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Citrix Summit 2013 Q&A with Tom Flink on mobility, account segmentation, deal registration

At Citrix Summit 2013, channel head Tom Flink talks about the company's plans around mobility, changes to the partner program and high-touch accounts.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Citrix Summit 2013 got rolling on Monday with 1,900-plus partners from around the world in attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center here. The take-home message that Citrix Systems Inc. is delivering during the two-day event: invest more to earn more and, for 2013 and beyond, think "go mobile" because that's where customers are and Citrix is headed.

SearchITChannel caught up with Tom Flink, Citrix's worldwide channel chief, at Citrix Summit 2013 to talk about Citrix Solution Advisor program changes, to find out about the most vital takeaways for partners, to clarify some partner confusion around account segmentation, and to get a peek at what's ahead. (This interview transcript has been edited for length.)

What are the key messages that you want partners to take away from Citrix Summit 2013?

Flink: The key message is what Al Monserrat, senior vice president of sales and services, talked about in his keynote [on Monday], which is about how Citrix defines mobility. Mobility is everything we do -- building, driving and supporting cloud services -- to support a mobile work style. Mobility for Citrix is not just about BYOD [bring your own device] or device management; it's also about the applications, the data and the services that you need to build on the back end in order to have a comprehensive solution for mobility in a way that it can become a strategic part of your business.

We're pivoting towards mobility, which means that we're keeping one foot on the ground in what we've been doing and what we are doing and we're turning that towards the mobile space.

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Also, one of things I look for and I think our partners look for is a way to insert themselves into a customer, either through a conversation or point of view. I believe that helps them differentiate themselves from the other people calling on that same customer. That's why these [mobility] conversations are so important to us at Citrix because we believe that they allow our partners to find another reason to talk to their customer, not only about something new but how they can leverage what they already invested in to do something new with it.

And, finally, we have a very heavy technical focus at this event, and also sales, but for over five years we've had the philosophy that we want partners to send their main technical people here and we want them to go away believing that … they get more value from their time here than it costs them to be here.

How will you enable your partners to pivot, along with Citrix, toward mobility?

Flink: We're doing that through a series of things. One is the Go Mobile Boot Camp that we announced today. That's a global, centrally delivered enablement event for our channel. We just rolled out our official XenMobile MDM training – about two weeks ago, and, in July, we'll be releasing the full five-day XenMobile Enterprise Mobility training.

These are technical trainings, similar to other comprehensive official Citrix coursework curriculum that's delivered by our authorized Citrix learning centers around the world.

What type of enablement do you think Citrix partners would ask for to help them "go mobile"?

Flink: Well, the first thing they want to know is if they invest time in selling the solution, they have better-than-average odds of being rewarded for their time. So one of the things we did when we acquired Zenprise was to immediately put all of the products through the channel. Prior to the acquisition, Zenprise sold over 50% of its products direct. That's supported by our back-end rewards system, Advisor Rewards, the method we pay partners for influence and not just fulfillment.

The other thing that partners clearly want is leads. Partners want leads, but they also complain about leads. It's the nature of the channel because leads are hard. When does an opportunity become a lead, is it a quality lead? How many leads do I have to go through before I convert? We continue to target leads toward the partners that invest in our certifications.

We're rolling out channel content that's delivered in our marketing concierge platform and we push out through our content syndication platform how our partners connect their websites with Citrix information.

So they're going to ask for leads, co-selling and being shoulder to shoulder with them early in opportunities and we're aligned to support that at that level. And, training is also a big part of that.

On Monday, you made the comment that channel partners can sell into all accounts, even your high-touch accounts, yet not too long ago you moved most partners out of those accounts, which created some controversy. Would you explain?

Flink: Our partners can sell into all accounts. We don't sell direct, we don't going into accounts and say, "Here's a quote, give me an order." That's not what high touch means. High touch means that we are talking to the customer about what we do, our message and strategy depending upon what the customer wants to do. We'll have our consulting services teams engaged on concepts and we'll do architectural work and invest in those customers. But when the customer buys licenses they go through the channel.

