Riverbed unveils new channel chief and significantly changed channel program

Ex-Cisco veteran Bridget Bisnette has been formally announced as global channel chief, along with a much more simplified – and very different – channel program aimed at penetrating lower into the enterprise and midmarket from Riverbed’s traditional sweet spot.

Bridget Bisnette, Vice President Global Channels and Commercial Sales, Riverbed

Riverbed has kicked off the new year with the announcement of significant changes to all aspects of their channel. They formally unveiled a new channel leadership team. They indicated a change in channel strategy, impacting both the marketplace they will target and the way they will target it. To support the new strategy, they also announced Riverbed Rise, a completely changed channel program based on fundamentally different premises than its predecessor.

Let’s look at the details.

Riverbed officially announced Bridget Bisnette as their new Vice President Global Channels and Commercial Sales.  Former global channel chief Karl Meulema left the company in May of last year, and has since resurfaced as the VP of Global Partner Strategy at global SI Tata.

“I also arrived in May, although he chose to leave before I got here,” Bisnette said. “I didn’t come in to replace him. I was asked by Riverbed to put together a business case to determine if Riverbed should expand their business coverage, given that their acquisitions and broader portfolio made them much more than the WAN optimization specialist they had been. Their customer base had been traditional enterprise and federal, and I assessed whether they should expand that.”

Ultimately she considered that they should expand their channel TAM, and Riverbed offered her the job leading the initiative.

“I accepted because I believe it’s an incredible opportunity,” Bisnette indicated. Her resume basically consists of long stints at three companies – six years each at AST Computer and SMC Networks, followed by 19 years at Cisco in a variety of roles. In her last position there, she was Senior Director, Partner Marketing – Cisco Portfolio, between 2013 and 2016.

In addition to Bisnette in the channel chief role, Cindy Herndon is now Vice President, Global Channel Programs and Operations. She was at Riverbed before, but her old position has been combined with that of former Vice President, Global Channel Strategy and Program Michelle Hodges, who has also left the company. The other major change is that John Machonis recently joined Riverbed as the new Vice President of Americas Channel Sales.

Bisnette said that the strategic question she addressed was to look at the market opportunity, and determine whether Riverbed should go more broadly downmarket to expand their marketplace.

“The first issue is should we do this,” she indicated. “Did we have the portfolio strength to address the commercial segment part of the market effectively? The second issue was that if the answer to the first was yes, do we need to rebuild the channel to do this.”

With the answer to both questions being yes, work to rebuild the partner program to support the new channel strategy began in June.

“This has been underway since then, and we are announcing it now,” Bisnette stated. “In the world of channels, this is pretty quick.”

The key thing with the changes is that Riverbed didn’t just tinker with the old program, by making changes to existing tiers, benefits, or requirements. The whole philosophy of the Riverbed Rise program is completely different from the Riverbed Performance Partner Program which it replaces.

The old program was a competency-based one, with rewards tied to certifications and revenue.

“That’s a very 1990s structure, tying programs to competencies,” Bisnette said. “Customer consumption models are changing, so partner business models are changing as well. If you provide a cloud-based service that serves the whole U.S. market, why do you need four CCIEs in Ohio. Competency-based models are outdated in a cloud world.”

Similarly, the old program’s classification of partner types doesn’t fit new business realities and models.

“As Riverbed moved beyond WAN optimization, partners developed hardware resale, hosted subscription and perpetual software licensing models across our entire portfolio, to fit specific needs,” Bisnette said. “The Riverbed Rise program will recognize partners on an opportunity by opportunity basis and reward them on that, rather than classifying them as a VAR or an MSP, and setting criteria on that. It cuts across business models to reward by performance.”

Cindy Herndon, Vice President of Global Channel Programs and Operations, Riverbed

“We started off with three operating principles in constructing Riverbed Rise,” said Vice President of  Global Channel Programs and Operations Herndon. “Be simple, which means things like being clear about how partners keep status. Be profitable. And reward for performance.”

While the old program was not the most complex on the market, it was fairly involved, and the booklet distributed to partners at the 2017 Riverbed Partner Summit had over 20 pages of content.

“We used five slides this year!” Herndon said. “Everything is based on performance, measuring things. The first one is new customer acquisition. The second is penetration of existing accounts, bringing additional Riverbed technologies into the account. The third is ‘anything-as-a-service,’ and they get credit for that. The fourth is accreditation and certification, which are based on choice. We have offerings and they choose what they think they need.

“Status in the first three elements is measured by the amount in bookings, and we give dividends for each of these,” Herndon added. “For the courses, we give dividends for accreditation and certification. The program is also very simple and flexible in how the partner will turn these dividends into rewards. They decide how they receive them – cash rewards, business development, or training.”

Some things in this program are really different from the norm, Herndon stressed.

“In the old program, partners didn’t earn any benefits until they reached Premier level, and the discounts weren’t really competitive until that level,” she said. “In the new program, partners start earning benefits at the Authorized level, and at the end of quarter, they can use them towards training then.”

“The industry typically requires partners to pay up front for training,” Bisnette said. “We have rewritten the rules.”

In addition to the revamped programs, Riverbed Rise will also add a new partner portal, more robust marketing tools that include dedicated partner social channels, and simplified discounting schedules.

While partners began earning benefits effective in Riverbed Rise on January 2, they will remain at their current program level until the end of July.

“We are keeping the same tier naming conventions, so those won’t change,” Herndon said. “We will determine new levels as needed for each partner in August, based on the dividends that they earn.”

The strategy to penetrate the commercial segment was successfully piloted in the U.S. over the second half of 2017.

“We developed a segmentation strategy, in which we identified all named accounts and put those to the left, and then created three segments of the rest,” Bisnette said. “We determined that there is a $4.6 billion TAM available for us in this segment just in the U.S. We consolidated territory sellers under one commercial sales leader, and have seen a significant increase in bookings just by going to this system. We will operationalize the model in 2018, building a call centre and inside sales operation in Austin, whose job will be to create demand.”

Riverbed is defining the commercial segment as basically 500 employees and above – so the midmarket and into the enterprise, rather than most of the SMB. Bisnette pointed out that measuring markets by company size is, however, one of those things that has less value today than before.

“The actual size of the company isn’t relevant in a cloud world,” she said. “What matters is the need of the business.”

Bisnette also said that while Riverbed is looking to expand their TAM into the commercial segment, they aren’t considering signing up a lot of new partners to reach this market.

“We are pivoting into customer acquisition mode, in which we will look to bring in new customers through the natural growth of existing markets,” she said.  “We are not in partner recruitment mode.”