New rules of engagement hand many EMC enterprise accounts to channel

EMC global channel chief Gregg Ambulos

EMC global channel chief Gregg Ambulos

LAS VEGAS – It’s not necessarily unusual for a vendor to spend some time reminiscing about the “bad old days” when it wasn’t as channel-friendly as it could have been, and when its actions and attitudes towards its partners weren’t what most partners would call “best practices.”

But EMC seemed to take that approach to the extreme extent at its first-ever Global Partner Summit here this week, with much of global channel chief Gregg Ambulos’ presentation dedicated to a walk down memory lane that included specific examples of how it would – a decade or more ago – swoop in on partners’ business at seemingly the slightest opportunity, and take that business direct. Not exactly the kind of stuff that channel chiefs like to acknowledge, much less feature in a keynote.

Of course, Ambulos’ decade-late “mea culpa” was used as a comparison to today, when its efforts with channel partners are generally regarded as much more cordial and professional, and certainly less adversarial.

So it’s fitting that it chose this event as its opportunity to introduce its new “rules of engagement” channel program, dubbed Enterprise Select, which basically says that outside of a few top enterprise customers, everything is open to, and indeed exclusive to, the channel.

The program, which has gone live in the Americas and Asia Pacifc already and will launch in EMEA in July, dictates that partners are the lead and sole go-to-market approach for all but a handful of large global enterprise accounts. EMC has not discussed how many customers are on those lists, but Ambulos did say that each of the company’s major theatres (Americas, EMEA, APJ) will maintain separate lists, and will share those lists with partners in short order.

“This is not a program change, this is a cultural and a go-to-market change,” Ambulos said.

Ambulos stressed that those named accounts are not exclusive to EMC – they’re just the only space that will be EMC-led when it comes to sales. “Our partners do play a major role with us in many of those large accounts,” he said.

Enterprise Select is the culmination of a journey that started when EMC was somewhat humbled by the 2001 downturn, as Ambulos describes it, and then-new CEO Joe Tucci made solutions, and partners, a priority. In launching the Velocity Partner Program, it carved out the commercial space for partners, and Ambulos described a cultural shift for the company.

“If [the last] decade taught us anything, it taught us that we can transform, we can continue to lead, and we need you, our partners, beside us every step of the way,” Ambulos told partners.

Meanwhile, in the midsize market…

The enterprise isn’t the only space where EMC has been making moves. With the introducing of its first channel-only products early in 2011, the company moved to open up a new front in the low end of the market for its storage products with a sub-$75,000 price point. Going after that market required both support from existing partners interested in moving into the SMB space, and a group of new solution providers already familiar with the space. In total, the company has signed up about 5,000 new channel partners to address this downmarket opportunity, said Jeff Taylor, vice president of global channel strategy and operations at EMC.

Now that it’s built up the masses of that channel space – which is largely managed through distribution – the company is shifting focus to enabling those partners brought on board, as well as recruiting to fill greenfield spaces, both geographically and by market.

“We need to be making sure those partners are moving from Authorized all the way to the top levels of the program,” Taylor said.

As a result of its “cultural shift” towards the channel over the last decade, the company is not having any problems finding interest in new solution providers, particularly with VARs who would not have had anything to do with EMC in the past, Ambulos said. He reported the company is winning partners from rivals IBM, HP and NetApp, following an influx of former Sun partners a few years ago.

“With our cloud and big data strategy, partners are very intrigued with EMC,” Ambulos said. “It’s continuing to accelerate. Partners are coming because they see the opportunity. Now it’s on us to make sure they’re getting trained up and that we’re working with them on demand generation.”