Jenni Flinders Confirms VMware Partner Connect Launch For Feb. 29

“If any partner comes to me saying, ‘Hey, I want more rebates,’ that’s the wrong conversation to have. It’s more around, ‘How do we extend your business models? And how do we help you build more practice areas?” said Jenni Flinders, vice president and global channel chief for VMware, in an interview with CRN.

VMware’s Global Channel Chief On New Partner Program

The only way VMware can achieve its lofty goal of doubling revenue over the next several years is to change the way the virtualization superstar co-sells and interacts with channel partners, said VMware’s global channel chief Jenni Flinders.

Flinders expects to achieve this massive sales growth by officially launching its new flagship partner program, Partner Connect, on Feb. 29, 2020, which will replace all current channel programs.

“If we are going to double our revenue in a few years, the only way we’re going to do that is through one hell of a healthy partner ecosystem that is co-selling with us,” said Flinders, vice president and Global Channel Chief for VMware in an interview with CRN.

Flinders provides CRN with an in-depth look at Partner Connect, discusses her Master Services Competencies vision and what services are making VMware partners most profitable.

“If any partner comes to me saying, ‘Hey, I want more rebates,’ that’s the wrong conversation to have,” she said. “It’s more around, ‘How do we extend your business models? And how do we help you build more practice areas?’”

Do you have an official launch date for Partner Connect?

Partner Connect goes live Feb. 29, 2020 – a leap year. That’s when we start shutting things down and switching things on. It’s in phases. The switches go on Feb. 29. It’s a leap year. We will update our program though more often than every four years.

What is so unique about this new partner program?

We wanted to build a program that is foundationally agile. From an agility standpoint, we are going to have more acquisitions. We’re going to look at augmenting our Master Services Competencies. We’re going to look at investing in certain business models with partners. If I think about how I’m going to invest in the channel over the next three years, everything that we do, partners have to be able to engage with us through that single program. They have to see the value through the badging that they get. For us, we’ve structured Partner Connect to allow for easy adjustments throughout. It’s more additive and it also allows us to take things away that we might not necessarily need anymore. If there’s some things we need to retire, we can easily do it. Foundationally, that program is going to be super agile for us to not have to do these big refreshes. Partner Connect is a huge refresh for VMware. This is really modernizing our partner experience just like we as a vendor are modernizing customer’s digital experience.

You’re putting a lot of emphasis around a next-generation portal. What kind of new interface will a partner get?

We want to deliver an experience for our partners that mirrors our aspirations of where we’re going in the market. The nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, it’s a complete re-platforming of our systems of record, but what our partners should see and experience is a completely redesigned partner central experience that will be personalized and persona driven. It’s not a pretty website, so don’t think that. Don’t think that you just log-in and get a bunch of VMware ad’s or whatever. This coming portal is so personalized to the partner. The partner is going to start seeing what their performance is, what is their share of wallet with VMware, pipeline, the development funds we’re putting in there, enablement, events, marketing campaigns and who their territory sales leaders are. It’s really going to be this interface where you can intelligently interact with it and get the data.

So don’t think of it as just this pretty marketing portal. That’s not where we’re going with this. This is a digital experience that we’re going to continuously challenge our teams with as they go through the interactions to make improvements. [Partners] want transparency, we’ll give them transparency. We’re putting together an intelligent interface for them.

Achieving VMware Master Services Competencies plays a major role in Partner Connect status tiering. What’s your vision with these competencies?

We have to keep them relevant. Hence our recent refresh we just did for our Digital Workspace [Master Services Competency]. We had separate desktop and mobility focus areas, but the conversation that the customers were driving was towards, ‘I want a partner who can bridge across that.’ If you look at the numbers, since we introduced Master Services Competencies – we started with one competency just over a year ago – we’ve now got Master Services Competencies across our strategic IT priorities. We have about 350 partners who have attained these across the globe. 350 doesn’t sound like a big number, but when you look at how much time and investment it takes to get your Master Services Competency, it shows that there’s momentum. Partners are using it. These are giving partners the credibility to help customers get off antiquated systems that are costing them and tying them to a very expensive data center operation. It is working. It is driving differentiation. Customers are becoming aware of Master Services Competencies. We will continuously be keeping these competencies relevant.

What’s the partner benefit for achieving Master Services Competencies?

One of the very special anchor points of Partner Connect is how our partners can now really differentiate themselves by building trust through capability. So to earn a Master Services Competency is no little effort. It takes time, billable resources, they have to go get the training, go to the labs, pass the exams – there is a lot that goes into making sure that a partner is building intrinsic technical competency to delver customer outcomes. Customer reverences is also a big piece of that. It’s not just the classroom skillset that’s being demonstrated, these are the partners that have the full backing of their customers behind them. Then what happens is our core sellers, who are engaging with customers all the time, they want to know who these go-to partners are. The Master Services Competencies partners are really competent. They start building that trust and then co-sell becomes the magical thing that happens. That’s how we’re doing it. It’s very selective through partners who are showing a deep level of commitment. We’ll put the full weight and brand behind their recognition as a Principal-tier partner in the program.

How else is VMware boosting partners who have Master Services Competencies?

We’re getting our sales force on the floors with a strategic set of partners who have made the investment in Master Services Competencies to drive joint account planning, to do the forward-looking conversations and make sure that the right account-to-account level conversations are happening with the reps, which has been hugely powerful.

