CRN Exclusive: Brocade Channel Chief On Channel 'Disruption,' Ripping Off The 'Band Aid' And Aligning For 'Success'

Brocade-Ruckus Restructuring

Brocade Channel Chief Sandra Glaser Cheek conceded that a reorganization in May has "caused disruption" and "confusion" for partners, but pledged that the company is focused on resolving the sales engagement issues as "quickly as possible through proactive communications and personal outreach to partners."

The changes effectively moved the networking vendor from a single sales organization with clear account engagement to a sales model with three business units and 11 geographic regions with multiple account managers.

The reorganization is aimed at ensuring a smooth transition in the wake of the pending sale later this year of Brocade's networking and Ruckus wireless business respectively to Extreme Networks and Arris.

"I can imagine that this reorganization that we're having has caused some disruption for our partners, but we've taken proactive steps ahead of the acquisition so that we can ensure as smooth as possible a transition when they do close," said Cheek (pictured), vice president of Worldwide Channels for Brocade and winner of CRN's 2016 Channel Madness tournament, in an interview with CRN.

What is your response to partners who say it is difficult to close deals in the wake of the restructuring?

There's definitely some truth there … I can imagine that this reorganization that we're having has caused some disruption for our partners, but we've taken proactive steps ahead of the acquisitions so that we can ensure as smooth as possible a transition when they do close. I fully admit that these changes have created some confusion in the channel and our intention is to resolve them as quickly as possible through proactive communications and personal outreach to our partners.

What's going on inside Brocade-Ruckus to spur this confusion within the channel?

Beginning in our fiscal quarter three, which began in May, we started an internal reorganization where we're currently aligning our structure around business units. This is all being done in preparation for subsequent acquisitions that will happen later on this summer by Extreme Networks and Arris – the two that we announced so far.

What are the specific structural changes that were made?

What we've done internally is our sales force and marketing teams are primarily aligned to business units now. There is a data center business unit, a SAN business unit and what we call our Network Edge business unit, which contains our campus networking wired and wireless.

Part of these decisions were made prior to the Broadcom acquisition announcement. It just so happens that it also aligns with how the acquiring companies lined up. Arris is acquiring the Ruckus Wi-Fi and Ruckus ICX product lines, for example … So we can now focus our sellers and marketers around the business unit.

What was the channel engagement model before the restructuring?

What was different was before, we kind of had a holistic partner ecosystem. If you were a Brocade partner you could sell our software, data center, SAN and our campus networking – so we didn't have specific-focused partners. The way it worked out, data center partners weren't selling much Wi-Fi, our SAN partners weren't selling much campus -- naturally they already segmented themselves -- but the way our programs worked, was we would measure them on all products, not specific products. Now there's more focus internally around business units as well as focus on the partners.

Why would a partner have two account managers now?

That is a bi-product of an internal reorganization. It's helpful that these different business units are being acquired by different companies, so naturally that would lend itself to an easier transition to our partners because if a partner sold both data center and campus, they're going to end up doing business with two acquiring companies: Arris and Extreme. They would have two partner account managers.

Regarding the reorganization, what are you doing differently geographically?

We did realign our regions because Brocade's regions and Ruckus regions were different. So, this was part of coming up with a common region. I think there are 11 regions in the Americas now, and from a Ruckus standpoint, I think we only had four regions. We have leaders now, such as sales directors, in 11 regions now. So we have more sales directors with smaller regions. We divided some of the larger regions into two regions.

Have you reorganized your sales engineers -- the SEs availability to partners?

The campus network edge line is moving a little bit more quickly. We have more SEs supporting the campus business than probably previously. There is an investment around the resources. The SEs are not specific channel SEs – and that's not the way we had it set up previously either. Our SEs are aligned to both customers and partners. So they're territory SEs and their roles are to support partners, customers and sales folks.

Have your SEs territories changed as well?

If they have changed, it's only in alignment with the new geographic territories that we've outlined.

What steps are you taking to resolve the account engagement issues?

We are now working internally to understand [which account managers are] aligned to which partners and who do we need to go in together jointly if these partners sold both across our IP portfolio or if they were -- for example, a Wi-Fi only partner that was a legacy Ruckus partner -- they would be aligned around what we call our Network Edge Business unit, which is the ICX switching and Ruckus portfolio.

Partners also said it's been harder recently to get the attention and focus of Brocade account managers and the sales team.

I'm a little bit confused by that one because we are still Brocade and we are still a combined sales force. It may be a bi-product of the internal alignment where we do have territory shifting – that is true – that we have realigned our territory. It may just be a matter that partners may not know who is covering them right now. Like I said, this is all brand-new [as of the] beginning in May … We're trying to move very quickly and many times when you move quickly, you do have this bit of disruption.

When do you these issues will be resolved?

There is still some alignment internally that may be a little bit gray, but we should have more clarity around some personnel assignments very soon.

We feel like we're getting into the homestretch right now of a very disruptive year and we're aligning ourselves for success. This is just a bi-product of what happens when you're acquired and the alignments that happen. But our intent here is to do this as quickly as possible. Almost like rip the Band-Aid off so we can be ahead of the curve by the time the acquisitions close.

What proactive steps are you taking to help partners?

We've hosted channel casts about what partners can expect. We had a Q&A session around the Arris acquisition. We'll have another one on June 7 where partners can learn about what the combined portfolio is. Those are the sort of things we're doing proactively to help our partners understand where we're going.

What are you doing to help partners understand the future of Brocade within Arris and Extreme?

Many of our partners don't know who Arris is, given where they play in the market. So we did the webcast to introduce partners to Arris -- who they are, why the acquisition is a good thing for Arris and the opportunity ahead … The webcast on June 7 is about what the new Network Edge portfolio will look like under Arris, which would be the Ruckus Business unit.

We are planning with Extreme Networks to have the same kind of conversations with partners around what it means for them, the acquisition and why we think it's a good thing for their business. We don't have that one scheduled yet. We're investing money in some of our proactive communications outside of our own communications to ensure we keep partners abreast [as] to what's going on.

What message do you want to get out to the Brocade-Ruckus channel community?

We want to get out how much we appreciate the support and loyalty that we've had from our partners. We've recognized that this has been a pretty tumultuous year and disruptive, to say the least. We appreciate not only the support and loyalty, but this kind of feedback is terrific, even if it is hard to hear … The last thing we need to do is lose partners. We've really worked hard this year to retain our partners and I think we've done a fairly good job. We do feel really bullish about the future and we hope partners stay with us.