Ever wonder how to navigate the shift from direct sales to leading a channel strategy? Let us introduce you to Monica Walton, Senior Vice President of Channel at Evoque, who shares her compelling journey and the secret to quadrupling her team's results year over year. Monica's unique perspective on trust and integrity in channel partnerships has shaped Evoque's phenomenal success.
Monica's secret weapon? A balanced approach to choosing partners, rewarding performance and maintaining strong relationships. She leverages her experience to ensure responsiveness and accuracy, key factors in building trust with channel partners. You'll be intrigued by how Monica and her team are navigating the shift in the market towards large multi-megawatt opportunities, while incentivizing partners to bring in an increasing number of smaller deals.
As we wrap up our conversation, Monica gives us a peek into the future of Evoque, her plans for growth and her invaluable advice for those making a similar transition from direct sales to a channel strategy. You'll come away with insights into how she measures her partners' performance and how she aims to steer Evoque's growth trajectory in the coming years. Tune in for this riveting conversation and don't forget to subscribe.
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channel is all about partnerships and all about trust and relationships, and that comes down to people. I can put the best program in place, but if my people don't have the relationships, or my people are not trustworthy or I'm not trustworthy or you know, my upper management doesn't support the channel program and you're not trustworthy, the program is going to fail, and you know, we've proven here. We've quadrupled our results year over year and we're on pace to do it again this year. So it's because we communicate very well and in the people that are on my team are trustworthy. Integrity is huge with me trust and integrity in the program itself and I'm fortunate my upper management are. Cro Chris Conley and our CEO, spencer Mully, are very supportive of channel and they will get on the phone all day long with a channel partner that hasn't. You know, typically it's the larger opportunities. They'll get on the phone with them, though.Maciej:
Hello, welcome and thank you for tuning into channel voices, the podcast for future channel leaders, where we learn the ins and outs of partner ecosystems through casual Conversations with channel professionals from a variety of industries, partner types and geographies. My name is magic and I'm your host, monica Walton. Welcome to channel voices.Monica Walton:
Thank you, magic. How are you?Maciej:
I'm very good and thank you so much for coming on to the show. It would be great if you wouldn't mind just tell us who you are, a little bit about yourself and Maybe your channel background as well, please.Monica Walton:
Sure, sure so, monica Walton. I'm senior vice president of channel at evoke, which is a data center solution company. We're based out of Dallas but I'm actually physically based in Denver, colorado. So I've been with the company about coming up on three years and Was hired to actually run the channel program. But my whole background, my entire career, has been in the telecom space. So I've spent 12 years at Sprint, five years at co bad not co vid co bad which was a DSL startup company, and then the last 15 years at Century Link, which is now loomin and had the opportunity to do something different and Came to evoke almost three years ago to run the channel program.Maciej:
And have you had much channel experience before you came to evoke?Monica Walton:
My background is a little interesting to be running channel because my background has been all in the direct space running salespeople that you know Competed and sold directly to enterprise customers and at points in time I was actually my team was selling against channel. So that was probably my first foray into into channel was to, you know, be competing against the channel partner and that was the program at the time. You know incented us to be very separate, which is not how I run my program today, by the way. You know that was my start of Working with channel and then I actually had the opportunity to be a chief of staff for one of the executives at At the time that was level three, which became Century Link, which became loomin, and it was an opportunity to learn kind of more behind the scenes of how channel works and I was the in charge of this ops, so the support backside of channel as well, to make sure that the program ran well. That was a unique opportunity to really learn from some elite leaders in the channel program and you know Really understand why they were doing things the way they were and I use that to meld into how I run my program today.Maciej:
Right, very good. Thank you for for that introduction. How did you find the transition from being in the direct sales competing with channel and Going into a role where you actually are leading the channel strategy?Monica Walton:
