We’re on the right path towards becoming the leader in the hybrid cloud infrastructure space and the top choice for both customers and partners: Harsh Vaishnav, Nutanix

Harsh Vaishnav

CRN India had the opportunity to interview Harsh Vaishnav, Head of Channels – India & SAARC, Nutanix, to delve into the strategies implemented by Nutanix to maintain a customer and partner-centric approach, especially in the Indian and SAARC regions. Amidst significant expansion and transformation into a comprehensive hybrid cloud infrastructure provider, Harsh shared insights into Nutanix’s commitment to embodying cultural principles and fostering exceptional customer experiences.

What strategies has Nutanix implemented to maintain its customer and partner-centric approach, particularly in the Indian and SAARC regions, amidst significant expansion and evolution into a comprehensive hybrid cloud infrastructure provider?

This is indeed an exciting phase for us, marked by consistent growth and positive reports circulating in the tabloids. As an organisation, we have a steadfast commitment to being customer and partner-centric, particularly from the perspective of India. We pride ourselves on not just talking the talk but also walking it, embodying our cultural principles with sincerity. Customer and partner obsession are deeply ingrained in our culture at Nutanix, and we adhere to these principles religiously.

In recent times, we’ve experienced significant expansion, not just in acquiring new customers but also in upselling and cross-selling to our existing client base. While we’ve been renowned for our expertise in hyperconverged infrastructure, we’re now evolving into a comprehensive hybrid cloud infrastructure provider.

While confidentiality prevents me from disclosing specific names, our success spans various industries including banking, IT, ITeS, healthcare, and manufacturing among others. The consistent growth we’ve witnessed fuels our optimism, as we believe there’s much more potential to explore.

Our focus remains on fostering business growth, enhancing the ease of doing business for both customers and partners, leveraging marketing as a significant differentiator, and prioritising exceptional customer experiences. Our journey at Nutanix is characterised by continuous evolution and an unwavering commitment to delivering value to all stakeholders.

What are the current conversations like with customers and partners, and how have they evolved in light of recent global events?

Let’s revisit the era when the black swan event unfolded, prompting everyone to focus on response speed. During that period, we witnessed a notable shift with businesses turning to hyperscalers for immediate solutions. However, as the dust settled, organisations found themselves at a crossroads, contemplating the need to rebuild or reinvent their entire landscape. Consequently, we encountered a substantial number of customers seeking guidance on repatriation, eager to transition away from hyperscalers for various reasons.

While I can’t divulge specific client names, it’s worth mentioning that several prominent entities, including major banks, have initiated conversations on repatriation strategies. For instance, one of the leading banks currently leverages the CBDC on Nutanix platform, serving as a testament to the success of such initiatives. This trend towards repatriation has gained significant momentum, driven by both cost considerations and the critical nature of workloads.

Also, there has been a noticeable surge in demand, particularly as organisations sought to address pent-up needs post-crisis stabilisation. This uptick in demand has undoubtedly contributed to our growth trajectory. Additionally, our strategic shift from solely focusing on hyper-converged infrastructure projects to embracing the hybrid cloud landscape has been pivotal.

In this evolving landscape, we’ve positioned ourselves as an end-to-end player, catering to diverse customer needs across various verticals. Our approach emphasises not only addressing immediate challenges but also aligning solutions with each client’s overarching journey. Cloud adoption remains an ongoing journey for many, encompassing infrastructure modernisation, automation, orchestration, and application modernisation.

Our collaborations, such as those with Red Hat, have played a crucial role in facilitating application re-engineering and migration to modern platforms. These initiatives have significantly contributed to our growth trajectory over the past few years, underscoring our commitment to delivering comprehensive solutions tailored to our customers’ evolving needs.

How has been the growth of your channel business?

We operate as a 100% partner company, a commitment we’ve made to our partners that regardless of our growth needs, we’ll never double our sales force. This message has resonated well with the partners, and our investments reflect this partner-centric approach. For instance, when deciding between adding more salespeople or bolstering our channel SE organisation, we opted for the latter to ensure our partners remain relevant.

We’ve adopted a strategy of focusing on a select few partners rather than spreading ourselves thin. This approach allows us to devote our attention and resources effectively, leading to successful partnerships and business growth. In fact, over 70% of our business consistently comes from these focus partners, underscoring the effectiveness of our strategy.

We’re committed to continuous improvement, actively seeking feedback and embracing changes that drive better outcomes. With support from our APJ region and global teams, we’re striving to be renowned as a truly partner-centric company. While we’re not yet where we aim to be, we’re on the right path towards becoming the leader in the hybrid cloud infrastructure space and the top choice for both customers and partners.

