hume, [TD Synnex President Americas] Michael Urban, and [TD Synnex President, Americas] Peter Larocque asked if I could step in and create a new umbrella organization where all communities would report through.

You spent a relatively short time managing TD Synnex’s endpoint business, then moved to sales, and now to communities. Those are pretty quick shifts for somebody coming into a company. What happened?

They were quick shifts. That’s one thing in regards to mergers that happens, right? There’s new rules and new players and it’s a new game. And you contribute where you can. I had a fantastic experience running endpoint. Frankly, it was all legacy vendors that I knew and had competed with in the past. I knew that business like the back of my hand, and it was enjoyable. But during that transition, the previous SVP (senior vice president) of sales [Marty Bauerlein] left the company. They asked me to step in upon his departure. And then post-merge, Peter and Michael asked me to run communities. And then Steve Jow took on [a new role as executive vice president of sales]. So yeah, quick hits. But personally for me, I took a lot from those roles. I gave a lot to those roles and frankly I left both of them in better shape from when I picked them up. So yeah, it was a good experience.

How did your experience with Lexmark and Lenovo help you in your new role of working with the communities?

Well, my reference point and considerations are different perhaps versus the legacy teams that were managing our communities. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but I do have different perspectives because the reality is, I’ve been on the main stage at Varnex and TechSelect and spoken to the advisory councils 40 times. I invested literally millions of dollars into communities when I was leading both of those companies’ channels, and I understood the benefits that I got from those communities, including scale, reach, consideration factor, the ability to train and educate at a higher level. It gave me an ear. It gave me an audience. And I could hold people accountable at the distributors because I was investing a lot of money for growth. And so I knew what communities meant to me as a vendor because those were dedicated communities and it’s no different today than it was for me when I was calling on Tech Data and Synnex individually.

Partners have really bought in. They’re listening, and they’re leaning in to their distributor and they use and leverage that community platform to better their opportunities to gain leads, to further educate their sales teams. And really, I’m just modernizing and updating what was there before. There’s a set of tangible benefits and intangible benefits. And that’s why communities are so big and so meaningful to TD Synnex. They’re an audience of partners who were dedicated. And for that dedication, they get favors. They gain other things perhaps that one of our resellers might not get if they don’t consider the community. There’s just a lot of extras.

While Varnex and TechSelect, the primary communities for the original Synnex and Tech Data they weren’t competing per se, they had overlapping functionalities. Are you looking at bringing those two along with Stellr together into a single community, or maintain separate communities?

My initial idea and thought was to bring all the communities into one. It’s a new company, so it was perfect timing, I thought, for a new name and inclusion. And so when I began down that path, I thought before I make any decisions, I’ve got to start with analytics. So I went and pulled all the historical data from TechSelect, Varnex, and Stellr. And what you’ve got in these communities is, this is not small business. These communities represent a total of well over $4 billion in revenue for us.

And so then I picked apart thousands of line items and double-click’s of what those communities purchased. And in short order, what I came away with was the realization that the communities represent different things. ... Varnex historically is made up of more edge or connected device partners with a focus on SMB and government verticals. Stellr is a cloud community, really they’re an as-a-service community. Their focus is on MSPs. ...

Then I cross-referenced all the members and did a Venn diagram of who’s in Varnex, who’s in TechSelect, and who’s in Stellr. And you’re talking over 850 partners between the three. What I found is very little overlap. Only around 50 partners overlapped. So then I began changing my mind and I thought, well, Varnex and TechSelect have a big history of success. They’ve got brand recognition, and the partners are different. So then I changed course. That long story resulted in an umbrella organization, which I’ll manage, with staff calling on each of the communities. The supporting arms of the umbrella will remain as TechSelect, Varnex, and Stellr. ... So all three have an audience. All three have different benefits for their members. All three have different benefits for the investing vendors. That’s why I’m going to leave them separate.

Will you keep the current names of the three communities?

Correct. We’ll have an umbrella organization of TD Synnex communities referenced as CommunitySolv. And then underneath the umbrella, you will have Varnex, TechSelect, and Stellr remaining as sub-brands to the community.

Varnex has been led for years by [Synnex Senior Vice President Marketing for North America] Bob Stegner, while TechSelect was let by [Vice President of Sales Development] Kaye McMillan (pictured). Will they still lead those communities?

We’re extracting that. So the sales teams still support both Varnex and TechSelect, but we’re moving it into a centralized management group, which is under my organization.