for me I think it was the word I would use to be as a natural transition. So my background, as I mentioned, is all direct sales, right, but I understand the sales process. I understand enterprise business customers anywhere from small all the way up to. I was on site three years with one of the top three banks, so you know I've managed small to very large enterprise customers. So I understand the process and I use those skills to apply it. So you know, when I'm talking to channel partners I understand what they're going through because I've been through that. So I really Melded all of that background into how I developed the program for my channel program here at evoke and when you joined evoke, was there already a channel strategy?Maciej:
was there a channel program there, or were you hired to start the channel?Monica Walton:
So there was a program started. Evoke is only about five years old and we started when AT&T spun off their data centers. That was the start of evoke. There was a channel program that was started but to be honest you can imagine back then it was a startup company and their mantra was to get as many channel partners signed up as possible. I came in about a year and a half into it and it was not the direction I would have taken it. My first week in the role I actually interviewed and met with all of the leaders at Evoke in Dallas and just asked them what's going well, what's not going well as far as channel. I think back then maybe seven to nine percent of sales were coming from channel and my goal at the time was to bump that up to 30 very quickly. From that perspective, I interviewed everybody my first week and it allowed me to really quickly see where the gaps were. By the end of the first week then I outlined here's the structure of what I think we should have for a channel program. I ran it by our CEO, got his buy-in and that was the core backbone of our program From that point forward. Then I started. When you come into a program you want to make it your own. That's what I did. Started assessing first the team program itself, what pillars we were going to focus on, and then took it from there and grew it.Maciej:
What was it like to inherit a program but then also so quickly making decisions to change certain things or improve certain things? What was the reception like in the business? Was it hard to get your ideas through, or were people very receptive to the new approach, the Monica approach?Monica Walton:
I think people were very receptive. I found the channel to be very open arms. They have been now working with channel people for roughly the last seven or eight years. I don't have 30 years of channel direct relationships, but everybody that I've met has been wonderful to work with. As long as you approach things very common sense oriented and what you think they would expect, things go very well. I think one of the first things I saw was responsiveness. I focused my team and, by the way, I had to bring in a new team that had the experience and the professionalism that I was expecting from my team. The number one thing I drove into their heads is when an elite comes in, we have to be responsive. We put in a process where we would register the lead. We would reach out to the sales organization. We have rules of engagement so, based on size, we know exactly where to send that to and that sales rep knows when they get a channel lead at evoke, they need to be reaching out to the channel partner within hours. Usually we offer same day service as far as lead registration and response. Sometimes, many times, it's within hours. That was the number one differentiator that we instigated. Number two is I've learned with channel partners don't mess with their money. We spent a lot of time just going through all of our channel commissions making sure we were auditing, making sure they were accurate. A lot of times we were finding things that were missing commissions and we actually went back and paid them. That also earned a lot of brownie points, if you will, in respect or trust. That was the other thing. I was trying to build trust with our program because integrity to me is huge. I want to make sure if we're running a program it's a program that they can trust because they're bringing us in to meet with their customers. You want to make sure you're doing a good job with that and being responsive and then ultimately paying them accurately. Then the other big thing that I cleaned up was, as I mentioned earlier, they were just trying to sign on as many channel partners as possible, because that was their mantra get the name out. I flipped that and we went from the good old 80-20 rule. We had over 150 partners signed up and we now typically work with about 25. We're much more successful because we're giving that level of service that those 25 partners really expect and need.Maciej:
I see that quite a bit, that when a startup thinks that they're ready to go and have a channel motion the indirect sales motion they typically grab every single partner that they can, just to get the name out there, get their own logo on a partner's website and all that good stuff. But then can you actually scale it? Because when you are starting a channel program from scratch, you probably don't have a team of 20 people that will be able to look after those partners on a daily basis. Then you go and you sign up partners in the 100+. That very quickly might have a negative impact in terms of the brand because out of a sudden you're not able to service all those partners on time. Delays happen, trust is undermined then and it can have really negative impact overall on the business. I'm very happy to hear that that's something that you know. Someone mainly direct sales experience has quickly recognized that that isn't necessarily the best thing to do. We need to look at the partners we have, possibly re-evaluate them and work with the ones that really make sense for both parties. Right, not just for one, it's not just for a vendor to get the logo out there. This is a partnership. It should be, it should be mutual partnership, not just one way right.Monica Walton:
