Here’s What 20 Channel Execs See As The Biggest Challenges Their Partners Face In 2021

We asked the honorees of the Channel Chiefs 2021 list to tell us what they see as the biggest challenges for their partners in 2021. Here’s what they had to say.

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If IT vendors and their channel partners ever entered a year with uncertainty, 2021 is certainly it. Solution providers trying to plan for this year might just as well turn to the old Magic 8 Ball for answers.

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic may be in sight. But how quickly business returns to “normal”—and what form that normal will take—is anybody’s guess. Many businesses will continue to struggle amid the economic uncertainty and, for the moment, solution providers will continue to operate virtually to support existing customers and recruit new customers.

Solution providers, meanwhile, are scrambling to meet their customers’ accelerated digital transformation and cloud migration plans, not to mention demands for more sophisticated IT security from businesses, organizations and government agencies due to the fallout from the SolarWinds hack.

We asked the honorees of the 2021 Channel Chiefs list to tell us what they see as the biggest challenges facing their partners in 2021. Here’s what some of them had to say.

Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

Donna Grothjan

VP, Worldwide Channels

There are a number of market forces that will challenge partners in 2021. The pandemic has accelerated the demand for new, hybrid workplace environments and that means partners will have to provide a secure campus experience at the micro edge (such as a home office). Digital transformation will continue to drive the explosion of data created at the edge, requiring the need for more AIOps solutions to lower administrative costs. And continued demand from customers for flexible procurement and financing models will cause partners to have to innovate in that area.


Brian Vasiloff

VP, North American Sales

The uncertainty of the market will be the biggest challenge our partners will face in 2021. Given the economic effects of the pandemic, companies have been forced to reduce budgets, impacting their overall spend. The resulting project delays, reduced workforces, and increased demands on internal IT teams represent an opportunity for the channel but also will require changes in go-to-market strategies and internal investments around people and technology.

Check Point Software Technologies

Frank Rauch

Worldwide Head of Channel Sales

Partners will always be challenged, but they are some of the most resilient people I know. The competitive landscape will change with the maturing of the omni-channel concept. There will be new competitors in the market. Customer requirements will change. Channel economics will be more and more dependent on subscription and pay-as-you-go models. Talent acquisition and retention will become harder as work environments change. All that said, I have the utmost confidence that the channel will find a path to 2021 success.

Cisco Systems

Alexandra Zagury

VP, Partner Managed and As-a-Service Sales

As customers pivot to buying outcomes and prepackaged solutions, they want an end-to-end, digitized engagement model with their providers. For partners, the challenge is to win the digitization journey from managed services to as-a-service.

This involves figuring out how to provide value with the cloudification of solutions and adapting their business models to cloud economics. How will they define the value they bring, when the ‘plan-build-implement-operate’ delivery model transforms to ‘buy-deploy-run?’ Clearly there is more value in delivering outcomes without all the intermediate steps, but the challenge is to monetize that value. Citrix Systems


Bronwyn Hastings

SVP, Worldwide Channel Sales and Ecosystems

The ambiguity from COVID-19 continues. Customer decisions on investment timing and focus areas continue to be uncertain. Partners will have to explore innovative profitability models to transform their business through agility and investment. Remote fatigue will continue to be prominent, making it challenging to stay connected with their customers.

The time to lead is now—creating new experiences for customers, rather than relying on how it‘s been in the past. Data indicates 65 percent of customers believe [that] to survive they must digitize and innovate. Do partners have the capabilities to move and innovate or will they be left behind?


Jesse Grindeland

VP, Partner Strategy and Programs

One of the biggest challenges for partners in 2021 will be the ability to hire, train and retain the necessary talent required to provide critical support to their customer base. Customers will be looking to augment and accelerate their time-to-market and will be looking for partners that are vendor-agnostic to bring these solutions to realization and, in many cases, manage or augment the deployment and management of these solutions over time. As such, partners will need to maintain a strong team that can support these requests and needs efficiently and effectively.

Dell Technologies

Cheryl Cook

SVP, Global Partner Marketing

The biggest challenge facing partners is how to develop and train future-ready employees as well as how to attract, hire and retain new, skilled talent. To deliver digital transformation, transition to new business models and innovate rapidly, businesses need skilled, agile employees capable of developing new skills continually. As solutions advance and services evolve, employees must be capable of rapid change and learning.

Companies that are investing not just in technology but also in future employees and skills required to create, market, sell and service that technology will have the advantage.


Curtiz Gangi

Sales VP, Midmarket and U.S. Channels, Data Center

We anticipate the most prevalent challenges for partners will be burnout, productivity and efficiency. I truly believe [work from home], virtual meetings and the amount of trainings/certification being pushed on our partner base is overwhelming. Ensuring partners are prioritizing internal and external needs is important.

Eaton will continue to keep these challenges in mind when serving partners, primarily by leveraging alliances to do joint trainings, end-customer events and outcome-based marketing. To our partners, we ask that they let us know where they need help so we can address what we can realistically accomplish in the areas of growth and delivering value.


