In the latest of CRN;s ‘Meet the Shortlisters’ series, Martin Gibbons, EMEA channel director at Cohesity (pictured) talks about the importance of company culture and showing a human side, how everyone has had to become more agile due to the pandemic, why the channel is vital to their success, plus much more
Give us a flavour of your channel strategy - how long have you worked with the channel, how is your programme structured, how many partners do you work with etc
We have been working with the channel since we launched in EMEA over three years ago. We're committed to reducing operational complexity, so our strategy is quite simple; we work 100 per cent through the channel with a three-tier approach, and operate a two-tier distribution strategy.
Our partner program is open to any partner who wishes to invest in our technology, but we favour working with just a handful of strategic Focus partners per country. We invest our time and energy into these relationships, learning and understanding the partner's key priorities and growth areas.
By doing this we understand how to help accelerate their priorities in conjunction with ours for a joint win. Our Channel Development Managers work collaboratively on a simple, joint plan with mutual and agreed milestones.
We use the breadth of the Cohesity sales, technical and marketing organisations as well as our distribution partners to engage, develop and grow the partnership. We look for those first key wins and then build from the momentum. We're interested in long-term partnership and the development of the partner in terms of being a profitable Cohesity practice, with services, support and service provider being other key areas that we look to develop.
What is the biggest benefit you have seen from working with channel partners?
It's pretty simple. We cannot possibly scale without our partners. They bring a level of customer relationship, skills and solution knowledge that helps us to achieve our goals. I see this collaboration as key in fuelling our success, and it's the local expertise they have that is so critical. Even as we evolve our solutions and how they are consumed, the channel is at the heart of all that we do.
How have you supported your partners during the pandemic? Has it made you change your strategy in any way? If so, how?
It's been challenging for everyone. It took some time to understand how the pandemic affected individual businesses and customers. We needed to listen to our partners and take a lead from them as they adapted to the new conditions. I think we were impressed how many of them quickly got to grips with the 'new normal' and so tried to support their efforts as they made the shift.
Obviously most of our interaction is now virtual and this has led to fatigue, so we have tried to introduce fun elements and also just keep up to date on a personal level.
Initially we launched Cohesity Coffee Clubs with an open agenda, and I think this went down well. Many followed suit and we had to think of new initiatives. We are still adapting as the situation changes in each country.
With our recently launched Data Management as a Service vision, our partners will now have an easy way to provide those same capabilities they do on-premises as part of a cloud-based service, at a time when more and more organisations are asking for as-a-service solutions. Partners can expand their existing managed service offerings without having to build out infrastructure themselves. Or, they can use this as an entry point if they are thinking about starting a managed service practice. I think that's pretty smart and mutually beneficial.
What has been your company's biggest challenge during 2020 and how did you overcome it? What role did your own teams play in that?
Without doubt it's been adapting to the pandemic and understanding the impact on customers and partners. It's also brought internal challenges with Zoom fatigue and also just the simple management of teams and newly onboarded Cohesians. Think of a channel manager role as a good example - this is largely built on relationship and engagement at partner and customer site. That's not been possible, so some of the core human-led skills you would seek in a channel manager, have to be paired with some creative thinking, excellent communication, and a good level of emotional intelligence.
What lessons have you learned from this year?
You have to be agile! Adapt as fast as you can and look for the positives in any given situation. As one door closes inevitably another will open, so it's about being able to change course quickly. I've also learnt that a healthy and happy workforce is the best kind of workforce. I've been encouraging the team to take a break, if nothing else than for mental-health reasons. You may not be able to go away somewhere you'd normally holiday, but scheduling breaks into your calendar gives you some perspective and relaxation time.
Company culture has really shot to the fore in 2020 too. Cohesity has been very forward-thinking and fast-moving on the transition in selling, but also with cultural shifts and challenges too. This really hit me this year with the issues the world has faced. Companies need to ask how they want to define themselves beyond sales and profit. Delivering a culture that comes from within and employees can embody is key. It helps enforce values with the current workforce and in turn helps attract new employees.
In the channel, your culture and values need to be easily communicated and displayed on all engagements. Having our partners feel the culture resonate with them is so important because they are an extension of our company and often hold the initial relationship with a prospect. Ensuring a partner understands and extols these values strengthens the sales experience and brand feel.
What has been the highlight of 2020 for your business?
There have been many despite the current situation. Seeing the business get the Series E funding was a huge milestone for us as a business, especially given it was during the pandemic. That was a huge external validation that what we are doing is right, on-point and what is needed. Locally, the ability of the channel to adapt to change, some huge customer wins that have really grown our EMEA business, and finally the teamwork between departments and our partners displayed this year has really shown how strong our teams are. When you see people work so closely and come together in adversity, that's powerful.
What does it mean to you to be recognised for the shortlist/an award?
The CRN UK awards are some of the most credible in the UK IT industry. The impartial judging and the rigorous assessment means it is worth doing. I've seen it be a valuable endorsement, and it's a nice physical reward for all the hard work and commitment of our channel partners and team. We know we are building something special, but it's great to get that external validation that we are doing an outstanding job and making a difference.
How do you think the industry will change as a result of Covid-19 and how do you plan to thrive/grow?
That's a tough question to answer. I think it already has adapted quite a bit, especially in the UK. Some of these changes we've seen I believe will last a lifetime. I am confident of the IT industry's ability to adapt, we have seen a history of this. My belief is that it will force a lot of customers to look at their IT strategies, investments and weaknesses and perhaps embrace new technology for a new world. From Cohesity's point of view we were already in the business of disruption and encouraging change. We're investing in our channel, and hiring more channel development managers to give that high-touch service we are known for. I think Cohesity is very well placed to help with the modern and evolving challenges of today's businesses, and our partners that have signed up to be part of this will be key to our growth and expansion.