Absolutely. Yeah, I actually we pulled recently we pulled that long list and and for the last Two years I the ones that you know we're signed up but never did anything with us. I've just kind of ignored them. But we actually Recently just sent them notice to say, look, you know, this is a two-way partnership. We haven't talked to you or heard from you in two years, so let's, let's part ways. And it allowed us to really just focus on the channel partners that do want to partner. And you know, we, we have made a concerted effort to make sure that we work with the master agents as well, the TSD's that are out there, because they have the, the scope or the bandwidth of you know, the, the luxury of having multiple agents under them, right? So Spana control is greater there. So we, we work with most of the larger Master agents out there as well as some larger direct agents as well. But if somebody new comes in now to my program and they're a single agent, we actually encourage them to sign up under a master because it just makes sense for us. I have a small team and a very, very senior team, a very Experienced with relationships, but it's a small team. We can't be everywhere and give good service. So their jobs are to educate the channel partners on evoke what's new, what spiff do we have out there, what promos we have out there, and really be in front of these channel partners as much as possible. So it makes sense to have that audience more Targeted so that we can be more effective for them and going back to the team.Maciej:
So when you in you inherited a program, there must have been some sort of a team in place, or you did say that you needed to build a team. So so you recognized certain things that needed to be changed in the channel program. Did you also recognize some needs for change on the team and that's why you decided to build the new team? Or is it a Mixture of both a little bit of the old and some new people as well?Monica Walton:
Actually, at this point in time, I have changed over the entire team, so it's hard, you know, when you come in, you know you're dealing with people right and you want to be very cognizant that this is their job. But you also want to make sure that the team that you're inheriting is on the same page with you and We'll meet the expectations of what you're driving for your program. And Through time I got to know the existing team and whether it's just you know through time that I set the expectations and they were Weren't able to achieve those. We quickly worked through that. So within about six months I was able to bring in people that I trusted that had, you know, 20 plus years of relationships within the channel, because you know I'm a leader and I didn't have the 20 plus years of Relationships. I had 20 plus years of knowing how to run a program, knowing how to run a sales organization, and I applied those skills and where I was a little bit, you know, I always believe, as a leader, if you're weak in some spot, that's where you, you know, you bring your team in to to fulfill where you might be Not, you know, as experienced. So that's what I did. I brought in two channel directors that I knew didn't know them that well, but I knew they had the experience and the three of us sat down and that's how we Started our program and I think I mentioned earlier. You know, initially, when I came in, seven to nine percent of our sales at evoke were coming from the channel program. Last last quarter we're now at 60. So it's been a huge, massive shift, I should say, over the last two years and it's because of you know, all the things we've been talking about focusing on the top 25 data center or data center focused Channel partners, bringing in people that are experienced and have the relationships that can pick up the phone and quickly, you know, identify opportunities. So it's, it's worked very well so far and, of course, my upper management wants me to do even more so we'll see what we do it as we go into 2024 very good.Maciej:
That's very Impressive results in such a short time period and for such a young company. We spoke about those changes that you have applied. You mentioned filtering the partners. When you, when you came in, because there was a hundred plus, we talked a little bit about the team. What changes you made there? What was the change? If you can put a finger on it, which one change that you have implemented drove that success?Monica Walton:
