Resurgent VMware Canada discusses strategy at Dell Technologies Toronto Forum

VMware Canada Country Manager Sean Forkan discusses changes made since he took the job to restore the company’s momentum in Canada, and talked about where they are going in the months ahead.

Sean Forkan (L) onstage as part of the closing executive leadership panel at Dell Technologies Toronto Forum

TORONTO – Sean Forkan, VMware Canada VP and Country Manager, was highly visible at the Dell Technologies Toronto Forum here yesterday. That’s not a surprise. VMware and the other Dell Technologies companies beyond Dell EMC have become much more visible at Dell events recently, as the result of the company’s strategic decision to align their go-to-market more closely with these other organizations, compared to their relationship with EMC when they were part of the EMC Federation. However. Forkan has also done well at VMware Canada since assuming the Canadian leadership role there in January 2017.

“Over the last year, with new leadership with Sean and Tara [Fine, Senior Director of Channels at VMware Canada], we have seen a turnaround in Canada,” said Frank Rauch, Vice President, Americas Partner Organization, at VMware.

In August 2015, VMware decided to move to a more centralized North American model. The role of VMware Canada President was eliminated, and the decision was made to have the commercial business in Canada report to the head of the U.S.-based commercial business, while the enterprise business reported to the U.S. West field operations leader. Tech companies that establish a Canadian management model typically do not revert back to running operations out of the U.S., barring some larger calamity for the company, and there is a reason for this. The results at VMware in Canada under the new structure were not good.

“When a technology business in Canada underperforms, they often decide to make a change in leadership,” Forkan said. “In this case, they also considered that the business was also very complicated – so they split the country in two. Inevitably what happens is the employee morale gets worse and they get more disengaged because they don’t believe there is a Canadian plan. The results weren’t great when I arrived.”

Forkan was well aware of the situation coming in.

“I was cautioned that it was a rebuild job,” he said. “I found that the channel was disenfranchised with us. A couple of partners who I spoke with a year and nine months ago when I took over said ‘Congratulations, but we are done. We can’t make any money on the portfolio, and we don’t trust your team.’ We spent a lot of focus to change those perceptions.”

That involved major changes in the go-to-market strategy.

“Previously, they had tried to mirror the US operating structure in Canada, with the government business separate,” Forkan said. “That wasn’t working in Canada. You want leaders as close as possible, so we moved to a geo management model, and it has worked very well. One of the other key changes we made was to build a three-year aspirational plan, which we co-authored with different functional groups. We concluded that for us to sell the breadth of the portfolio. we shouldn’t have more accounts per rep, we should have less, especially in the large enterprise. We made those sorts of changes and redesigned things from the ground up.

“We really want to focus on the mindset of the front line staff, and think that we have resourced it correctly now,” Forkan added. “We spent a lot of time focused on mindset of the field rep. I’m not saying that we are done there, but it’s an important part of how we will be successful in the short and long term. We also set up a structure where the field leaders are executive sponsors for our key partners – not just the channel leaders.”

Forkan indicated that they have decided to focus on three areas as means by which they could double the size of the business in Canada over a three year period.

“They were channel as a route to market, government as a vertical that we might think differently about, and partnering with a large service provider in market,” he said. “We are coming into a full year of those, and we will sit down in November and look at where we were on those big bets. I think we have made big progress there.”

Part of improving channel productivity is teaming agreements, which were announced at the VMware Scottsdale leadership summit in May, and which were put in place last quarter.

“About 1000 teaming agreements have been completed already,” Rauch said. “They are living, breathing documents. There are both two-way relationships, between the partner and VMware, and three-way relationships which also include Dell EMC. We are seeing more go three-way.”

“We have made huge investments on both sides, because we do see the opportunity at hand,” Fine said. “These sales engagement frameworks we have put in place let us better partner in the field.”

“From a growth perspective, it’s all double digit across all categories – and triple digit in some,” Fine added. “In our largest partners in Canada, we are growing triple digits in many of them across the entire portfolio, and more specifically in emerging technologies.”

Forkan said that in the government market, VMware has been successful in Canada primarily as a result of segmentation, with a very large presence with the federal government, and the Ontario, Quebec and Alberta governments.

“We are figuring out what our next generation government strategy can look like,” he said. “There is more that we can do there. We are working with Hill+Knowlton Strategies to help us there.”

Forkan said that the company is also having to address the implications of three newish pieces of legislation

“There are new pieces of legislation coming that will affect Canadians uniquely,” he said. “The changes to PIPEDA that go into effect this week require mandatory breach notification, which we have not had before. The new FTA with the US is not yet in force, as it still has to be ratified, but it has provisions for restrictions in data across borders. There is also the CLOUD Act from the U.S and questions around that. So there is a strong emphasis on the need for flexibility built into the design.”

Forkan also doesn’t expect any issues with VMware’s partnerships with Dell Technologies’ many competitors at the same time that VMware aligns itself more closely with Dell EMC and the other Dell companies.

“We continue to have best-in-class capabilities to solve customer problems which will keep those partnerships in place,” he said. “There are competitors of Dell who are big and have 3 letters in their name and have lots of loot and are an important partner of mine. We also don’t assume that they have to work with us. Arrogance is the death of business, and we will continue to innovate. However, customers are looking for us to use the broader Dell Technologies solutions to help simplify things. The next iteration of solutions – Dell, plus VMware, plus RSA. plus Secureworks – we got good customer feedback from that at this event.”