HPE Global Channel Chief Paul Hunter On GreenLake Sales Momentum And 'Stellar' Partner Sales Growth

HPE Global Channel Chief Paul Hunter, who recently celebrated his first year anniversary in the top channel job, says HPE's ground breaking GreenLake pay-per-use channel model is picking up steam.


The GreenLake Channel Game Changer

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Global Channel Chief Paul Hunter, who last Fall celebrated his first year anniversary in the top channel job, says HPE's ground breaking GreenLake pay-per-use just closed its biggest deal ever.

"We are really starting to see signs of good progress," said Hunter, referring to a blockbuster multi-million dollar GreenLake pay-per-use deal that was pulled together by $3 billion United Kingdom distributor Westcoast working with ONX a CBTS company. The Westcoast deal is twice the size of any other GreenLake deal.

"GreenLake is on plan and growing very quickly," said Hunter, a 17 year HPE veteran, in an interview with CRN. "I am really thrilled at the work the team has done on not only the GreenLake offer itself, but the manner in which we came up with the offer- this principle of working with partners to design what they need and then bring it to market. We have been rewarded with great growth from that."

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Westcoast said its multi-million dollar GreenLake solution – which includes HPE Synergy, 3Par and StoreOnce – provides a "level of flexibility through on-prem hardware with cloud-like economics, that is unmatched in the hybrid IT market."

What are you most proud of as you enter the second year on the job?

Certainly launching the GreenLake proposition for partners is a big deal. We are the only vendor to have a partner specific consumption proposition. We have now been in market with GreenLake for three quarters and of course that is on top of a consumption offer that we have had for a very long time. We are really starting to see signs of good progress.

Westcoast in the UK announced a big GreenLake deal with ONX a CBTS company in the UK. GreenLake is on plan and growing very quickly. I am really thrilled at the work the team has done on not only the GreenLake offer itself, but the manner in which we came up with the offer- this principle of working with partners to design what they need and then bring it to market. We have been rewarded with great growth from that.

How far have you with the consumption model with GreenLake, which started as Flex Capacity four years ago?

It takes patience. Partners have got to internalize this, educate their sales team, invest in the ability of their architects to architect them. There is a different way of selling it, the sales cycles themselves are in the order of six months.

These are seeds you plant and you start to see the crops growing six month later and then you start to harvest the crops. You need to be patient. You have got to stay on the right course. It is easy to get distracted with something like this.

This is a process of iteration. It is one thing getting a proposition to market. It is another thing getting a proposition that works for partners and that delivers real value for customers. That is a whole different level of complexity. That is the advantage you get from being first to market.

Talk about the HPE financial and partner commitment to GreenLake.

We are seeing great growth, but we are not standing still. That is not the end of the portfolio. Consumption isn't just about a services led proposition. It is also a subscription.

Subscription is essentially our Financial Services enabled subscription proposition which increasingly is about the repurposing of IT assets. That has been really well received by both partners and customers.

We have got a very sophisticated led consumption model which is based on real time monitoring of usage. It is a proper consumption offer- not a pseudo consumption offer.

Then we have a finance enabled subscription model which also has got its place in the market and is particularly resonating with our proposition around repurposing and re-utilizing aged IT assets. I think we have an opportunity to build out that portfolio further.

One of the advantages of leading this market is we have got opportunities for us to do more in the future. The aim is for us to come to market with incremental aspects to the portfolio in the next three to six months.

What kind of sales growth have you seen in your first year at the worldwide channel helm?

We had a good growth year in 2018. The partner business grew faster than the rest of our business. It grew in all regions and in all our strategic product categories and services. We really had a stellar 2018. We look to continue that in 2019.

2018 was a step up from 2017 and our expection is that 2019 will be a step up from 2018.

It's a privilege to be in the job.It is an exhilarating, thrilling, fascinating, stimulating, provocative job. I have worked at the company a long time and I feel like a lot of the experience I have gained during that time is very relevant to this role. I am enjoying that.

What type of collaboration have you seen with the local countries and what you have accomplished there?

I think the collaboration with the local countries is better than it has ever been. That is not a reflection of me. That is a reflection of the sales structure.

Last week we had one of our face to faces with the Geo- Partner sales teams. It is very much a collaborative affair. From a worldwide perspective we come at it with here are the things we can do to help you be more successful. We get feedback on that and iterate on it.

We see lots of opportunity to continue to accelerate with the growth we had in 2018.

How fast is HPE moving now in terms of being more agile to drive a better experience for partners?