Our leadership team established three guiding principles to drive long-term success. First, we prioritise quality over quantity, ensuring deep investments and impactful partnerships. Second, we prioritise ease of doing business, fostering a culture where every employee is partner-centric. Finally, we’ve doubled our marketing investment in channels, recognising the significant role of channel marketing in driving growth.

These principles form the foundation of our channel strategy, guiding our actions and investments to strengthen our partnerships and drive mutual success.

What is the current strength of your channel, particularly in India, and what percentage of your overall operations do they contribute?

While I don’t have the precise count of our channel partners, I can give you a rough estimate in terms of percentages. So, considering any partner who engages in at least one transaction annually, we’re looking at around 130 to 140 partners. However, it’s important to note that our coverage extends beyond India to include regions like Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Over the past two years, we’ve strategically narrowed our focus to 51 key partners, consolidating our efforts for greater efficiency.

These 51 partners receive dedicated attention and resources, ensuring they receive the support and technical expertise needed to thrive. Simultaneously, we’ve made significant investments in our distributors, empowering them to extend coverage and technical support to our broader partner network. This approach ensures that all partners, whether directly focused or managed through distributors, receive the attention and resources they need to succeed.

Transparency has been a cornerstone of our relationships with partners. We’ve openly communicated our focus areas and expectations, fostering mutual trust and collaboration. Partners have responded positively, acknowledging areas where they may fall short in the short term while committing to future growth and alignment with our objectives.

Our emphasis has always been on quality over quantity, and this philosophy has served us well. Notably, 100% of our business is conducted through partners, underscoring the importance of our channel ecosystem in driving our success. We prioritise nurturing strong, mutually beneficial partnerships as the foundation of our business model.

What factors contribute to your strong channel culture and give you a competitive advantage?

I wouldn’t narrow too deep into comparing ourselves with competitors. Rather, what has proven effective for us is our ability to engage with our channel partners at every stage of the process. Let me illustrate with another example. Within Nutanix, the channel team takes the lead in pursuing new business opportunities. Our account teams collaborate with partners, but the responsibility for pursuing new ventures falls squarely on the shoulders of the channel organisation. My team and I are tasked with this responsibility, and we approach it with a clear mission and purpose. Our programs are carefully crafted to incentivise this behaviour, ensuring that our channel partners feel deeply invested in our mutual success.

Annually, we typically onboard anywhere from 130 to 150 new clients, with around 90% of these stemming directly from our sales efforts. This empowerment resonates strongly with our channel partners. They recognise that by shouldering the bulk of the workload, they stand to reap greater financial rewards. This approach has served us well and we have consciously adhered to this plan because it has consistently yielded positive results for us, earning appreciation from our channel community.

Our partners are adept at handling much of the heavy lifting independently, involving us only when necessary. Occasionally, customers may request a meeting with someone from Nutanix for reassurance purposes, rather than for any drastic changes or interventions. Moreover, many of our partners are expanding their scope beyond hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), engaging in conversations about the broader HCI landscape. With over 800 certified Nutanix professionals within our partner network, we extend our reach far beyond our core sales team. Through continuous enablement and training initiatives, we aim to empower our partners to become true ambassadors for Nutanix in the market, serving as the vanguard of our collective efforts.

Was the revamping of your Elevate Partner Program late last year driven by your goal to establish your brand as a hybrid cloud infrastructure company?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s precisely our approach. We’re not solely focused on revenue alone; revenue is undoubtedly crucial, but our programs are structured to incentivise partners who not only meet a minimum business threshold but also invest in certification. This allows them to swiftly progress to higher tiers within our program. The rationale behind this strategy is simple: we aim to cultivate partnerships with entities committed to sustained engagement, rather than those who engage sporadically with just a handful of transactions per year.

We recognise that certifications and resources entail significant investments, and we’re prepared to provide support through our distribution model. This ensures that partners receive the necessary backing to thrive in their endeavours. Our Elevate Partner Program embodies this ethos, rewarding consistency and investment in our partnership with corresponding benefits. It’s a symbiotic relationship where loyalty and dedication are met with reciprocal support and rewards.

Indeed, the Elevate Partner Program has evolved over the years to better incentivise and reinforce this behaviour, aligning our interests with those of our valued partners.

What are the key tenets of this partner program?

Given our role as custodians of new business, we strongly encourage our partners to drive growth by acquiring new customers for us. This behaviour is incentivised with substantial rebates for our partners. Additionally, we’ve expanded our offerings to include sales and pre-sales teams within partner organisations. This inclusion ensures that everyone involved in pitching our products feels valued and integral to the process.

