Partner messaging, new marketing initiatives highlight Partner Day at Oktane

While Okta’s increased emphasis on Generative AI was the principal theme of their recent customer and partner event, motivating and equipping partners to double down with Okta on this journey was also critical.

Bill Hustad, Okta’s SVP of Partnering and Alliances

SAN FRANCISCO – Okta kicked off their recent Oktane event here with their Partner Day, where they emphasized both the depth of their commitment to the channel and its recent significant contributions to the company’s revenues. They also spelled out what partners need to do to stay on the cutting edge, particularly around Generative AI, which is becoming a main focus of Okta’s business. In addition, they announced new initiatives which are heavily focused around marketing, which have been or will be put in place after the Elevate partner program transformed Okta’s partner management earlier this year.

“We are up to just over 60% revenues through the channel today, up significantly from the year prior,” said Bill Hustad, Okta’s SVP of Partnering and Alliances. “It’s an important metric.”

Hustad emphasized that Okta is emphasizing six motions that matter most for partners, something that was introducing at last year’s partner summit, and which continues to be front and centre in Okta’s channel strategy. These are finding new business, developing new services with new integrations, influencing, delivery service, managed workloads, as part of the development of the MSP ecosystem, and transacting, for more traditional transactional partners.

“We want partners to have a predictable business, and that comes from being sticky with the customer,” Hustad said. “That’s always good for us as a SaaS company.

These ideas were embodied in the revamped channel program that Okta introduced last spring.

“It reflects how we incent partners with those behaviors,” Hustad said. ”

Now the theme of Generative AI, which Okta emphasized around Oktane as a whole, is being driven strongly to the partner community as well.

“The Generative AI theme is being emphasized across the board,” Hustad noted. “It has two principal areas. One is the need for keeping up with bad actors – to counter their greater speed they get with Generative AI with greater speed of our own, and we are bolstering partners to deal with this. The other is that partners can think differently about how they scale up identity to address things like, for example, the uniqueness that happens in the health care market,”

Hustad said Okta’s channels team had three specific goals for this year’s partner day.

“The first was to make sure they understood that Okta is here to earn their business, and that our success and their success are deeply integrated and tight,” he indicated.

“The second was to emphasize that partnering is an Okta strategy, and the third was to highlight that there has been a lot of change our in partnering strategy, as well as some more things we have to work on,” Hustad added.

Hustad said that the partner response was very positive.

“They also heard from Todd [CEO Todd McKinnon],” he indicated. “They heard that this is all part of a complete company strategy – not just a partner strategy.”

“We want partners to be on the SaaS journey with us,” Hustad stressed. “Partners are recognizing that there is a long-term advantage of that, and that SaaS journey creates more predictability In terms of key metrics. Partners are now more engaged in the efforts we have in market. In addition to the 60% of all license revenue, they contribute 90% of all services revenue, and  we see 40% of the deals involving more than one partner.

“Our ISV focus is also relatively new,” Hustad noted. “It was really just the last year and a half that we got serious about it. It was part of moving from a very traditional channel-based transactional model to a more mature Go-to-Market, which includes greater emphasis than before on ISVs, GSIs and SIs.

Before there was a better together story, but incents were middling, as were joint demand generation and MDF dollars” Hustad added. “The Elevate program last spring introduced these and we are continuing to emphasize them. We had reached the stage as a $1.5 billion company where we just could no longer grow fast with a direct model. Elevate added a new tiering mode with new incentives, where we made it tougher to move through the tiers, but we also made the incentives to do so better.”

While the big structural changes came with Elevate in the spring, the Oktane event did see significant partner-related announcements as well.

Carlos Roman, Okta’s VP of Partner Marketing

Carlos Roman, Okta’s VP of Partner Marketing, who came to Okta a month ago after having held similar roles at Crowdstrike and at 8×8 before that, said that the initiatives announced begin with a centralized hub for products.

“All the product information is available through the Partner Hub,” Roman indicated. “They get everything that they need to be enabled.”

Okta is also releasing something similar for marketing-focused partner materials.

“We are also announcing a partner marketing automation platform,” Roman said. Like the product hub, this new marketing hub is available in the partner portal, so they will have access to everything.”

Coming in Q4 are templated ‘campaigns in a box.’

“Okta had not offered these before,” Roman stated. “Campaigns in a box have typically been round products, but these campaigns are not around products but around strategies like passwordless.” Roman noted that they are more akin to an updated storybook format. Okta is launching it to their own internal sales people now, and will be making it available to partners within the month.”

Hustad said all of these represent a change in the company’s Go-to-Market focus.

“It really helps with Go-To-Market planning, arming partners with the knowledge and capabilities to be successful,” he indicated. “We also now have a focused partner product marketing team, with formalized competencies, certifications and badges.”

“We already had a very robust set of training and certifications offered today,” Roman added. “We have 6900 overall badges or certifications. The new training will help them with Generative AI, although they won’t be getting trained specifically on certifications in Generative AI. It’s part of other pieces because it’s an accelerant.”

“We have also decreased the time required for sales and pre-sales technical certifications by 50%, so we can focus on getting to market faster,” Hustad said. “The focus is on speed so that we can go on offense as much as we can.”

All of this will lead to more channel business being conducted by a more diverse channel able to talk with customers about leading technologies, the channel executives stressed.

“We are expanding the aperture and lens beyond the traditional channel reseller,” Roman stated. “If the partners who are still focused on transactional practices don’t evolve, they will be left behind.”