One of the main strategic tenets of the (2015) separation (between HPE and HP) is we will be a faster more specialized company. We are faster and more agile. I have been in the company a long time and I think back to what it was like when we were trying to cope with selling PCs on the one hand and 30 seconds later we were trying to talk about the evolution of data centric solutions. It is challenging to do. You need different skill sets and you need partners that have different capabilities and can sell to different customers.The thesis on agility and specialization is proving out in the market.

What I am really pleased about is the meaningful changes we managed to make in 2018 and the pace at which that continues to increase. We are getting faster.

How do you see channel sales growth versus the direct business?

I don't think of it as one or the other. I think about it as we should be growing with the partners as fast as we can in a way that is healthy and mutually beneficial for both of us. If we continue to deliver on that proposition partners will be loyal to us and continue to invest in the new technology and innovation we are bringing to market. If they know and trust that we will be predictable in our behavior we will continue to get the results we are looking for.

One of the core propositions we have for the partners is they make great profits with us. We invest a huge amount of dollars in both rebate/MDF and additional partner enablement training and front-end margin. There is a very healthy profit ecosystem for the HPE partner community- which ever part of the portfolio they want to play with.

When you look at GreenLake we took that to a whole other level with the opportunity to make 17 percent rebate. That is a really, really significant opportunity for partners to transform the profitability of their business if they are able to successfully sell services led consumption which requires skill. What we have seen is the partners that have been particularly successful are the ones that have great managed services offerings. They know how to sell services. The extension of the consumption model is one they are able to make. They are the ones where we have seen the earliest signs of success.

Besides being a profitable vendor, we are predictable in our behavior so partners can plan for the future. We have a program that doesn't place (variable) targets on you so that you know what you earned in March is the same as what you are going to earn in September on a dollar for dollar basis and all of it backed up by innovation.

Talk about the HPE innovation engine.

I think one of the great advantages we have is that we have been bringing this tidal wave of innovation to the market – some of it home grown and some of it acquired. Because we are not encumbered with debt it means that we have had the freedom to make 12 acquisitions in the past three years – one of the latest being Blue Data and prior to that Plexxi as well.

There is a roll of innovation that we have got whether it be InfoSight and artificial intelligence in the data center or virtualization of data with SimpliVity or the great growth we are seeing with composability with Synergy. You saw composability at Discover and Plexxi has just added to that.

We have seen Synergy as a platform deliver fabulous growth in the channel. It really took off in 2018. That is over a $1 billion business now. The innovation is leading to growth. And don't forget the Aruba portfolio. When we acquired it in 2015 it was a $1 billion company. By the end of 2018 it is a $3 billion business. You have seen the grow out into transforming experiences, the bridge into security where we have seen really good traction with specialist partners with user and entity behavior analytics part of the Aruba portfolio. The new switching portfolio has just continued to ignite the growth in that part of our business as well.

What are some of the priorities for 2019?

One of the things we are looking at is how do we increase or step up the level of engagement we have with our technical community. I was at the Ambassador Summit in Houston this week and we have our technical solutions summit in Paris in March for our European partners. So we have these three regional technical solution summits – one in the US, one in Asia Pacific and the one in Europe. We are seeing attendance increase 10-15 percent so far in Europe.

We are putting increased investment into technical enablement into the channel. At the Technical Solutions Summit in March we will be making some announcements about the investments we are making and how we are going to be taking technical enablement to partners to another level.

How important is technical enablement given the innovation offensive around artificial intelligence (AI) and the intelligent edge?

Our portfolio is getting increasingly sophisticated and it requires expertise to bring those solutions – linked to business outcomes - to life on behalf of customers. We are no longer selling on features and benefits. We are selling solutions linked to business outcomes and our partners are doing the same. A vital component of that is the technical and architectural community that exists with those partners. We have over 80,000 partners globally and each one of them has a core competency and technical expertise.

So the key for us is how do we help them invest in those technologists and help them gain the skills they need in a world where we are seeing the prevalence of artificial intelligence whether it be at the edge or the data center, apply that and help customers adopt that.

One approach we are taking is building out that competency framework. The second is how do we provide a platform where those technologies can easily access our assets. We treat the partner technologists as an extension of our own company. That amplification is a benefit of working with the channel. If you want to do that successfully across a portfolio that is becoming more sophisticated with increased opportunity for specialization for partners you have to invest. You can't expect that is going to come without hard work and investments in programs, resources and platforms and that is what we are doing.

We will be talking about that further at the technical solutions summit in March. The corporation has signed off on incremental investments for the year. That is pretty significant. There is always a case for additional sales resources and sales people so any investments you make have to be considered in light of what are the other opportunities for the use of that money. When we put meaningful money into enabling the technologists at our partners that speaks volumes for how important we see that community to us.