But the channel partners getting those sales are the large account resellers (LARs)?

Flink: It varies.

That's not what partners are saying. They're saying that they'd like more enterprise accounts but that they're off-limits to them.

Flink: In North America, there are 850 high-touch accounts total. The customer decides who they buy from. We don't decide who the customer procures from. And, some of those big customers do have relations with other partners of ours, like CDW or Dell or other types of companies. But when I say it varies, it's not a true statement to say that they all go through those types of [companies]; they don't.

Do you feel like you resolved the issue of account segmentation?

Flink: Our objective was to have an open and honest conversation and say, "This is what we need from our channel partners." We listened to them and we make sure that the incentives that we're putting into the channel are directing them at where we need their help. I think that's perfectly reasonable. Does the transition involve a little bit of work? It does.

We listened to [partners] and we make sure that the incentives that we're putting into the channel are directing them at where we need their help. I think that's perfectly reasonable.

We put rules in place that allow our field teams, based on what the partner's role is in the account, to make decisions that say, "This partner is very instrumental to this account," and invite those partners to participate in those high-touch accounts. There's no absolute. But if we're going to pay back-end rebates, incentives, ongoing reoccurring dollars, we want to pay the channel to help us broaden the work that we're doing below the really top global enterprise accounts.

At the end of a morning session that reviewed the next-generation Citrix Solution Advisor Partner program, a partner asked if Citrix will expand opportunity registration to virtualization products. The answer was no. His concern was that it was available to LARs, as of a couple of weeks ago, and that he couldn't compete against them pricewise. A few partners gathered after the session ended and also grumbled about lost deals because they couldn't compete against the LARs. What would you say to these unhappy partners?

Flink: What this validates for me is the model of our partners in the solution provider space of forming relationships with vendors around products with services attached, is continuing to be the strategy. As you know -- and I've lived almost my entire career, and I'm 52 years old, in the channel -- the demise of that model has been predicted forever, yet it's been the primary business model by which a lot of our business partners operate.

The challenge is that there are pressures in the marketplace on how customers procure. My approach in looking at opportunity registration, which is the upfront discount, was that we wanted to start with networking. Everything we've done -- opportunity registration; Advisor Rewards; our new Partner 360 platform, where we're able to have conversations with our partners and do goal mapping; we flattened all Advisory Rewards percentages so that at the high end of our programs, we're paying more – [is] simplifying our programs.

The reason is that I'm building what I consider to be the platform under which we can layer competencies on top of our programs. What I'd like to do, going into 2014, is to use these incentives, upfront and back-end rebates, to reward partners for investing in competencies. So if we roll out a competency for virtualization, then opportunity registration might be one of the incentives that a partner would earn for virtualization. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think we would go in that direction. Nothing is announced but would we do it; yes, we might do it.

There are six competencies that we're looking at to launch in 2014 [including desktop virtualization, networking, mobility, virtualization, cloud orchestration]. Each competency would have specific incentives that only partners that hold those competencies would be able to earn.

The opportunity registration for networking is the first new incentive that we have that goes directly towards protecting the partners back-end margins -- so they don't have to sacrifice back-end margins to win the business -- like in the case of virtualization products.

Is there anything else that you'd like to share with partners?

Flink: Our big channel event, Citrix Summit 2014, will be in Orlando, Jan. 12-15. That's a change of strategy. When we kick off in January, which is the beginning of our fiscal year, that's when we talk about our objectives. I want our partners in the room hearing it at the same time as our sales team. Rather than do our partner event with our customers, at Synergy, we're bringing in our partners with our sales team. So we'll train our salespeople and our partners in the same breakout.

Synergy will be a customer event, but we won't be holding a separate partner event. Our partners will still come to Synergy because their customers will be there.

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