Commvault's New Channel Chief Mercer Rowe On Working With ‘Act Two’ Of The Firm

Rowe, who just this month took over as Commvault's new channel chief, talks with CRN during Commvault Go about why he joined the company and what it will take to make its channel even stronger after the company missed a few opportunities.

Mercer Rowe Takes Over Commvault Channel Reins

Data protection and management technology developer Commvault used the partner portion of its Commvault Go 2019 conference to introduce Mercer Rowe as its new channel chief, and in particular its new vice president of global channels and alliances.

Rowe, with a long channel history at companies like IBM and VMware, is reporting to Riccardo Di Blasio, Commvault's new chief revenue officer. He also has a history with some of Commvault's top executives including CEO Sanjay Mirchandani and Chief Revenue Officer Riccardo Di Blasio, both of whom also only this year joined the company.

Rowe, as Commvault's channel chief, leads the company's global channels and alliances program. He takes over part of the portfolio held by Owen Taraniuk, Commvault's former global head of partnerships and market development who left the company in early April.

CRN had a chance to meet with Rowe a few hours after his new role was unveiled, and discussed what about Commvault's channels he likes, where he would like to make changes, and how Commvault is becoming more dependent on the channel. For insights into where Commvault's channel program is heading, turn the page.

So what brought you to Commvault?

What brought me to Commvault was really three things. One is the people. I've worked with Sanjay [Mirchandani], Riccardo [Di Blasio], a lot of the team for a lot of years. And I believe in this leadership team. And so when I saw Sanjay come over, and I saw Ricardo follow him after, I knew this was a company that I needed to look seriously at because I know these people, and I know how successful they have been in the past, and how successful we've been together. Not only do I enjoy working with them, but I know that anywhere they go is going to take off.

What's the second thing?

The opportunity. Commvault is a company with great technology, has been in the market for 20 years, and is still recognized as a technology leader. But it is in a position that some might describe as having missed some turns in the market, the shift to cloud, to appliances, and so forth. But based on that, I see huge opportunity as a company that still has such a massive installed base. I have such respect for the technology. As customers are moving towards a hybrid or multi-cloud future, a company that's able to sit in the middle of the data plane that really understand and extracts value out of the data is going to be one that's going to win as the consolidation happens, as companies shift more and more into the cloud. … I see the opportunity for Commvault as being the player for extracting value out of data as it is moved to the cloud, moved to platforms where now more advanced services capabilities can be applied to it. So, people and opportunity.

I thought you said there were three things. ...

Oh, sorry. OK, people and opportunity. And then the third is the team, the history. This kind of relates to the second. But the history of the company. Everybody I talked to in the market loves the company. The customer success organization and customer support is second to none. I sat in the partner advisory council today, and every single person to a tee, when I asked what do they like about Commvault, what do they not, every single person said this technology is fantastic. Being able to go into a company like this that's moving into its Act Two, with a solid technical foundation like that, it's a gift, because you don't have to worry about, does this stuff work? You're not worried about how am I going to move it into the next level.

OK, you've been at Commvault now for a whole two weeks. What major changes do you have in mind for the channel program, for tearing it down or rebuilding it.

Two weeks! I'm still getting into the details. But I'm going to give you my three priorities that are going to guide how I build a go-forward plan. One is simplicity. … This is everything from involving partners early in our new technology shifts, bringing them under the tent, making them more of a part of how we deliver more. So this is simplifying doing business, but also simplifying working with Commvault.

The second is predictability. There's been a lot of changes at Commvault in the last few years. We need to be predictable, with everything that we do with the partners. When we commit to something, we're going to deliver on it. When we put new programs in place, we're going to give them time to actually be operationalized and implemented in a way that allows the partners to now build their businesses around them. …

The third is profitability. We need a program that allows partners to invest to make money. And that means everything from margins and rebates, which are components of profitability. But it also means services and services practices and opportunities for partners to really build businesses around Commvault, and not just profitable transactions.

Is there anything you've noticed in the Commvault partner community that’s different from what you saw at your previous roles at companies like Avaya or VMware?

VMware is really what a lot of people would recognize as a gold standard from partnering standpoint with 50,000 partners worldwide, with 35,000 of those in the US. A very sticky, very loyal partner base. I remember going to many, many of the partner advisory councils there and hearing from the partners. In reality, the challenges that the partners face, they are not so much different than the ones they face here. Partners are trying to stay relevant. They're trying to figure out how to evolve their businesses as the technology evolves [and] as the company evolves. A lot of the friction points come up when a key established vendor like us innovates. It's very similar to the things that we saw at VMware, like when I launched the cloud business, there was a lot of angst in the partner community. 'How are we going to keep up with this innovation? How are we going to continue to stay relevant with the vendor that we've invested in for so many years?'

What does that mean for Commvault?

I see Commvault in an extremely similar situation. [Partners] love Commvault. One guy today said, 'I've invested so much of my own personal money in Commvault. How am I going to generate a return on investment over time, if I'm not up to speed on all the features, all the new technologies, all investments.' While at the same time, on the other side of his mouth, he said, 'I want Commvault to be sexy again. I want Commvault to be the exciting new shining star that all my customers are knocking down my door to get.'

So they know they need to do it. But it's a matter of how we evolve our relationship with them through the process that allows them to stay relevant. Because, let's face it, they know our customers, they know better than we do. And we need to embrace that and not look at it as something that that we need to teach them. They know the customers. We need to teach them how to go down that process with us as we evolve in ways that keep most of us relevant in the market.

I don't think anybody's accused Commvault of being sexy.

Yes, I want them to. It's one of my goals.

Any lessons that you brought over from VMware or Avaya? What are some things that they were doing that Commvault partners need to do?

There were two. One was on our side, which is being engaged in treating partners as a true extension of your business. That's something we did really well at VMware and I think Commvault is working on, but it's something that as a part of our go-forward plan needs to be more present. I do really need to involve partners. If we're going to roll out a new program, I want partners to be involved in designing it. I don't want to design the program and then roll it out to partners, I want the partners in from the beginning.

[Partners also need] to change with the times. A very tangible example of that is the number of solution providers that are moving into service provider or as-a-service businesses, becoming MSPs. The smart ones, and I don't mean to call the other ones not so smart, but the kind of forward-leaning ones are the ones that are moving into the MSP space because they know that's one of the things they have to do to stay relevant. It doesn't mean they need to operate their own services. But it does mean they need to have a services business that helps their customers to transform from heavy capex, perpetual license data center infrastructure-type businesses to more flexible.

But Commvault really hasn't had an MSP program before.

We have not. That's one of the things that’s very high on my list. ... I don't know if you picked up on it in the Metallic announcement. One of the big things that was done there with the launch partners was to implement a set of telemetry API's, the idea being that now the partners can plug in and see, what are what are my customers using? How often are the using the service? How much are they using? This is kind of the tip of the spear, something that we're going to implement broadly across the portfolio. Because when you do that sort of stuff, all of a sudden marketers are able to now add all kinds of value on top of product because they can see the things that were typically reserved just for the vendors. They can see, how was my customer using it? Where are there opportunities to grow and upsell? ... That's what you're going to see more and more of.