Any surprises as you look back on the first year in the global job?

That indicates I had a firm point of view as to what I thought it would be and I didn't come into it with that attitude. I came into it wanting to be curious about what the role entailed and what I could make of it.

One of the things I am surprised by is the fact that we have more ideas than we are capable of executing upon to get better, which to my mind is a great place to be. It means we are constantly making sure that we dedicate our efforts to the top two or three priorities and we have a big funnel of things we can get better at. I am really proud of the feedback we are getting from partners on their experience they have working with us.

We get that through our partner experience survey which is a really comprehensive survey. But we also get it from independent analysts. Look at the Canalys data. They run a blind survey on who are the best vendors to work with and we consistently come out as one of the top vendors. While we are in that position some might think we are resting on our laurels. But it is quite the reverse. I just see that there is a huge opportunity for us to continue to get better and better. That is really exhilarating because that means there is something that we can meaningfully bring to the countries that helps them execute in a way that is even more effective than they are currently doing.

How are you balancing the need for global structure with the need for autonomy in the regions?

The action is in the countries. That is where the selling is done. That is where the execution of the program is done. That is where the quota is carried. I was in one of those roles as general manager in the UK for the printing personal systems business. When you are in country you are executing against your sales plan with a lot of pressure to make sure you deliver on a consistent basis in a complex marketplaces. Sometimes you can be prone to thinking – what do the worldwide guys do for me? Now I am a worldwide guy. So I am very mindful of making sure that we are providing value to the sales leaders in the countries who are the ones delivering for us on a daily basis.

Increasingly there is more and more specialization in the partner community. Ten to five years ago if you talked about the channel you had in mind a traditional solution partner. Now if you talk about the channel there are lots of variations in type, size, scale and specialization. I am seeing that trend increasing. There are more and more specialist partners that tend to specialize in really distinct technologies or verticals. There are partners that are adapting their businesses for consumption/managed services and partners looking to develop their own intellectual property.

When you are working with the channel you have to fly at 1,000 feet now. You can't fly at 10,000 feet. You have to get quite specific at the types of partners you think will be effective for different parts of your portfolio.

The opportunity to be really successful with the whole of your portfolio is becoming challenging. It requires investment in expertise and our portfolio is getting increasingly sophisticated. That would be a trend, but that is not new. It is the partner community adapting. One of the great assets of the channel is it is very resilient and adaptable. It tends to adapt quickly. That has been one of the reasons the channel has been so successful. Very few industries have what we have with a proliferation of thousands upon thousands of different businesses that are serving customers and are the intermediary between the vendors and customers delivering value in that value chain. It is difficult to think of many industries that have the same set up. The reason that has been sustained is because the partners have fundamentally been able to adapt and add value.

What kind of improvements have been made to some of the tools HPE is bringing to partners?

We made some big breakthroughs in 2018.

We now have a brand-new unified configuration OCA (One Configuration Advanced) tool that is common to the whole of our portfolio including all the acquired companies. That has been linked to a Next Generation Quotation (NGQ) tool. So we have got configuration integrated into quotation.

OCA – which we have rolled out in total - is an online universal consistent configuration tool that also has built in advisory and intelligence. That means that firstly you have one tool that all the technologists and partners can use for configuration. Generally when you acquire new companies they have their own configuration tools. Now we have a consistent experience for whatever part of our portfolio you are architecting for.

What it does is eliminate configuration and architectural errors by having the right rules engine in place. So you eliminate the instances of customers getting something they didn't anticipate or a partner submitting an order that does not meet some of our architectural criteria. That eliminates a raft of time with the back and forth of quoting a configuration that technically we could not satisfy. That is a big improvement in the time to quote and iterations to quote. It takes cycles out of the quote process.

When you link that into our next generation quotation tool (NGQ) -- which is being rolled out -- you have both configuration and architecture done on OCA being directly linked seamlessly into our quotation tool. You don't have to then reenter the information or take the information from one system to the other. They are seamlessly linked. So we now have a seamless configuration to quote process. We are getting great feedback from partners who are trialing NGQ.

We also introduced a system called Voyager. From a partner standpoint it provides a seamless claims process. No longer do partners have to manually do rebate claims. That gets done automatically. We now have over 70 percent of the claims globally done without manual intervention. That makes it easier for the partner to do business with us.

In 2018, we had really significant investments in systems, processes and partner experience. We have got a lot more in the pipeline because of the investments (HPE CEO) Antonio (Neri) and the board have committed to with regard to our systems infrastructure. We are completely overhauling that.

What kind of global/international program improvements HPE is making?

