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Channel chief Fouts shines light on Citrix sales alignment, mobility

Channel chief Mike Fouts discusses the efforts to align Citrix sales teams with partners, partner profitability and retaining solution providers being courted by other vendors with higher-margin products.

Mike Fouts, vice president, channels and field operations at Citrix Systems Inc., is responsible for the company's Americas channel, which includes North America and Latin America. In a recent interview with SearchITChannel, Fouts talked about the company's efforts to tighten alignment between channel partners and its internal sales force, his top three goals for the year, challenges in the partner community that the company is addressing, partner opportunity and recent changes in the partner program, particularly for North American partners.

Citrix has about 2,000 partners in North America, with 20% to 40% of them considered active. The company is interested in adding North American channel partners that have expertise in mobility, according to Fouts. The vendor would also like to make the existing North American base of partners bigger, better, stronger and faster.

"We feel like we have a lot of opportunity to increase the depth of talent in our partner community. We have some really good partners that have the right profile, skills, the reach and all the things that we're after. Now we need to get them up to speed on more than just XenApp. We need to make them experts in NetScaler, mobility, cloud solutions and other things," he said.

Here's the full transcript of the discussion.

Earlier this year, Citrix Summit 2014 highlighted a new format. Both Citrix sales staff and partners kicked off the New Year at the same company event. How did it go?

Fouts: Now that we're seven months [after] Summit 2014, the general feedback and sentiment at Citrix and among partners was that it was terrific. There were two real objectives: The first was the relationship and putting partners side by side with our sales teams and services folks, etc. [We] put them in the same room, let them learn the same things at the same time and build relationships. We felt like that was mission accomplished.

The second objective was alignment. We've always used January, since we're on a fiscal calendar year, as our kickoff. However, when we had our meetings staggered -- [the partner summit was] split from our sales kickoff -- we had a lag time and it was really hard to re-message and our teams were four months ahead of the partners. The alignment on this [this year] was fantastic because … our entire sales force, all our sellers and field-based resources, and the partners walked out with [an understanding of] what we're going to do this year and … what's important.

Partners … got the message, "This is where Citrix wants me to go, what they want me to do, and this is how they're going to make it profitable for me." So everybody walked out the second week of January with the same marching orders and direction, and a sense of camaraderie.

Looking at the combined Summit seven months later, do you see any changes in the way Citrix sales teams and partners work together?

Fouts: We measure some things that we think are key in the relationship with partners. We look at things such as how many Citrix Advisor Rewards [partners submitted] on a year-over-year basis. We feel that the closer we work with partners, the more Advisor Rewards they're going to submit because they're working on opportunities with us.

So this is one of the benchmarks that we look at and it's up pretty significantly this year. And, that's not due to anything other than the fact that we put people together in the same room and started off the New Year on the same note and everybody had the right expectations.

The key metrics that we look at are all up year-over-year so we think that's a really good sign.

Are there more details that you could provide about these metrics?

Fouts: I've been in this role for three years and we've been using these metrics before I joined Citrix in this role -- I tweaked them a bit -- but they're core measurements that we've looked at for a number of years.

Let me define what I believe are noticeable changes. Any time you get above 10%, to me that's a noticeable year-over-year change. And this year, it's over 10% and that's a meaningful increase. We're talking about 2,000 partners.

Were any noteworthy changes made at the Summit 2014?

Fouts: Yes. We introduced one primary program, in particular in the Americas, and it was designed to do two things: to drive greater interaction with our partners and go after accounts and customers that are not existing Citrix customers. We called that high growth, an area where we thought we could drive a lot of growth in terms of sales.

The program that was rolled out at Summit is called Agree2Meet, and it includes incentives and rewards and lead generation. Partners were excited about it because [it makes clear] who Citrix wants them to target and [they think], "If I do they'll pay me a little bit extra and I'm going to get more engagement with the sales teams than I have in the past."

Citrix paid other companies to help us get appointments set with customers who are not existing Citrix customers and we'd turn them over to partners to work it.

Which Citrix partners are eligible for Agree2Meet?

Fouts: Any Citrix partner is eligible for the program. We don't have an endless supply of money so what we did was limit it to three leads per partner to test the program. Our theory [was] if it … works, great, because then it will be self-funding. We'll be creating opportunities and business will flow.

How is it going?

Fouts: It's been terrific. It's created a lot of pipeline and we're at the point where we're seeing a close of business, we're seeing people working together, so it's been good.

