GitLab looks to reconceptualized channel strategy to improve Go-to-Market

A key element is the reintegration of channel and alliances strategy into one overarching approach, even though they are managed by two separate executives.

Michelle Hodges,  GitLab’s Global VP of Channel

DevOps platform provider GitLab, which differentiates themselves in the market by emphasizing that they cover all 10 stages of the DevOps lifecycle, has been working on restructuring its Go-to-Market strategy around resellers and strategic alliances. Both have been a significant part of GitLab’s strategy. The strategic partner channel is relatively select, but includes major heavyweights like AWS, Google Cloud, Azure and IBM, and has been a principal focus for GitLab as a result. The reseller channel, which was previously limited to fulfillment, has been expanded and given a much clearer value-add focus. In addition to growing these channels, GitLab has also reworked its Go-to-Market strategy to better integrate its channel and alliance approaches.

“Partnerships are based on a mutual value exchange,” said Michelle Hodges,  GitLab’s Global VP of Channel. “Even so, traditional linear ways of partnering might not always work, depending on the customer success lifecycle. That’s especially the case when DevOps is involved.”

“From a GitLabs perspective, we have taken the best of what we have seen working,” said Nima Badiey, GitLab’s Global VP of Alliances. “Michelle saw this first. When I joined the company, I saw how changes to the way that these strategies have typically been done would result in a much higher probability of landing and encouraging success for customers.”

The issue is that the reseller and strategic alliance channels have historically been regarded as very different, and managed separately as a result.

“There has traditionally been a separation of concerns around value in alliances – but there is more in common – so it was an absolutely natural fit,” Badiey said. “So we took Alliances and Channel and combined their strategies, and slotted them both under sales. Now partners don’t have to figure out where they belong.”

While the two areas have been consolidated to emphasize collaboration, each is still managed separately, with Hodges running channels and Badiey handling alliances.

“We explored the concept of a single environment, but there’s a lot to do to maintain and accelerate growth,” Hodges said. “I think we get more scale this way and more coverage.

“That’s the advantage of heaving two specialists, as opposed to having someone who is an expert in one area, but where the other part is generalist skills,” Badiey added.

“We each have experience in both functions – and that helps,” Hodges noted.

Hodges said that while this approach is very well suited to a DevOps business, its advantages go well beyond that.

“As more vendors shift to a SaaS-type model, you will find the need to look at partner fit based on stage of lifecycle – instead of the old presales, sales, and post sales format,” she stated. “I think that this more flexible approach, rather than a more rigid partner type model, is the way of the future.”

Badiey referred to Conway’s law, which posits that organizations design systems that reflect their own communication structure, as illustrating some of the weaknesses with traditional partner ecosystem approaches.

Nima Badiey, GitLab’s Global VP of Alliances

“Those that have isolated alliances tend to be only focused on compartmentalizing technology,” he said. “Docker was a great example of that, which results from not having the technology leadership to think about the overall health of a company from a business perspective. Companies that start by determining the business problem they address, including culture and processes, and which organize in that fashion, are better prepared to align around customer objectives and success, and not just to sell things.”

Hodges said that the channel has to ability to get positive results out of the kind of changes that they are implementing.

“Through the course of the last 25 years, I’ve been impressed how nimble the channel is,” she commented. “I was at VMware when WAN as-a-service came out, and the initial channel reaction was ‘oh no.’ But the channel made the shift there. Here we had the good fortune to be able to build the channel from scratch and emphasize the high valuable repeatable services they can grow over time. Our deep investment in enablement and community around our partners has helped this overall strategy.”

“The channel is also able to evolve faster than alliance organizations, who can only move as fast as their product will mature,” Badiey said.