We’ve made it a priority to extend rewards and recognition not only to our partners but also to their sales and pre-sales representatives. This inclusive approach ensures that every individual in the ecosystem who interacts with customers feels empowered and appreciated. It’s this sense of recognition and reward that motivates them to consistently excel in their roles.

We’ve implemented incremental rewards and recognitions for selling specific technologies from our portfolio. This encourages our partners and their teams to focus on promoting our key products, aligning with our strategic objectives.

Overall, our comprehensive program has evolved over time to better support and incentivise our partners and their teams in driving sales and growth.

From the tech standpoint, AI has garnered a lot of interest globally. What’s your preparedness in this domain and how are you gearing partners to address various customer requirements?

So, let’s be honest here. Not everyone is fully focused on this particular business, for various reasons. AI, as a buzzword, has garnered a lot of attention, but there are layers to it beyond just the infrastructure. Speaking of infrastructure, we’ve simplified its consumption with the introduction of something called GPT in a box, which you might have heard about in the news a few quarters back.

We’ve also identified the use cases where customers are considering making investments in this area. While not everyone is diving into large investments yet, there’s a dedicated set of customers starting to evaluate their options. To ensure we’re aligned with these use cases, our pre-sales team has worked to pinpoint specific use cases per vertical.

Then, we’ve collaborated with relevant partners in those verticals to explore building practices around them. It’s worth noting that this requires a different approach to business rhythm, and not all partners accustomed to selling infrastructure may find themselves relevant in these discussions. Nevertheless, our partners have begun to consciously develop practices around AI, albeit in the early stages. We anticipate landing new partnerships in this space very soon.

Today, customers are focusing on business outcomes and they expect partners to act more as consultants and trusted advisors rather than just selling products. How are you helping partners drive those conversations?

We have 800 certified individuals. It’s important to note that we also collaborate with successful partners who serve as certified service providers for us. Over the past two years, we’ve made significant investments in these partner organisations, selecting them based on their ability to target the specific customer base we’re pursuing and, crucially, to establish sustainable business practices.

Initially, we began with just one or two service providers, but we’ve since expanded to include six new partners who are adept at more than just vanilla hyper-converged infrastructure deployments. These partners are fully capable of both selling and servicing our offerings at the enterprise level. This strategic approach, while selective, has proven advantageous for both us and our partners. It underscores our commitment to fostering a network of managed services that meet the needs of our customers effectively.

As you rightly highlighted, customers place significant emphasis not only on commercial aspects but also on a partner’s ability to deliver on the envisioned outcomes, both technical and business-oriented, outlined for the project. Those who align closely with these objectives tend to emerge victorious in such evaluations. .

How do you anticipate the balance between traditional legacy partners and new-age partners evolving in the coming years, considering the significant growth of the channel ecosystem, particularly with the emergence of born-in-cloud partners?

Based on my recent discussions with several of our partners who operate in both spheres, I’ve come to this realisation that our top partners not only boast robust cloud practices but also possess a deep understanding of on-premises environments that have been in operation for years. They have honed their expertise in setting up, managing, and operating these environments, which has contributed significantly to their relevance among customers.

Moreover, these partners have also ventured into the realm of born-in-the-cloud solutions. As the world increasingly adopts hybrid environments, their ability to navigate both worlds puts them in a uniquely advantageous position. The future belongs to those who can seamlessly integrate legacy systems with cloud-native solutions. It’s not about choosing between one or the other; it’s about leveraging both to maximise efficiency and effectiveness.

While partners acknowledge the potential of AI, they also recognise the immense market demand for hybrid solutions. Consequently, they prioritise investing in talent and skill development to cater to this burgeoning market. By understanding the intricacies of both on-premises and cloud environments, they are positioning themselves as valuable bridges between the two.

Partners who grasp this dual narrative are making significant strides. They understand that proficiency in one domain does not necessarily translate to competence in the other. Hence, they are actively pursuing talent acquisition and skill enhancement initiatives to stay ahead in this evolving landscape. This strategic focus on quality hiring is poised to yield positive outcomes and solidify their position in the market.

Do you foresee the emergence of a “born in AI” concept similar to “born in cloud,” given the rise of AI-focused companies in the partner ecosystem?

The concept will see participation from various partners who recognise the potential for growth. Many of these partners have either developed their own practices or acquired them, focusing their efforts on such initiatives. While it’s uncertain whether there will be a boom in AI specifically, from my perspective, it’s evident that certain partners, either through organic growth or acquisitions, will establish sustainable practices in this area.

