For two decades, Michelle Hodges has influenced partner success for our industry’s most recognized brands including Riverbed, Apptio, Microsoft, VMware and SAP. She serves on the Board of Baptie’s Women in Channel Leadership Forum and is an active member of Cloud Girls and the Women of the Channel community.
In April, Michelle was tapped as VP of Worldwide Partners & Alliances by Gigamon, the company leading the convergence of network and security operations. She has hit the ground running to empower more than 450 global partners and she recently shared with us the experiences that have shaped her career along with her advice for others in the channel during these transformational times.
CI: What are the major factors that you see impacting partner strategy?
Michelle: There are two things really changing the importance and value of the channel today: customer buying behaviors and customer buying cycles. Customers taking greater ownership of their buying process – along with digital – now play a huge role in how they search for and interact with vendors. In addition, the channels of the past were very linear. Today, customer buying cycles are increasingly iterative, so we are paying much more attention to guiding the customer to adopt technology and be successful with it. This presents the opportunity for channel partners to show up in different parts of that lifecycle, and it is critical to how channel programs and channel strategies should be executed today. Vendors need to aid partners in understanding where they can impact the buying and renewing cycle and the types of revenue they can generate across the full customer lifecycle.
Today we’re also seeing a stronger vendor focus on personalizing the channel relationship. Each partner has their own unique requirements, business models, skillsets and talent: the vendors that take a tailored and targeted approach to channel engagement are seeing an impact on performance and customer value exchange. We’re embracing this approach at Gigamon and it’s giving us yet another way to optimize the intersection between the customer, the partner and our own organization. The way we see it is that when we have a customer- and partner-first mindset, everyone wins.
CI: What is your ideal partner profile?
Michelle: My personal philosophy is that you have to be really balanced with regard to your partner community, both quantitatively and qualitatively. From a qualitative standpoint, a former boss gave me a great tip surrounding the importance of understanding the competency, commitment, coverage and capacity (the four Cs) of your channel partners across different focus areas and product areas in your company. When you do that in aggregate across a sub-region, or even better, globally, your big gaps become visible. This approach helps define what your partner profiles need to be and sets the stage for crafting a more effective partner strategy.
CI: What channel strategy advice do you have for up and coming channel leaders?
Michelle: Go through the deep dive process of understanding why the customer buys, when they make their decision, why they renew, etc., and figure out how and where to plug the channel into that lifecycle. I spent two years at a SaaS company where I was tasked with this responsibility and it gave me new insight into the value of the channel. It completely changed my perspective about where you want to incent the partner and where you need them the most. That insight makes me a much more valuable executive in working with a cross-functional leadership team.
I’d also stress the importance of matching the customer lifecycle approach to your company’s priorities. If you are supporting a pre-IPO company then predictable customer acquisition cost becomes super important, so your channel strategy should rotate towards that. If you’re in a highly competitive position that demands you acquire x-number of new logos, then your channel strategy should pivot towards that goal. Your channel strategy should balance your company’s overarching objectives against how your customers are buying and renewing the technology.
Lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, there is no customer success program that takes the place of a great product.
CI: What do you think accelerated your career success?
Michelle: Spending time outside of traditional hardware vendors and in the world of cloud and SaaS has really evolved my thinking along with what I can offer a leadership team. Secondly, I’d say not so much networking but, rather, having a really strong network has made all the difference. I went through a career transition this year and my friends at Cloud Girls and the Women’s Leadership Board at Baptie not only alerted me to opportunities, but also supported me through the transition. The women in those two groups consistently reminded me of my capabilities and guided me to build a message around the wealth of experience and value that I bring to a channel leadership role.
CI: Lastly, what can you tell us about where Gigamon’s channel strategy is headed for 2019?
Michelle: Gigamon has a great business and an outstanding value proposition for our partner ecosystem, with our unique position at the intersection between network visibility and security. We make other vendors, such as FireEye, Imperva and Splunk, work better and we partner really well with IBM, QRadar and Cisco. Deeply investing in — and building out — that go-to-market motion more strongly for our ecosystem is a key charter of our channel strategy going into 2019. What won’t change in the coming year is our commitment to giving our partners everything they need to effectively execute their customer journeys and, ultimately, drive more upsells, retention, revenue and profit.
This blog post is part of an ongoing series focused on trailblazing women who are transforming the channel. Go here for the first blog post on channel trends.