I will tell you this -- this was an expectation we set with our teams as well as partners -- we were targeting customers that didn't own one single Citrix product. There was about a 90-day period where nothing really happened; [partners were] trying to break into the account and start the sales motion. So for 90 days, there wasn't really anything to measure, then all of a sudden as we got appointments and partners started meeting with customers and putting opportunities into Salesforce. [Since the end of that] 90 days … we've seen a significant increase in pipeline and business, where customers actually purchased some product.

Does this program target a particular type of customer or product type?

Fouts: We're targeting customers by size -- midmarket -- we didn't restrict by geography or vertical. We excluded SMB or customers with 500 or less employees and high-end enterprise.

Product-wise, we targeted XenApp and XenDesktop, but of course once the partners got into an account they found opportunity to sell NetScaler, XenMobile and other products.

What are you top three goals for partners the year? Did you meet your goals?

Fouts: Our No. 1 goal: We wanted [partners] to become more proficient on the XenMobile product line. We made that acquisition about 1.5 years ago and we feel like it's going to be core to the way customers do business. Every day, month, quarter that goes by, customers are becoming more mobile. So we want partners to be up to speed on XenMobile so that they understand our offering, how they make it work and the importance of the solution set.

Did you put anything in place to help partners become more proficient?

Fouts: Yes, we put a couple of things in place. There's a new certification, the XenMobile Associate certification, and we put some financial incentive in place with a promotion to make it more profitable.

We wanted about 250 of our key partners to get the certification … and we achieved that goal.

Our No. 2 goal: We wanted to get them re-engaged with the XenApp product because we felt like we had turned the ship too far toward XenDesktop.

Another challenge is maintaining profitability for our partners. … A [competitive] product comes out and they can make 40 points of margin, and Citrix has been around for 25 years and we don't have 40 points of margin. So how do we stay relevant with our partners?
Mike Foutsvice president, Americas channels and field operations, Citrix

And, we've done a couple of things here. We've put some financial incentives around it in the form of a promo with additional margin on the product so partners can make more money. We've also released an upgrade suite that targets XenApp customers so a partner can go back to their XenApp customers and upgrade them with a SKU to the new version of XenApp along with XenMobile.

It's been super well received. Partners like it because it gives them the opportunity to go back and talk to their customers about something new and different, and it immediately opens up the mobility conversation.

And, the No. 3 goal is that we asked for more and better engagement with Citrix. We felt like there had been a perception, and probably there were some pockets of reality in there, that Citrix had moved away from and was not as channel-focused and friendly compared to a few years ago. We felt like there were some things floating out there and we wanted to send a very clear message from the CEO all the way down at Summit that partners are important and they're a key part of our strategy -- that hasn't changed -- and that we want to engage with partners. So, at Summit we were trying to dispel some perceptions and myths.

What challenges do you face in the partner community?

Fouts: Thirteen years ago when I started there weren't other software companies competing for mindshare from our partners. Now we have other things ranging from storage to competitors that try to gain mindshare away from Citrix. So, we're always fighting a mindshare battle and we want to stay top of mind. I want partners and their sales teams to be thinking about Citrix because that's what they'll talk about to customers.

Another challenge is maintaining profitability for our partners. Most of them [are] not billion-dollar companies; they're measured in $10 million or $100 million of annual revenue. So they look at things that are profitable to sell and they make money on.

So there are always things that distract partners. For example, a new product comes out and they can make 40 points of margin, and Citrix has been around for 25 years and we don't have 40 points of margin. So how do we stay relevant with our partners? How do we stay in the game?

If you look at what we've done this year as an example, it's pretty easy to figure out what we at Citrix in the Americas deem as important because that's where we put our additional dollars. Partners pick up on that pretty quickly and we try to make that as profitable as possible.

Services are a very profitable and lucrative business. We emphasize to partners to sell services on top of products like XenApp and XenMobile. We put additional margin into that so that they can make more money just on the straight-up selling of the product.

The third challenge is that Citrix is at a point where there are about 1,500 sellers (employees) in the Americas and it's hard to get them going in the same direction, and when you take that outside the walls of Citrix, keeping them aligned with a large group of 1,000 to 1,500 partners -- that's always challenging.

Partners don't report to us, it's different with an employee, but we have to lead them in a direction, we have to show them why they should be doing that particular whatever it is you need to do and what the benefit is for them. So there's always a challenge getting that large group of folks who don't work directly for us going in the right direction and sailing the way we want them to sail.

Is there anything to report to the partners as we look ahead?

Fouts: One of the things I see coming up are enhancements to the certification path, and if I were looking in my crystal ball, we'd like to tie that to incentives. So if a partner invests with us and gets an advanced certification, we want a model where you earn more money inside the Citrix program. Whether that's in terms of more margin or more back-end dollars, we haven't reached a conclusion, but we'd like to make that such that the more you invest the more you get back from us.

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