Aruba has a global approach to working with partners now which is built out with a set of criteria and we also have a new international pilot partner program that was launched two months ago. We are working with six partners that have Platinum status in over three countries. We are working with them on how do we make international business easier to transact.

Partners are very positive that we are helping to facilitate international business. We have seen where we are able to do that with good growth, but we also need to be mindful to properly service global customers. The partner needs global capabilities and needs to be able to deliver with a customer experience that is first rate independently of the country it is being delivered to.

We are designing and iterating that international program so when we scale it we know we have something that partners are going to respond well to. We have got to make sure we have robust operations and processes before we look to grow it beyond the six partners we are currently working with.

It's similar to the way we worked with partners on GreenLake. That is an approach we are getting increasingly better at.

The next HPE partner advisory council is coming up in a few months. What is the importance of that advisory council?

It is one of the corner stones to make sure we have a circular feedback loop on things we can do better and grow with partners. It is one of the primary forums to have a discussion with leaders of a select number of partners. We are also very lucky to have our CEO Antonio Neri dedicating a whole day listening to what partners have to say. The focus is on ideas where we can grow faster or improve the experience. We use it for all manner of activities aligned with making sure we are building trusting relationships. It is one of the foundations to make sure we have open line of sight with the partner community. It allows us to tether the tiller with regard to the direction we are going, to make sure we are constantly taking partner feedback.

What kind of impact has Antonio's partner commitment had on the channel and the company?

He is just a real advocate for the partners. He knows many of them. He makes himself highly available and dedicates his time to them. The partner advisory board is a great example with Antonio spending a whole day.

Just this week we moved into a brand-new office in Santa Clara and Antonio's personal touch is on that office. It opened on Monday and I had the chance to go there on Wednesday. There is something very visceral about walking into a new building and being very proud of it. Antonio essentially had his personal touch on the design of the interior of the building. He has been doing site visits.

There is just fabulous attention to detail and it makes you proud to work at the company. You can feel it in the leadership throughout the company. We believe our employees are the bedrock of our company and cultivating talent is completely vital for our future. One of the ways in which we can encourage talent is through the environment in which people work. Antonio has put his mark on that with a building that we can all be thoroughly proud of that makes great use of our latest technology.

I booked a meeting room using the HPE app. It was my first time in the building and I used the route-finding app to find the meeting room I booked. It was absolutely fabulous! Right from the get go it actually brought to life how our technology can change an experience! I had a visitor and they were able to check themselves in.

What it has done is brought to life our technology in an environment that we can be really proud of. It's an environment where it is easy to collaborate. It makes you very proud. It is amazing what a difference your surroundings can have on your outlook.

It is the intelligent edge brought to life. It is transforming an experience. When Aruba talks about transforming experience the office experience is one of the key experiences. We extensively use Microsoft collaboration tools. You book a meeting room and it sign posts you to the meeting room so you know where you are. You take your laptop in, you log in and it instantly recognizes you with collaboration software all set up and you join the call. It is a seamless office experience. That is very different from the technology experience we were used to in the past. When you are on calls all day it is a big deal having a seamless meeting experience.

We are working in a global environment with lots of different people across continents both internally and externally. I have days jam packed talking to people. We have to get things done and if it takes 5-10 minutes to set up a call and book a room, then that amount of time in lost productivity adds up. That is just for me. You add that up for over 60,000 employees and it is significant. It puts a smile on your face because it is so seamless.

Antonio did many site visits and was there the day before on Sunday making sure the experience was what he had anticipated for his employees. That just shows a level of attention to detail and a level of care for his team. It is inspiring. It is from the top down. He cares about the environment his people are working in. He wanted to improve that and make sure that from day one the experience was fabulous from the get go. You could see it in the smiles on people's faces. The office is vibrant, people are talking and there are the corridor conversations where the innovation is happening.

How do you feel going into year two?

I feel excited. We have a lot we can deliver this year. My feeling is we are getting better and better, faster and faster. I have a degree of excitement about what we can do and the work we can do for partners. I have spent a lot of time talking to the partners and I know more of them. There are more intimate conversations I am having with partners with better and clearer feedback.

People know me now so they feel much more comfortable giving me their unadulterated opinions. They know I am not going to take it personally and I highly value it. That just means I have more information to assess where we can make more improvements. I am super excited about that. At the same time there is a degree of apprehension because it is a big business and I've got to deliver. My boss holds me accountable for that.

When you have a big partner base and you have got a big channel and there are millions of people employed by those partners we have a responsibility to be a partner that can continue to help them grow their business. On a personal level we are helping to sustain millions of livelihoods. That is not something we take lightly. We have a duty of care for those partners and our own business as well. It is not a frivolous responsibility.