Greg Adgate

VP, Global Partnerships, Alliances

Some of the biggest challenges for partners, aside from economic uncertainty due to COVID-19, include adapting service delivery models to include multi-partner virtual and physical services options, integrating multi-cloud platform elements, consumption-based billing models, and creation of digital touch points for customers for self-service (API libraries/portals).

Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Leslie Maher

VP, North America Partners, Inside Sales, SMB

The biggest challenge facing partners in 2021 is the accelerated pace of digital transformation amid an uncertain economic environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in businesses needing to adjust to remote work, contactless customer engagement and digital everything.

This requires partners to adapt to the solutions most relevant (such as remote workers, HPC, AI, big data, and connectivity at the edge) and have the skills and practices to support these needs.

Customers also want the cloud-like experience, and partners recognize the need to provide cloud services for their hybrid environment and are working to offer pay-per-use and managed services.

Ingram Micro

Jeff Yelton

VP, U.S. Infrastructure, Specialty Technologies

Timing will remain a challenge for channel partners in 2021, particularly around knowing when to invest in, and take advantage of, the opportunities that materialize as the pandemic decreases. The key is to keep moving forward.

Another challenge will be increasing the pace of transformation to a recurring business model and finding the investment dollars to build new practices or offerings in one or more of the transformational technologies, including 5G, IoT, AI, hybrid cloud, new application architectures, virtual reality and cybersecurity. Working together, we are helping our channel partners overcome these challenges.


Kathleen Curry

SVP, Global Enterprise Channels, Alliances, OEM

I think we may see more credit issues moving into 2021, so leveraging vendor, distributor or other financing solutions will be important. Maintaining good sales talent will also be an area of focus. And finally, as the market continues to show growth in buying ‘outcomes’ versus products, partners who have not begun a transition to managed services may find that environment challenging.


Joseph Landes

Chief Revenue Officer

In the past, the best practice for a robust MSP business model was building a recurring revenue stream. However, given the economic situation and many SMB customers going out of business, MSPs with long-term, front-loaded recurring revenue contracts today are more vulnerable than ever.

As a result, Nerdio expects that project and one-time revenue will help MSPs hedge business risk this year. After investing heavily in the customer relationship initially, MSPs can get stuck holding a bill for customers who can‘t pay. In 2021, MSPs can’t be as picky with recurring revenue versus project revenue until the market stabilizes.

New Relic

Raj Ramanujam

VP, Alliances, Channels

Increased complexity of modern microservices and Kubernetes infrastructure solutions across clouds will challenge everyone to come up with new ways for delivering seamless customer experiences. Additionally, managing customer projects, especially customer cloud spend as large projects are being operated as agile smaller initiatives, will be a big hurdle in 2021.

Red Hat

Mark Enzweiler

SVP, Global Partners, Alliances

The biggest challenge in 2021 is also the biggest opportunity for growth—I think the industry as a whole is facing a skills challenge. Ramping those up in preparation for, and in support of, digital transformation might be difficult, but it also allows for a big opportunity. Very few partners can do this end to end, but they can if they work together and form alliances. We‘re all in this together—things that previously took two years now take just two quarters. That’s a huge opportunity.


J.C. Collins

SVP, COO, Alliances, Channels

A big challenge for our partners [in 2021] will be shifting from the crisis management mode of 2020 to a growth mindset for 2021. As partners continue to be affected by the macroeconomic environment resulting from the pandemic, they must also look to the future and focus on growing their business and staying relevant to customers during this time.

Some customers have completely pivoted their business model during the pandemic, while others have rapidly responded to unprecedented demand. Either way, we continue to see tremendous opportunity for partners to grow their business by guiding customers through their digital transformations.


HoJin Kim

VP, Worldwide Channel Sales

Since customers [in 2021] will still be facing and feeling the challenges that COVID-19 has created, the biggest challenges that partners will face will be around customer intimacy. As the economic environment gets more unclear, customer retention and acquisition will get harder, so finding ways to stay relevant with your customers and ensuring their success through these times will be significant challenges for partners.

Partnering with companies like SonicWall that are committed to the channel and those that will work with you to drive customer success are going to be key decisions partners will have to make in 2021.

WatchGuard Technologies

Stan Kelly

Director, Channel Programs

In 2021 and beyond, new pipeline development and maintaining expected revenue from existing clients will present significant challenges for partners. In the wake of the global pandemic, companies will continue to shutter, while those that are still operating (even very well) will be looking to reduce costs and long-term commitments.

This can be a very dangerous combination. That‘s why it will be more critical than ever for partners to engage with vendors that can roll up their sleeves and help with business development, reduce costs through consolidation, and reinvent their processes and business models to be more attractive for customer retention.


Jason Macias

Regional VP, North America Sales

We have been hearing from our partners that their biggest challenge [in 2020 and heading into 2021] is being able to acquire new customers. End customers have been hesitant to make changes with all the uncertainty going on and our partners are concerned that will continue. We will be working closely with our partner community to deliver qualified leads to our top partners as we make this transition to a truly channel-first organization.

Zyxel Networks

David Soares

VP, North America Sales

Partners may find that more customers than usual have gone out of business due to the COVID lockdowns. In response to that, [in 2021] and beyond, there may be more new business startups than usual to fill the gaps left by businesses that closed. Partners will therefore need to step up their sales and marketing activity to find new customers.