New Nutanix channel chief says big changes coming to sales motions

Incents for new logos are on the way, but an even bigger change will be Nutanix moving from partners teaming with sales to making partners more autonomous.

Rodney Foreman, Vice President of Global Channel Sales at Nutanix

Nutanix formally announced the appointment of Rodney Foreman as Vice President of Global Channel Sales this week, Foreman, who started at Nutanix on January 8, had spent the last year and a half running Informatica’s channel business, but most of his prior channel management experience has been at IBM. At Nutanix, he said his task is to drive change – although he prefers the term ‘innovation.’ That will begin by overhauling the company’s sales processes, as part of a comprehensive three-year strategy.

While Foreman came to Nutanix from Informatica, he spent two decades of his career at IBM, which culminated in managing channels at the cloud software business unit.

“I had the middleware channel business, which merged with hybrid cloud and became cloud,” Foreman told ChannelBuzz. “When they came together, it was the largest IBM software channel. I led that globally, with over 7000 partners.”

That leadership involved considerable change.

“We transformed that business significantly,” Foreman said. “We made a lot of innovative changes to the channel program, so that we could grow. The focus on growth was the same there as it is now here.”

Foreman said that Nutanix came after him for their global channels job because of that success in his background.

“All of the top VADs and partners know me and have had success working with me,” he said. “They know that I’m a channel leader who can drive innovative programs. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I like to think I’m one of a relatively small number of executives who can do that globally. It’s not that hard to find a channel leader who can lead a business in North America. Finding someone who also knows China, and Japan, and India and Europe – that’s rarer. I have relationships with partners around the world that we will leverage to make Nutanix more successful in the channel.”

While Foreman indicated that he was brought in to change things and innovate, he emphasized that the core culture at Nutanix is incredibly strong, and the channel program itself contains very effective components.

“Nutanix operates at a pace that is unbelievable,” he said. “The culture here is one where you better have your running shoes on. We don’t stop. We don’t rest. We are constantly moving. When I looked at the Nutanix certification program, I found that the NPSX [Nutanix Platform Sales Expert] certification program is one of the most rigorous ones I’ve ever seen. You have to present before a panel of Nutanix people to get certified! You need a strong knowledge of Nutanix, but you also need to be a good salesperson.”

Foreman said that the change required is more about maturing the program and being innovative going forward.

“Dheeraj [Pandey, Nutanix’s CEO] and I talked about this when I interviewed,” he said. “What can we do to be more innovative?”

Foreman said that he and Pandey talked about mapping out a three-year strategy of innovation. While the details of the strategy are a work in progress and still being defined, the contours of the strategy are rather more apparent.

“All the elements of our ecosystem are transforming themselves to distinguish themselves in the market,” he said. “The distributors, for example, have evolved and transformed. Tech Data wants to become the aggregator of different solutions for ISVs, and we want to be the platform for that. The global systems integrators are also changing their models. This is true of every part in our ecosystem. We need to be a part of their evolution.”

Foreman said that while Nutanix is a software company, they haven’t always thought like one, and that also needs to change.

“From a channel perspective, we need to act more like a software company rather than an appliance company,” he said. “We need to just sell the software and let the partners choose the hardware, or work with one of our OEM partners. It’s important that we have a software offering and a public cloud offering that work seamlessly together, since many customers use us to balance workloads in the cloud.”

This will impact how Nutanix runs sales and marketing campaigns.

“Bob Wallace, my immediate predecessor, is still here, but is now focused on inside sales,” Foreman said. “As we transition to becoming more of a software company, it is more important than ever for our channel team and our inside sales team to work closer together. We will run more campaigns with our inside sales team, and do marketing campaigns the same way.”

Nutanix has always emphasized the channel leader working closely with the product development teams, and that will remain a priority.

“I have talked with our product people about some of the new things we will do to support Citrix and SAP HANA, and the ideas they have are fantastic,” Foreman stated.

Partner enablement remains at the core of Nutanix’s sales strategy – since all their sales go through partners – but changes are coming here. Foreman said that since Nutanix’s training emphasizes partner sales skills as well as technical skills, this needs to be leveraged more. Because the Nutanix technology that simplifies things for the customer is fairly complex under the hood, Nutanix’s internal sales people have always played a significant role in going to market with partners. And while some of their go-to partners have developed autonomous capabilities in this regard, more needs to be done.

“We are going to transform how we sell,” Foreman said. “We have to in order to scale. Instead of eight-legged sales calls, we need to have the tools in place for autonomous partner sales. Today, the process is more on partners TEAMING with sales. Now that we are becoming over a billion dollar company and our transaction volume is through the roof, partners have to be able to operate on their own. We are  working on that, and we know where we need to make changes. As we get more into Xi Services and start selling against Azure and AWS, we will see even more volume. We have to get more partners selling by themselves – while keeping the edge on skills that we have the way we do things now.”

Foreman said that Nutanix CEO Pandey refers to this as Value Beyond the PO [Purchase Order]..

“During my interview, we talked about this,” he indicated. “What keeps the lights on at a software company is reoccurring revenue, and to get that, you have to have a network of partners that drive successful deployments, and look for an opportunity to expand the footprint. We are manically focused on making sure that partners who provide services do it very well. That’s what has been instilled in our culture for a while.”

Getting partners to up their game on autonomous sales requires more focus on making them successful with Nutanix from a business perspective, Foreman stated.

“We need to improve their enablement and make them even more competitive and profitable as partners,” he said. “If you want partners to invest in you, you have to provide programs and incentives so they can create a business case that’s attractive.”

A new logo incent is one of the new innovations coming here.

“We are working on some incentives for our second half [which starts in February] for attaining new customers,” Foreman said. “We need to expand our customer base for Nutanix. To do that, we have to leverage partners, so we will incent them to go out and get us new logos.”

This kind of program is a net-new for Nutanix, Foreman said.

Over the last couple of years, Nutanix has actually reduced its channel in size, taking more of a value channel approach, and focusing on partners who had delivered results. Now the focus on growth means not only better-enabled partners who can sell on their own, but likely more partners as well, notwithstanding the focus on making existing partners more efficient.That seems to be particularly the case in markets outside the U.S. where Nutanix is looking to drive growth.

“We want more volume,” Foreman stressed. “In Canada, we are leveraging distribution there to expand, and we are expanding partner recruitment in Canada. I just met with our Canadian country leader. We see a lot of opportunity working with the top distributors in Canada. That business is growing at a very high rate, and bringing in more good partners will support this growth.”

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