I personally think it's the people, the people that I have on my team and, and I'll be honest, this year I lost one person on my team, and that happens. You always have to keep a bench warm and, to be honest, we were able to replace that person very quickly with somebody who was just almost as experienced. So we didn't skip a beat, which was good. And but you also, as a leader, you have to Anticipate that there may be some turnover and it's unfortunate, because when somebody leaves you know if they're doing a great job. It's a big loss, right, but I was fortunate I was able to backfill that very quickly. So to me it's the people. Channel channel is all about partnerships and all about trust and relationships, and that comes down to people. I can put the best program in place, but if my people don't have the relationships, or my people are not trustworthy, or I'm not trustworthy, or you know my upper management doesn't support the channel program and they are not trustworthy, the program is going to fail. And you know, we've proven here. We've quadrupled our results year over year and we're on pace to do it again this year. So it's because we communicate very well and the people that are on my team are trustworthy. Integrity is huge with me trust and integrity in the program itself and, I'm fortunate, my upper management are. Cro Chris Conley and our CEO, spencer Mully, are very supportive of channel, and they will get on the phone all day long with the channel partner. That hasn't, you know, typically it's the larger opportunities. They'll get on the phone with them, though, and we will give that level of support to show our you know, our commitment to the channel program.Maciej:
That's great to hear. Obviously, that support from C level is so important when it comes to channel. Obviously, they hold a key to a lot of things that you would like to do and you need them to be, to be behind you and recognize the Opportunity that's out there. If, if you were, if they were to say yes to certain things, right right so it's very important. So you talked about the revenue increase in terms of percentage indirect versus direct and how you quadrupled it year on year. How else do you measure your partner's performance today?Monica Walton:
so we named our program accelerate and we have these accelerate awards. So quarterly we recognize the top two or three will say it's. We look at the results and if there's, you know, two that just really killed it and the next one is further down, then we'll just do two awards, but we measure that based on total contract value. So, and sales, so that's our initial one, and so a channel partner to win the award. They might be the top Leads that came in converted to sales based on total contract value. So that's the initial one. Where I'm really focused now is it's been interesting in the market. We're seeing a huge shift in the market over the last, say, three to six months, with artificial intelligence, ai, really hitting the market strong, especially in data center business. They're looking for large amounts of Capacity, space and power, and so it's interesting, like last year, we would see a handful of Large multi megawatt opportunities. This year we have them coming out our ears. So from that perspective, it's been a Really big shift in the market. And so you know, having that support that I talked about earlier with our CEO and our CRO, I think. I think that's a little bit unusual For a provider, service provider like us to be able to say hey, if you bring an opportunity in, and it's a larger one, we're going to have our CEO on the very first call, or our CRO and the very first call with you in Partnership. Let's talk to the customer and let's identify and if the deal can be made, we will find a way to make it happen.Maciej:
So that's a level of support that that we bring so am I right in understanding that you co-sell with partners rather than let partners sell on their own, or is a mixture of both?Monica Walton:
It's a flexibility, I guess, is the word I would use. We let the partner tell us how they want to work. Eventually we want to talk to the customer. But the partner, if they're bringing their customer to us and it's a lead, I we're not going to disrupt that partnership that they already have built with their end user customer. So we will let them tell us how do you want to work with that end user customer, whether it's arm in arm or through the channel partner, and then they talk to the customer. But eventually we do like to talk to the customer ourselves. And then, as far as another KPI, I wanted to circle back on that where I'm really focused right now is with that market shift of going to large. We've really seen the smaller business, which I think is meat and potatoes, it's the transactional business, say, a hundred kilowatt and less. That sort of business has really slowed down. So I think everybody's so excited about these big deals but they're not as focused on the smaller business and I don't want to lose sight of that. So we are working to try and actually incent the agents to bring us more of the smaller deals as well, because, if you can imagine, you have a data center and you have these bigger chunks going away. Well, guess what? You have these smaller chunks in between and you can Tetris that by bringing in small customers single one, five, 10 cabinet type deals to just put them in place in the little gaps in the data center. So we continue to have opportunities there as well. So from a KPI perspective, I'm leaning towards some sort of promotion contest. I don't know yet, we're working on that but we would like to incent them to really don't lose sight of the small business as well.Maciej:
Yeah, that's perfect. So I was going to ask if you measure partner also on the new logos that they bring right. I'm sure they expand the existing install base and everything else.Monica Walton:
It's very easy to lose sight of the small things, because everybody wants to land that whale right, everybody wants to reel that one in and be the hero. But then there's all the other stuff, which is really the baseline that keeps the lights on of a company, and it has to be trickling through regularly. So, yeah, I see that a lot that partners might be incented on new logo wins, regardless of the value of the actual deal. Of course, there are targets when it comes to TCV, ACV, however you measure it, but it is important to bring in multiple customers in a quarter rather than just one large one, right, Right?Monica Walton:
You also have the opportunity to expand the smaller ones, right? I mean, that's how it works. Land and expand is a very common model that works for majority of companies in the tech business.Monica Walton:
Right, exactly, we actually just recently rolled out a spiff that does incent for new logos, so I won't give the specifics here, but if somebody's interested, have them reach out to me, because we do want to not lose sight of growing new business. It's always easier, I think, to sell to existing customers versus landing that new logo, but that's critical to continue to grow your business, whether it's a small customer or that big whale like you mentioned.Maciej:
Yeah, and I'm just thinking the changes that you have implemented and where you are now. Have you measured the impact it had on the cost of sale? Because having only single digits going through channel versus 90% coming in direct, I mean that has to be a big enough direct team making a lot of phone calls to big and small potential customers and out of a sudden you do have partners that go and do that on your behalf. Pretty much right, obviously, you do jump on the calls where a partner needs you to jump on, but it must have a huge impact on the cost of sale for a company like Evoque.Monica Walton:
Yeah, I work with our finance department, and just recently, as a matter of fact, it's funny you asked that because we just got an EBITDA updated report on channel and all I'll say is channel is very healthy. So, from that perspective, yes, we do look at that in comparison, and so, as I mentioned earlier, our CEO would love for me to drive more and more business from channel. So we do measure that, though, because I think it's important to consider all of the costs both ways and really look at that to determine where it makes sense and where you go through your support for the company as well.Maciej:
Fantastic. This is a question I ask of every single guest. I think you know it's coming, Monica. What's the one thing you wish you knew before you started your career in channel?Monica Walton:
I would probably say I wished I would have started it sooner. That's probably the biggest thing is I love. I have loved. Even though my time in channel has been shorter than a lot of people in channel, I've loved it. I really enjoy working with the various channel personalities out there, if you will, and running this program has been challenging. It has been fun. It's been exciting. I've had some big wins. I wished I would have done this years ago and I don't know, who knows, maybe to the point down the road that I would have had my own channel program, you know, or my own agency, who knows? But I also think that the experience that I had gives me a unique perspective coming into this, because I am a little bit newer into the channel program but with my background being from the chief of staff, so having that inside track of learning and then the 20 plus years of selling direct, I think I bring a unique perspective to the role and probably a fresh perspective too. And everybody in channel's been open arms, really have enjoyed building some relationships with some key people throughout and they're wonderful to work with. So it's been a pleasure.Maciej:
Thank you very much. I heard that one before from some people. I wish I started earlier than that, but in your case, I mean this is backed up by a lot of evidence and the successes that you're having at Evoke right now. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your experience and your expertise with us, and we wish you continued success with Evoke. And let's see, can you bring it to 80 next year, to 80%?Monica Walton:
I'm not sure if that's what you've been asked yet, but yeah, don't talk to my CEO about that place, but, no, I appreciate it. We're going to continue to grow here at Evoke and I appreciate spending the time with me to understand the program and what we're trying to accomplish here, and I look forward to talking to you again in the future.Maciej:
Thank you very much, monica. Thank you, and that's a wrap for this episode. I do hope you found it valuable and, if you did, please make sure to subscribe and leave a review. You can also follow Channel Voices podcast on LinkedIn, twitter and Facebook, or just visit channelvoicescom, where you can send me a message or leave a voicemail. All of the links are listed in the show notes and, once again, I appreciate you tuning in today Until next time.