‘We were first in the market to offer simple, predictable, profitable solutions’

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Paul Hunter, Worldwide Partner Sales Leader, HPE

In an exclusive interaction with CRN India, Paul Hunter, Worldwide Partner Sales Leader, HPE shares insights into the various facets of the Partner Ready Program that is helping partners transform and take advantage of the burgeoning market opportunities

Recently, HPE announced enhancements to its Partner Ready Program. What is the thought process behind enhancing this program regularly?
You always want to keep the partner programs consistent so that partners are ready to invest in the future. However, at the same time, the market is changing and we need our programs to help partners take advantage of the market opportunity. Our feeling was that there is a lot more that we can do with our programs to help partners transform and take advantage of the market opportunities that exist.

We were very proud of the program that we had in place before, as it was market leading and has been there for three to four years. It also provided a high degree of consistency and predictability; but now the time is right to take it to another level.

We have spent the last three to six months working on a global program that is consistent in the 11 geographies where we operate. Whether you are transacting in India, the UK, Germany, or Seychelles, the program design, its attributes or the structure are the same. This gives partners the predictability to design their business and how they can invest for a long time.

On what basis are the key elements of the program added or removed?
We wanted the program to be very simple to understand, as partners really respond to simplicity. They want to know what they earn for their first dollar sale is going to be exactly the same for the 1000th dollar and ditto for the millionth dollar. Hence, we have built simplicity into the design.

Secondly, we looked at how the program will help our partners capture the burgeoning market opportunities. The new program helps them understand the market opportunities which have got the best growth and are most profitable. We have also increased the rebate opportunities.

As part of these changes, you have also simplified the rebate model and there has been a special focus on passing on the benefits to the partner sales representatives?
Different companies try to pass on profit to their partners in different ways. We essentially run a rebate model. For every piece of Nimble sold, the partner, depending on the membership or tier, gets a payment for it. Here, we encourage the partners to reinvest the money earned in the skills and expertise that they need in order to deliver more value to customers, thus, further accelerating their growth. And we co-invest with the organisations where we have strong partnerships.

The other aspect is about how do the sales personnel get excited about an opportunity to sell. We have created incentive and rewards program, called ‘HPE Engage & Grow’, wherein we specifically keep the funds to pay the sales people of our partners and accelerate the benefits for selling the technology that delivers great benefit to our customers.

Is there a conscious effort that has been made to pass on those benefits to channel sales persons and in return are you expecting an RoI from the investments that have been made?
We are looking at two things – firstly, we are trying to help the owners of the business who are really excited about the profit opportunity with us and secondly, we want the sales people of those partner companies to be really excited about the money that they can make personally. Since we need both, we have got two components to the investments that we are making. It is not just a business that needs to invest in expertise but the sales people as well. They have to invest time, effort and energy to understand the propositions they have.
Furthermore, we understand that a constant investment has to be made in learning and the sales people’s need to acquire knowledge time and again. We also know that we’re not the only vendor in the market and we have to compete for mindshare. However, we believe that our proposition is a compelling one, and that the sales people and partners will be more successful with us.

In general, the basic foundation of the partner program of any global IT vendor revolves around simplicity, profitability and predictability. Is there any need to put in so much effort in designing the entire program?
When we launched the program in 2014, we were the first in market with simple, predictable, profitable solutions. The reason we continued with simple, predictable and profitable is because it resonates with the promises to our partners. Now what differentiates us is our ability to be really simple. Target setting is a case in point. As soon as you put a target on a partner, it becomes more complicated. We have no targets anywhere in the world. The drive for simplicity requires constant attention.

The programs may share the same foundation, but how they are applied is important. We have three core cultural beliefs – we want a partner, we are a partnership company, and we want to act. There is an impetus for us to act quickly and we want to be a company that responds quickly. Our belief is that the core of what we offer is innovation and those are the three foundational beliefs of our company, and partnership is one of them. I can’t speak for other companies; however, I can just say that it is the foundation stone of what we do. We believe that it is a skill that we have cultivated right from the inception of the company in 1939.

Are there other areas, which are considered when you design the partner program? It is a coincidence that we see every OEM following these three areas?
We are the leader and we have people in the industry who copy the leaders. When our partner program was announced in 2014, we were the first one to focus on the above-mentioned areas. It is a great compliment that other people are imitating our program. We
always think about accelerating the growth for our partners with the market opportunities that exist. This is what we want to achieve and part of that comes with program design.

What efforts are being put to upskill or reskill partners in this era of digital disruption?
Technical investment and building technical expertise will be a big priority for us in 2019. Our partners need to understand the value proposition we bring to the table. It takes a lot of work, expertise, good tools, systems and investment.

In 2019, we will be running a program that we first launched in Asia Pacific, called Tech Pro Academy. We will invest in the technical expertise of our partners and help them gain competencies. There are two areas – one is Tech Pro Academy, which will make greater investment, on our behalf, to help partners acquire the skills they need. Secondly, we have broadened our competency framework, wherein we are expecting our partners to get expertise. There are six competencies for a Hybrid IT portfolio and three for the Edge portfolio. We continue to evolve these competencies and also simplify them.

Do you think that the Indian partners lack in certain areas? If yes, then how would you want to bring them up to the level of successful partners in other markets?
I would say it is the reverse. Indian partners, in many instances, are more sophisticated and are quicker to adopt the consumption model. When you look at the size of the business, our consumption business here is growing. Indian partners have been quicker to adopt it because I think the dynamics of the economy and the customer have lend themselves to the demand for it and therefore, they are seeing opportunity quickly.

The partners here are very sophisticated, not just the traditional solution partners, but the system integrators here are also world class. These are companies that are competing on winning in a global economy and we learn a lot from them and we hope that they learn a lot from us so that we can grow together. These companies are really innovative, dynamic and constantly challenge us to keep up with them. They are demanding, but at the same time rewarding as well.

Indian system integrators have been at the forefront of actually making the global economy a smaller one because they carry the art of delivering the expertise and are really consistent with their expertise, intellectual property, and innovation they bring.

Of late, the Indian market has witnessed the rise of a lot of born in the cloud partners. Do you think that going forward the traditional partners will fade away if they are not able to match up to the speed of these new players?
The partner community here is incredibly resilient. In the last 30 years, for one reason or another, there has always been something in the horizon that is going to threaten the business. The partners have just been very resilient and adaptable to the market. I am constantly impressed by their ability to adapt to new market pressures. Hence, I believe that they will adapt to new market pressure with the new competition. While some will succeed, some will not. But as you know, in many markets good competition makes companies
get better. I do think that partners that invest in their own expertise will be the ones successful in the long run.

On one hand, there are big SIs competing in the global market. And on the other side, there is a proliferation of small partners in India who are really innovative in their services offering to the customers. We have to cater to both the segments. Our aspiration is to have the right partner for the right customer and I believe both type of partners will co-exist.

What sort of support partners can expect from HPE in 2019 and beyond?
We consider the partners’ sales people as an extension of our own team and this involves our trust in them and that trust is reciprocated. One of the things that we are doing for 2019 is that the assets and tools that we use for our own sales organisation are going to be extended to our partners sales organisation. We will help them take advantage of the opportunities out there in the market. If our partner is successful, we take great pride in that because that’s a joint journey we are on.