So now what happens to Stegner and McMillan?

Kaye runs SMB for us today on the legacy Tech Data side. And Bob is concentrating on the wider marketing organization. I report to Peter Larocque, who is the president for North America. So Bob and I are peers and friends. You know, Bob’s been an icon in the communities group, and luckily enough he’s been by my side through the transition. And he and I are partners. So we both have smiles on our faces. [Bob] won’t manage communities, but he’ll certainly assist me in the transition and be present as needed when marketing things come up. He’s my peer in the marketing side.

As you look at CommunitySolv as we near the end of 2021 and move into 2022, what are some initiatives that you’re planning?

I have five. Expanding membership and expanding sponsorship is important. So from a vendor perspective, all the major players are involved, as you would expect: Lenovo HP Inc., HPE, Intel, AMD, Dell. They’re all participating with me in the [CommunitySolv]. But at the same time, I also want to make sure we provided opportunities for upcoming vendors with double-digit CAGR (cumulative annual growth rate) based on changing technologies, whether that be in security or 5G or mobility. I think it’s important to consider incubation and what’s changing in the technology group, and then be able to introduce those technologies into the wider and bigger practices. And most of those vendors I’m speaking of are working conjunction with the larger vendors. ...

Number two is, I do want to grow the membership. I mentioned there are 850 members now. I would say 15 percent growth in number of members in the communities is appropriate for the next 12 months. Closing our next fiscal year with more than a thousand members is a goal. And then over the 12 months after that, growing the community to 1,500-plus members is in my two-year plan. Why is that? The scale that’s needed. The benefit statements that members get are so large, both in the intangible and the tangible areas, that we want partners there because we have more opportunities to speak to them, to wrap our arms around them, to train them, to educate them. There’s more dedicated community communication. There’s monthly speaks. There are multiple regional events. I have twice-a-year main-tent events that’ll happen in major cities. And in the Fall, I’ll have one large event with more than a thousand partners where all communities will be invited.

What else?

I also want to evolve industry highlights. And whether we’re talking about insights from [CRN parent company] The Channel Company or from IDC or Gartner, I think it’s important, because we’re a big name and a big player and we spend a lot of money for those insights, we communicate what those insights are to the partners. An average partner within our communities may have 40 employees. They don’t buy insights through third-parties because they’re incredibly expensive.

So how are we communicating what is the outlook is for growth, and what is recoveries for supplies? The net-net, is evolving industry insights and putting those on a silver platter in front of our members is important to me. So I will do that.

The third thing is improving collaboration. [Our members] want to be back in front of us, and they want to be in breakouts and trainings and certifications. And that made me think of ways in which we can collaborate more. And so I am going to purchase and put in place a peer-to-peer collaboration tool where partners can sell their goods and wares amongst themselves. They’ll be able to network their own services. Let’s say you’re a Cisco partner in the Midwest and you’ve sold a deal in the Southeast. What if you don’t have technicians or engineers in that city? Well, perhaps peer-to-peer collaboration would either allow TD Synnex to do that service on their behalf, or maybe there’s a neighboring partner that they have an association with that’s within the community that they could work with on picking up that deal because they’re trusted and they’re both within Varnex or TechSelect.

The fourth thing is making sure we’re aligned on events. Partners told me very clearly in our survey, they want to see us more often. They want regional events. So that idea is front of mind for me.

And the fifth?

The most important thing is making sure that my finger is on the pulse of every benefit statement that a member gets. Financial fuel is imperative for these partners. And if they’re in a community, they get consideration for unique terms and benefits. They get unique considerations for reduced costs on freight and the amount of credit that’s extended. And so intangible benefits are also important. ... My team has been working extremely hard to make sure the vendors have the right level of benefits, because if you’re a vendor and you’re joining our community, you want to grow not just at a premium to market. You want to grow at a premium to TD Synnex growth.

So all those are very relevant and important things for me and for the vendors that are going to sponsor these programs. I understand that. I’ve been in their shoes, I can speak their language. I know they need KPIs (key performance indicators). I know they need ROI. And I have to give them that on a quarterly track and show them that their investments are paying off. And conversely, for members, I understand their needs. They’re joining this community because they need a way to elevate their game. They need insights. So my approach is going to be fresh. It’s going to be convicted. It’s planned. It’s well-organized. I’ve met with every senior leader in this business to make sure they support me on the TD Synnex side. So we’re going to come at them with arms wide.