Juniper’s Gordon Mackintosh On Partner Program Changes, Apstra, And ‘Winning’ The Next Decade Of Networking

‘We asked partners to be bold a year ago. Many of them did, and many of them have been highly rewarded. We want to stay simple and focused and continue to execute on the things that are working and add more fuel to the fire,’ Channel Chief Gordon Mackintosh tells CRN.

Answering The Call

Networking giant Juniper Networks this year saw unprecedented, triple-digit growth in partner-initiated business. After the networking specialist last year unveiled plans to invest heavily in the channel, partners reciprocated by investing in Juniper, Channel Chief Gordon Mackintosh told CRN.

Mackintosh spoke with CRN following the company’s annual Partner Summit, where the theme was “It’s our time”—a fitting theme punctuating a year marked by the highest-ever software orders and consistent quarters of double-digit revenue growth. At the summit, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider highlighted additions to its Global Juniper Partner Advantage Program, including Partner Communities, a new learning academy, incentives, and a new top partner level: Elite Plus. For Juniper, it’s going to be all about removing as much friction as possible to make it as simple as possible for partners to work with the company as it prioritizes shorter sales cycles with an easy-to-understand partner program.

Mackintosh talked about the changes to the program, the growing opportunity that partners have around acquired data center networking provider Apstra’s technology, which Juniper acquired nearly a year ago, and what partners can expect in 2022. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

How much have partners contributed to Juniper’s growth this year?

We went on a journey [over the past year] with the partners. We invested in them and got staggering results. Really, what the partners have been asking for is more investment, joint investments, and alignment with Juniper to work more closely with us then than ever before. We’re living in a sort of new cloud-delivered AI world. Everyone’s looking for transformational and disruptive technologies to adopt, and our AI portfolio and [Mist] Marvis is the best out there. The partner proposition is very compelling. We’re seeing our partners making record levels of profitability. And that’s not just about the incentive programs. It’s also about the speed of the sales cycle and just how easier technology is to demonstrate in front of the customers, which is really accelerating their time to revenue. We’ve also had some big marquee wins. We have sold Juniper Mist into 12 of the top 15 retail chains in the world, and those wins are creating momentum for us.

Since the last Partner Summit [in November 2020], we’ve seen partner-initiated business grow by 110 percent year over year, so triple-digit growth. Our partners are investing like never before. Our number of [partner] specializations has grown to an all-time high—about 1,000 specializations—and we’re seeing 200 percent year-over-year growth from our partners that are specialized in the AI-driven enterprise portfolio. We’ve also seen about a 60 percent year-over-year increase in new logos, which is a great leading indicator that shows that we’re clearly taking market share.

Tell us about Partner Communities and the new partner program level, Elite Plus.

We’re in the process of launching Partner Communities and that’s to connect our salespeople with [partner] salespeople to essentially allow us to share information faster and answer the questions faster because they see the same opportunity that we do, and they just want to get the friction out of the way. It’s really all about us becoming faster and more agile in the partnership. They’re also asking for us to support them with more investments to broaden the Juniper portfolio. They’re looking to move to more of a full-stack offering with Juniper. Maybe in the past, we were just a part of that offering, but they’re looking to standardize on us now for Wi-Fi, LAN, security and SD-WAN. That was the reason we launched the new tier within the partner program. It’s a joint investment program, with additional benefits for the partners, but also some additional expectations from them in terms of their capabilities to deliver the full-stack solution to be able to try POCs [proofs of concept] around a full-stack solution to invest significantly with us into that practice.

The theme of our conference was ‘It‘s our time’ and I really believe it’s the best time to be a Juniper partner. We’re trying to accelerate everything. We’re focused on trying to get our technology in front of as many customers as possible through the partners and when the customer sees the demo or POC, our run rate is really off the charts. So, we’re working on a new app for the partner community that makes our technology very easy to demonstrate so they can deliver the demo at a restaurant or over a Zoom meeting.

How will you be incentivizing partners differently heading into next year?

The Elite Plus partners will receive better-than-ever-before incentives once they make that investment with us. We’re also going to shift more of our incentives toward partner-initiated deals. So, opportunities that are brought to us from our partner community will be highly rewarded and then likewise, if the partner has invested in a specialization and has the capabilities, then they’ll get additional incentives as well. So, the evolution of the partner program is, in essence, if you’re an Elite Plus partner with specializations, and you’re driving Juniper into new opportunities, there are incredible back-end rebates of more than 20 percent.

I always like to emphasize when we talk about the partner program and the partner profitability, I think that’s accelerated by the speed that we’re winning these deals. It’s not long sales cycles [and] it’s not a costly sales cycle. It’s usually demos and proofs of concept. We’ve got a really high win rate from that point of view and a far shorter sale cycle than we’ve seen in the past.

What has the interest and demand been like from partners for Apstra technology?

Since this time last year, from a partner sales perspective, we’ve seen our data center business grow by 91 percent year over year, which has been fantastic. And we’ve seen a big uplift in the number of partners becoming specialized in the data center. They like the fact that it’s vendor-agnostic and it can work in in different types of data centers and deliver the same types of results.

What can partners expect from Juniper in 2022?

We’ll also be investing in a new partner activation team where we’ll be leveraging Partner Communities, the partner program, and a new program called Champions, which will be available for existing partners as well, that will provide a new Learning Academy so we can fast-track people’s knowledge of our solutions and then provide them incentives when they bring us new opportunities. We’re looking to expand our footprint based on the demand that we’re seeing from the market. [We’re] reducing the number of rebate programs from three to one so it’s just one rebate program with adequate amounts, depending on what type of partner you are and if you’re specialized. We’re also updating our specializations to become simpler and easier. For us now, it’s all about simplicity and speed. It’s about removing friction and getting to the opportunities as quickly as we can and winning them, and that’s what’s winning minds here in the channel.

We asked partners to be bold a year ago. Many of them did, and many of them have been highly rewarded. We want to stay simple and focused and continue to execute on the things that are working and add more fuel to the fire. As [Juniper CEO Rami Rahim (pictured)] said, this rocket ship is going really quickly at the moment, and we just want to reach new heights with it. I believe we have something quite special here. And I think we have the ability that to win the next decade of networking.