Nov 14 2016

My Personal Challenge to Build Verticals and Ecosystems

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a varied & wide ranging career in IT from roles in Consulting, IT Management, R&D and most recently in Alliances at Nutanix. Diversifying into a new role can be seriously challenging from a learning and comfort perspective…. Let’s face it, we all have a comfort factor depth of specialized knowledge we attain in a field of expertise and it’s comfortable and natural to work within this.

In saying that – there’s not much challenge in just ‘doing the same’ nor does it push you to your potential or limits. There is always something intriguing about the road less travelled and wondering ‘could I really do that’?

A little more than a year ago I was tasked by our President with building the Nutanix Healthcare vertical. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into… to be more exact, I didn’t know anything about vertical markets. The closest I had come to it, was building the Nutanix VDI/EUC ecosystem, which had worked out well…. However, building for a vertical market drastically differ from building solutions and partnerships based on a one given workload.

My default action when I don’t know something is to research what others did before me, but to my disappointment there wasn’t a lot of literature available on the subject. Most of the literature I could find was mostly related to Strategic Alliances, Business Strategy and Global Business Alliances. One of my favorites from an applicability perspective was Strategic Alliances: Three Ways to Make Them Work by Steve Steinhilber, a long time Cisco VP for Strategic Alliances and more recently also responsible for Cisco’s Vertical Partner Ecosystems (Amazon link here). I similarly read many other books and articles on the subject.

After I realized the full extent of what I’d signed up to build, I have to admit, I had my doubts. Healthcare is one of the most well established and business critical market segments, dominated by incumbent tech players for many years of extensive relationship building – a market that will easily be worth over $200B by 2020 for IT vendors. To make things worse for new comers, generally speaking, the traditional Healthcare software vendors do not care for new entrants with different approaches and new technologies.

To be fair, and now I understand better, Healthcare is not a business-critical or mission-critical market, but rather life-critical. Many hospitals and Healthcare systems cannot operate for more than a few hours without systems; surgeries may be postponed and drugs may not be delivered to patients. For this reason, many Healthcare software vendors stick to what they know has worked in the past.

I knew that partnering with any vendor that didn’t care about my technology would be difficult, but even before I started to put in place my plan I bumped on yet another big hurdle – We did not have a dedicated Healthcare salesforce, a marketing resource and no established method/pipeline to offer solutions.

Not to give up… never!

I knew I could not change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination, so I followed my gut, and over the period of one year I executed on three basic pillars – PartnersEnablement and Ecosystem. The diagram I built below represents the guiding principles and components in the model I created for the Healthcare Vertical.

Partners

Unfortunately for newcomers, the Healthcare market has a very high entry bar for tech players and without your solution being certified and validated by ISV vendors’ customer won’t even talk to you – that may differ a little for other industries.

If the key vertical software vendor that you are trying to work with is difficult to deal with, you may need someone with strong relationships or some gorilla marketing. Some of the approaches we have used include getting customers and prospects to push for validations, and we even built pre-defined email templates to give to customers to send to the vendors.

I initially started engaging and managing partners by myself, but I soon realized that I would be better served hiring someone highly talented and with the right industry contacts to push things forward in a much faster pace.

Enablement

I knew I needed a very special spark to get attention from the Nutanix sales organization so they would invest in a dedicated salesforce. I also knew that sales are like a snowball, once rolling downhill and getting bigger everyone wants to jump on it.

Life is like a snowball. The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill.Warren Buffett

We created a Healthcare verticals internal wiki with all the information necessary to sales reps to get started, created a Healthcare101 presentation to enable the salesforce, a dedicated Yammer and Slack Channel for Healthcare, and we kept adding communication Channels with the objective to make the access to content, information and collaterals as easy as possible.

The next phase was the evangelization, where we took every possible opportunity to speak about the Healthcare market opportunity in front of anyone who was interested in hearing from us, 1 or 500 people would not make a difference. Later on we expanded to Channels and OEM partners. Evangelization is a key piece of the enablement process and is a continual effort that vertical teams must endure. Just having a dedicated sales team selling into the vertical is not enough; you need to take every opportunity.

Yes, internal gorilla marketing was also indispensable to get attention from the salesforce who is always focused in closing the quarter ahead of them, but the final and most important item in this section was to build the ‘Sense of Entitlement.’

The definition of entitlement is: the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).

This is simple…. personal recognition! We regularly provide our salespeople with praise and recognition for winning deals, organize weekly Healthcare calls with special industry luminaries, host special events for Healthcare reps during Nutanix Sales Kick-Off (for the last one I bugged for 30 days our President and CEO to show up at the dinner so the team would have a special time with our leaders), distributed exclusive Nutanix Healthcare shirts and gifts, special marketing promotions for their customers etc.

The Healthcare Nutanix sales team is now a group purpose built and with killer instinct when It comes to winning deals; they have their own tribal knowledge and provide support to each other in a way that I have never seen before in the industry.

Ecosystem

Ecosystem is what makes your story real from a verticals perspective – this is your end-to-end story to conquer and captivate customers. Nowadays nobody will buy a TV that doesn’t integrate with the wider home ecosystem or the internet. Ecosystem can also be your loss-leader in some cases.

Most verticals will have a very few core software vendors, such as Epic, InterSystems and Cerner in Healthcare, Temenos and Infosys in Finance, Sungard for Education – let’s call it vendor A; but there’s often many software players in that vertical market that attach themselves to solution from vendor A – let’s call it vendor B.

In this API (Application Programmatic Interface) driven world this type of symbiotic relationship between A and B happens quite often. As an infrastructure vendor and looking from a vertical perspective, even if your target customer will spend the bulk of the deal to support vendor A, the vendor B is as important as A. If vendor A is your Sun, all other vendors’ B in the symbiotic relationship are the Stars.

Today, when Nutanix is selling into Hospitals or Payers we tell them an end-to-end story, instead of simply showing a certification for a given application. This is true market verticalization and what you should aim as end goal. We still have a long road ahead of us to build the Universe with the Sun and the Stars, but Nutanix is now on the right path.

Just like the Enablement section, you will need to certify, validate and build solutions with several vendors B, and in many cases associating A and B together; even if this is a loss-leader exercise.

Nonetheless as you enter any vertical market you will need to go deep, learn their ways and habits, work the Channel, attend and present at events and embed yourself into their world.

I’m glad that I accepted the challenge of Healthcare, I’ve learned a lot over the last year and now Nutanix is exponentially expanding within the Healthcare world with incredible adoption rate. So much so that we are now planning a big expansion to the EMEA markets where the industry is much more segmented and regionalized.

The difference is that now I will be able to count on my previous experience and with very talented individuals onboard. This will make the ground-work much simpler and faster. I’m glad I jumped in with this challenge and a big thanks to all who helped me on my personal learning journey. I encourage anyone to keep pushing yourself, and try something that interests yet terrifies you!

Banking, Finance and Insurance is my next challenge and I am sure it will be an exciting one….

 

 

This article was first published by Andre Leibovici (@andreleibovici) at LinkedIn (here)

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