Some will concentrate on specific verticals or use cases, seizing the opportunity presented by AI. We already witness the integration of AI in everyday technologies, but now is the time to articulate and position its value proposition effectively to customers. This has been happening in our products and technologies for some time, and it’s essential to highlight the difference it makes. Time will reveal whether we’ll witness a proliferation of such initiatives or a more hybrid landscape.

Are you planning to increase the number of focus partners from 51?

We don’t want to ramp up our team size indiscriminately because, as I’ve emphasised, our focus is squarely on quality over quantity. This obsession with quality has proven effective for us, as we’ve observed a reciprocal response from our partners when they recognise our dedicated focus on them. Therefore, I don’t foresee a significant shift in this approach.

That said, all our hiring decisions are carefully calibrated to ensure we maintain our focus on our core channels. While my distribution team has indeed undergone some pivoting and will continue to do so to drive the next wave of growth through our partners, any investments required to facilitate this journey smoothly for our partners are non-negotiable. We remain committed to making these investments, particularly in areas such as collaborating with our partners.

Expanding the focus partner list beyond a certain threshold isn’t on the agenda. We operate with a lean team, and managing over 50 partners across the diverse landscape of Indian markets with just a handful of individuals on the ground poses limitations on the depth of focus we can provide. However, this doesn’t imply a lack of focus from our end. Instead, we’re empowering our distributors and augmenting their capabilities with additional resources, such as sales and pre-sales personnel who serve as our extended arms in the field, engaging with these partners on our behalf.

While providing necessary air cover is part of our strategy, I don’t believe we’re currently equipped to effectively manage a larger number of partners. Handling such a volume, in my view, would stretch our resources thin, potentially compromising the quality of support and attention we can provide.

How does your distribution model work, specifically regarding the recruitment of new partners?

For instance, we have boutique partners or state-specific partners who maintain a roster of customers. Typically, each partner serves around four or five key customers. When it comes to introducing Nutanix to new markets or customers, these distributors are often our first point of contact. They play a crucial role in nurturing these relationships, handling both sales and pre-sales efforts to ensure customer satisfaction.

Additionally, we’ve made sure that post-sales support is also facilitated through these distributors. This setup is particularly beneficial for boutique partners who may not have the expertise or resources to implement Nutanix solutions independently. Leveraging the distribution model allows them to tap into our network and effectively deliver our solutions to the end customer. This collaborative approach ensures that our products reach interested customers while also providing necessary support throughout the implementation process.

What direction has the company set for the next couple of years, considering the changing market dynamics, and in which areas do you anticipate your partners aligning?

While we’ve experienced significant growth, we firmly believe that we’ve only scratched the surface of our potential. We see promising opportunities in areas like hybrid cloud adoption and the demand for modern application solutions, which are poised for substantial growth in our business. The recent industry news regarding the acquisition of one of our competitors has sparked discussions about additional growth areas for us. Moving forward, we are committed to offering our customers a smooth transition and ensuring their security along the way.

In terms of verticals, the outlook remains strong across various sectors, including BFSI, ITeS, manufacturing, healthcare, and other sectors. This momentum is expected to persist over the coming years.

For our sustained growth trajectory, we maintain a strong focus on key portfolio products. Rather than offering standalone solutions, our strategy centres on providing comprehensive offerings. This entails engaging in conversations about automation, orchestration, and management that extend beyond infrastructure to encompass areas like database orchestration and storage management.

We’re witnessing considerable traction from customers who have integrated Nutanix with hyperscalers, prompting inquiries about expanding Nutanix’s usage across their infrastructure.

Our growth focus remains steadfast on areas such as hybrid cloud technology, Nutanix clusters, end-to-end storage modernisation, and database modernisation. These segments align closely with the evolving landscape of IT infrastructure, and we’re committed to delivering solutions that meet the demands of our customers effectively.

We also leverage our distribution channels to extend our reach to customers. In cases where partners may lack specific skills, particularly boutique partners, they can utilise our distribution model to implement solutions like Nutanix directly for their clients. This approach allows us to cater to a wide range of customers who are eager to adopt these technologies.

Are you considering bringing key partners from your competitor’s fold into your side, given recent acquisitions?

We’re always open to discussions. However, we’re cautious about any potential impact on the foundation that Nutanix has diligently built over the years. We value partners who are committed to long-term collaboration, and we’re keen to explore opportunities with such allies. Given the immense business potential in India, we’re inclined towards expansion, but we’re selective about forging new partnerships.

We’re content with our current set of partners and are open to welcoming new ones if it’s mutually beneficial and incremental for both parties. So, yes, we’re open, but with a mindful approach towards maintaining the integrity of our existing partnerships and ensuring that any new collaborations add value to all involved.


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