Partners are starting to feel a different engagement. It’s not just getting the folks on the sales floor, it’s actually doing deep level workshops with them and doing some account mapping and joint account planning. It’s a big step forward from VMware’s past sales methodology. It’s really putting partners in front now and knowing we can help scale them. If we are going to double our revenue in a few years, the only way we’re going to do that is through one hell of a healthy partner ecosystem that is co-selling with us.

With VMware’s recent acquisition of Carbon Black, do you plan to launch a Master Services Competency around Carbon Black technology?

When you think about Carbon Black and how that sort of lays a security component over the build, run and manage with everything else that we’re doing – absolutely. Because that’s going to now trickle across the apps. The next one you’ll see that in is with a Kubernetes focus cloud-native falling into our Master Services Competencies. But the key piece that continues to be relevant and fresh is the conversations with our customers and partners [around], ‘Help me with my cloud journey. Help me transform networking and security. Help me focus on digital workspace.’ Within those conversations, if we can abstract into a level that says, ‘Here are the VMware partners that are able to manage the end-to-end conversation within an ecosystem of other technology vendors and solutions to drive outcomes for the customer.’ That’s why you’ll see us to the best of our ability keep those [Master Services Competencies] fresh and relevant to keep the conversation at the customer outcome level. Fresh, relevant and we want to innovate.

What are two or three services that are the most profitable for VMware partners right now?

I would say cloud migration is top of mind. We’re looking at it from your private cloud to your public cloud to the hybrid cloud. There’s no better time to be a partner with VMware than now. If you look at all the announcements at VMWorld, not only from doing that migration service but looking at how you can now interlay the security aspects into our solutions, it gives customers more confidence in their ability to bet on the stack. To bet on, ‘Do I want to do an assessment to see what apps I should migrate?’ Partners will tell you that doing that initial assessment is what is so profitable for them. Because that’s advisory services, that’s professional services and customers need that because there is no quick decision to say, ‘Hey, I want to migrate this app right now.’ There’s a lot of things that go into that -- there’s policies, laws, regulations and there’s a number of things for just shifting apps. But where partners can really get engaged, make the money and get that profitability up the stack through their customer lifecycle is by doing the advisory services, the project-based services and then managing that.

So if a partner wants to be the most profitable around advisory, project-based and managed services, where should they start?

Our most profitable partners have come back to us and said, ‘It’s starts with the application. It’s all about application suitability and workload analysis.’ A partner can build a conversation that says, ‘Here’s how can we work with you to migrate from where you are today to your vision for the future.’ Partners should build those early assessments services that lead to project and managed service opportunities – those are the conversations that our partners are looking for us to help them in those skills and capability development areas. We had a recent partner roundtable talking about cloud, where we were talking about consumption. Consumption is king. It’s such a big focus for us. Another big focus for us is around how partners build a successful cloud practice. … There are partners who are building such tight relationships with their customers in being able to do that but to do it even faster, because it takes about six months to do an application migration. So they’re looking at how to become more efficient and how to repeat that process because then you can get more customers going through that migration process. Then it’s the consumption discussion.

VMware has been on an acquisition tear this year including Avi Networks, Bitnami, Carbon Black, Heptio and Pivotal Software. What’s your bullish technology vision for VMware?

From a virtualization standpoint, VMware is the undisputed leader when it comes to vSphere. You look at the evolution and transformation through acquisitions over the years – look I’ve been here for 18 months, I’ve never seen so many acquisitions in such a short amount of time. But for partners, if you haven’t bet on VMware yet, if you haven’t bet on [VMware] Pat [Gelsinger’s] (pictured) vision of any app, any platform, any device -- that is the vision. You can see at how we’re adding to our portfolio to really drive a difference in customers. Pat is really redefining the security market. At our recent roundtable, Pat said customers kept telling him that if there’s one thing that they need VMware to fix, it’s security. How do you manage 500 security vendors? He is so obsessed with driving that change and differentiation with everyone across VMware. Partners have to lean-in with VMware. We want customers to say, ‘Wow, the whole security just fits across my hybrid cloud environment.’ It really is going to change the landscape for sure. We’re delivering on that promise. It’s been Pat’s vision to become that essential ubiquitous platform to drive the digital transformation of our customer.

How will Partner Connect revamp VMware’s channel?

We are going to do a better job in bridging across our ecosystem. To date, we’ve had separate conversations, separate partner enablement, separate requirement elements built into the program, etc. Partners will now feel like they’re being recognized through one VMware and having the full weight of the engine behind them. Getting partners aligned for opportunities as they come up has been huge. … You have partners who resell, you have partners that have project-based services, you have managed services and then partners that do their own repeatable IP. As you move up that business model, so does your margin. Because you don’t make margins doing resell anymore. If any partner comes to me saying, ‘Hey, I want more rebates,’ that’s the wrong conversation to have. It’s more around, ‘How do we extend your business models? And how do we help you build more practice areas? We are going to really lean-in and invest with project-based services, advisory services, managed services, working with the ISV’s to build IP, etc. It’s almost like maturing those business models with [Partner Connect]. Obviously, there will always be a transaction, but it’s not the most profitable business model. So how do we really start changing the landscape of our current ecosystem: organically, through development, through new recruit strategies, etc. So this is our big investment around channel enablement.