HPE has observed significant response from its channel ecosystem, in terms of its partner initiatives. In an interaction with CRN India, Chris Ogburn, Vice President, Worldwide Field and Channel Marketing, HPE and Srihari Gopinath, Director, Marketing, HPE India, elaborate more and share what’s ahead
How is the channel ecosystem evolving and how are you aligning your marketing initiatives with the changing market dynamics?
Chris: Successful companies and businesses in the future will need be to edge-centric, cloud-enabled and data-driven. These are the big three opportunities that we see emerging in the market. Firstly, at the Edge, the data is difficult for customers because it is exploding and expanding at a rate that surpasses their ability to manage, protect, store and most importantly analyse it. Partners can help them create solutions at the Edge, providing networking, compute and storage capabilities locally.
On the cloud front globally and in India, the cloud environment from a customer perspective is truly hybrid. Customers deploy some applications and workloads in private cloud, some in public cloud and some run their own software defined data centres. This is a big role that channel partners can play, because it’s a complex process and things are moving qucikly.
Another set of opportunities is around data. It’s a highly complex space for many customers, but a great place for partners to add value because data can come from anywhere. Increasingly most of the data that is being produced in the world is actually coming at the Edge. Partners need to help customers capture that data, analyse and act on it immediately.
How mature are channel partners in the Indian market vis-à-vis the global market?
Chris: We have a global partner advisory board of CEOs. It reflects different business models in different geographies, and we also have some Indian partners on our global board. The digital initiatives in India are having an impact, and partners are building more technical competencies and capabilities.
Srihari: Partners are trying to get ahead of market maturity. Some of our partners are trying to learn from some of our best practices globally. Last year, we also had a program called ‘Partner of the Future’ wherein we engaged with over a dozen of our top partners. It was a structured workshop which helped partners assess themselves and their capabilities to service the requirements of customers.
Please share some of your latest key marketing initiatives, which have helped drive the sales growth of your partners
Chris: We have worked with our partners to make it easier for them to go the market and create demand. Through our Partner Ready Program, we have made content readily available to partners. From a customer standpoint, we have seen a lot of shift digitally and online. We put a new tool for our partners which is a repository to access content. We have also shifted over our own business dramatically over the last few years. Content downloads from our global channel is at 80 per cent growth year-over-year. We are also training and educating the partners, specifically around digital, because the shift from traditional to digital is not always easy for our partners.
Srihari: In India, we have brought together the marketing resources of some of our top partners. Earlier this year, we had participation from over 45 partner organisations in our workshop, under HPE Tech Pro Academy. This initiative is probably unique to HPE and perhaps the most beneficial because of the level of support that we are able to provide them, the kind of tools that they have access to, easy to use kits that they have access to. Partners find that HPE is perhaps ahead of most other principles or OEMs that they have worked with.
Chris: As part of their digital marketing program, we created a social media centre that curates thought leadership content or content around solutions and market trends. We have over 5,000 partner users in over 141 countries. Customers are now engaging in a buying journey that’s much more reflective of online and more engaging around digital. That’s why we are seeing so much utilisation out of the assessment. Almost 800 partners around the world have already completed the assessment. Moreover, we have 5,000 users on our social media centre.
Lately, there has been significant push on digital marketing to drive sales growth or demand generation. Will it outshine the traditional form of marketing within the ecosystem?
Chris: We anchor the way that we think about marketing and demand generation with customer behaviour. Secondly, there will always be traditional in digital elements of the business. The reason behind the rise in digital, is because it’s anchored in the way that customers are behaving. They are going more online, they are researching and downloading content to educate themselves. They are talking to their peers on online communities or forums, and they are engaging in face-to-face conversations. These are all the attributes of the way that customers act and make us think about the way that we are marketing, but it doesn’t completely eliminate traditional. In many countries where it is a cultural need to have some level of face-to-face engagements. It is about finding the right balance between digital and traditional. This will make you successful in the market.
Today, new age partners are more inclined towards digital marketing in comparison with traditional channel. Any specific effort being made by HPE to change this mindset, looking at the opportunities digital brings to the table for these partners?
Chris: We need to invest in the market to help the established partner firms evolve their thinking around marketing and selling in a digital way. That’s why we invested significantly in the digital marketing program, assessment, training and learning modules, static and video, based on demand. We are doing this from the perspective of making content available while curating it specifically for partners. These big investments are critical for us. We also have the face-to face elements. We run the Marketing Pro Academy in major countries around the world, because we need to help a lot of the institutional and longer term partners to start to think about how they shift their model.
We talked to them about marketing and selling, because we are seeing the convergence of marketing and sales in terms of digital. In some ways, they are becoming integrated and part of one value chain. So it’s crucial for traditional partners to think about the changes in customer behaviour and how they reach them through new means. It is more important to their businesses, not only to keep and manage and control existing clients, but also to capture new clients using digital means of communication and marketing.
If you are not there to influence customers, to tell them your story, share your practices and capabilities, show examples of what you’ve done for other customers, you are missing an opportunity because another partner will capture it. This is an area where partners have to be careful about not to be disintermediated by born-in-the-cloud partners or any partners who are more aggressive in terms of investments in digital. However, we think that digital and traditional, both are still important. It will be a mix of activities that you must drive to the customers. But if you are too binary, you will find yourself in trouble. Especially the more traditional partners, involved in traditional means of selling and marketing, are hesitant or resistant to change.
There has been a trend of IP creation among the channel ecosystem. Please share your observation on the same?
Chris: We see this as a broader trend globally. We see more partners building industry and vertical specific practices – sometimes that’s how IP is developed. Partners are creating software and applications with their own developers; and they are also creating services that lead to an outcome that maybe specifically oriented toward an application or a practice.
Srihari: We see this trend in India as well. Partners are able to sense the changes in the market and they are sharp to respond to these changes, because they see opportunities. Partners are trying to build their own IP around some of the breakthrough technologies which are going to make a difference to their end customers – be it blockchain, AI or IoT. It’s good for both HPE and for the partner to have solutions that they can own and develop that as an IP.
Going forward, do you plan refinements in your digital marketing platform, and how are you going to take it to the next level?
Chris: Yes, we’re actually making more investments. We will make some announcements soon at our global partner summit. In terms of downloads and content, there has been a massive increase year-over-year; and that’s not going to slow down. So it’s really important for us to continue to build on that, help educate the channel and make them more effective when communicating with their customers or with perspective clients.