Amid the Covid Pandemic, our concern is how to keep the business alive and in the series, we spoke to Ganesan Arumugam, Director – Channel Sales, NetApp, NetApp to understand the partner strategy for the company. An Excerpt
What is your sense of market sentiment now?
All of us are reading a lot about the second wave of COVID in newspapers and various TV channels. It is quite alarming. It is worse than what everybody has anticipated, which has struck the entire country without much notification is a very unfortunate situation. From the business point of view, the entire population is going through a very difficult times, though the government has clamped a selective lockdown. Most of the businesses are functioning as normal with a lot of restrictions. All of our customers that we are interacting have acknowledged that the time has arrived for virtual work and work from home. So it needs the intensity of the IT usage among our customers and the importance of getting into the new applications – it may be VDI where you offer the virtual desktops to the customers. It is about the employees of the customers who can work from home and access the critical applications even from home. That opens up an important question for the customers because once they open the critical application and access the database from remote location what is the level of security they have in their systems and access terminal. Whether they are able to access their core infra and database with utmost security is the concern for every management and is the critical question for all the customers. We are working with our customers in solving those issues.
“We have experienced the changing mind-set of the customers about the digital campaigns and events. They have started accepted the format and increasingly liking it now. Therefore, we have not brought down our marketing spend.”
Director – Channel Sales,
It opens a Pandora’s box of opportunities for the channel, but what is the sentiment in the channel market?
Yes. It is right. During the first outbreak of pandemic, last year, the channel had faced a little of challenge in terms of how they had to managed because they were expecting the business to go down drastically. Their concern was how would they manage their working capital and the cash flow. There were a lot of principles who supported them. The two to three months, during March and April last year, they had redesigned or redeployed their workforces and managed the situation very well. In today’s critical situation, the channel is continuing to work from office and serving the customers. They are the frontline workers for us and even wherever possible visiting the customers and offering services and solving the customers problems. Therefore, the channel is playing a critical role in this situation.
This has also opened up a lot of service opportunities for the partners, which they really captured and monetized. In this process the partners are building or cement relationship with the customers in a much better way.
We do not see they are worried about cash flow now. More than 90% of the partners whom I have interacted in the last six months, they have done extremely well in 2020. Even some of my partners are believed to have said that over achieved their targets for the year during the last quarter.
What are you doing now to boost the morale of the partners?
We are doing a couple of things. Starting from the recruitment, we take the relationship with partner as a marriage. So they have selected us and we have selected them. The second thing is how their team is able to go and sell the solution from NetApp in the market. That’s where the enablement comes into the picture. For last one year, we have scaled up our partners through the virtual training. The partners are also taken it up as a project to upskill their team. They have enabled their team on various technologies and scenarios including VDI solution, digital transformation, and many other areas. We have supported them by opening up our training programs. We have offered them in person training for some high-end technical courses and many through digital or virtual platforms.
Apart from training and certifications on various complex technologies, we have also ramped up our sales training for the newly recruited partners. We also have extended our marketing activities with the partners in various digital ways and have yielded excellent result.
We have experienced the changing mind-set of the customers about the digital campaigns and events. They have started accepted the format and increasingly liking it now. Therefore, we have not brought down our marketing spend.
Last year, we spent the same amount on marketing activities as earmarked by us. So, it had really helped us to reach more customers and support more partners in terms of generating more leads for their business. If I say so: we focused on it and did extremely well in 2020 and will continue to do the same thing this year too.
What is the USP of your channel program?
One is: Our partner program is focused in terms of how we can grow the business for our partners by improving their compliance, increasing the top line, bringing in more revenue. We are focused on a set of partners. We call it as an ONTAP managed Partner Program under our Unified Partner Program. We selected only the few partners who are loyal and committed and invested with NetApp. We also reciprocate with investment from our side in terms of the resources alignment including our sales team or joint planning exercise or marketing MDF spend.
Our strategy is really how we can grow big with the committed partners, rather than spreading it too thin with hundreds of partners. It has really helped in terms of getting maximum return on capital spent.
The second is: Obviously all of us are in business to make profit. The partners are also keen in increasing their margin.
We have brought in a lot of rebate programs for the partners, whether it is for a new sale or for renewal sales. Apart from the transaction model, if they bring us the competitive accounts we have a different rebate program, which is over and above the regular rebate.
To motivate the front-end sales team of the partners, we came out with various partners sales rep incentive programs.
We are making sure that they’re still motivated and they are able to make a better margin with us. All of us know very well in the beginning of the pandemic last year, the cash flow and working capital become a big issue for the partners. So we came up with an extended credit facility for our distributors who in turn passed that on to the partners.
How do you address the ransomware challenges?
We are working with various security vendors and ensure that the data we handle comes with inbuilt security. When it comes to the backup and DR, we work closely with multiple backup vendors, including Commvault, Veeam and recently we signed up with Rubrik globally. We are offering it as a single point of solution to our customers.
What is your marketing activities now?
We will continue to invest into various marketing programs where we Educate the customers on the latest technology and solutions. This year, we are leveraging our partners by spending our marketing dollars with them. Apart from that, we are participating in various industry events. And also, we work closely with our OEM partners for marketing our solutions with their customers.
How are you supporting the partners with financial assistance?
In addition to the extended credit, we are coming out with Keystone partnership program where I and my partner can offer the entire storage platform to the customers and charge them on a monthly basis, or a quarterly basis, so that it becomes an OPEX for the customers. it reduces the burden for both customers and the partners. There is an option in terms of whether the assets will be in the books of NetApp or in the books of the partners. We allow both the options.