Interview: Cato’s Frank Rauch on channel partner relationships

Frank Rauch, global channel chief at Cato Networks talks to PCR about what makes a successful channel partnership.

Frank Rauch took on the position of global channel chief at Cato at the beginning of the year, and will be responsible for driving the channel ecosystem globally, enabling partners to profit from the enterprise shift to cloud-native networking and security. Here, he explains how building channel partnerships is about mutual growth.

Could you give us a brief overview of your professional background?

Contrary to popular belief, I’ve not been a channel guy all my career. I’ve only spent half of my career in the channel. It all started when I joined Compaq as one of their first sales reps during its budding startup days. I worked across several roles overseeing Mid-Atlantic sales during the HP merger. My role at HP saw me responsible for direct sales for IBM. It was a lot of fun and took me into the casino and gaming industry. It was so much fun I started a job in strategy and planning and basically ran strategy planning for the Americas for a short while. It was a reward I got to then choose my next role and the channel side of the business looked like it was a great gig. I started in the channel side of the business for HP, then went over to VMWare and spent several years there and tripled the channel business in the Americas.

I then had the opportunity to go into the security industry with Check Point. Right from the start it was incredibly interesting. After four amazing years there which also took me back into the worldwide arena, I then joined Cato Networks.

How do you plan to drive the channel ecosystem forward?

Ecosystem can mean different things to a lot of different people, but one thing I have always done is respect the work that has been done before. By this I mean, Cato has some very loyal partners and the team has done a terrific job in establishing the current channel for the brand. We must keep those partners satisfied and not look to just recruit every partner in the world – the idea now is to recruit partners that can help us grow and grow together.

Since we’re a worldwide company, we’re able to speak to partners that may be global system integrators, they may be regional sub-regional integrators that are moving towards being global. They may also be service providers that are expanding their footprint. But we are going to be selective about who to partner with and the value proposition for both sides. Our commercials work in terms of the margins we offer. Also, the service opportunities that we offer.  You’ll see massive progress on this in the upcoming months.

We also want to explore different things including managed services as it fits very well into the Cato business model. We are doing it right now, but not offering them at scale. Managed services are big business. There are thousands of managed service providers that come in all shapes and sizes. It is a great opportunity for us to offer SSE and SASE as-a-Service. Plus, professional services are also a great opportunity for Cato to be able to help organisations assess, optimise and modernise their environment.

We’re also looking for partners that understand networking and security with an understanding of how to deal with multi-regional, multi-country, and global customers.

We are working hard internally with the professional services and customer success teams to really deliver that one-on-one experience and create those margin opportunities for the partner. That way, you get happier customers, you’re driving customer success, and you’re basically growing the business as the customer matures.

There have recently been a number of channel-related appointments at Cato – what was the catalyst for this?

Right now, we have a really strong channel team at Cato and we’re continuing to build this strength with recruiting channel managers in Europe, especially in the Nordic region. We want to fill the coverage gaps in our team to enable us to continue our expansion. We have the very experienced Mark Draper heading up business in Europe and I am here to support the growth of the channel business. My experience in building the channel for companies like Veeam and Cohesity, which were all very much in start-up mode and pre-IPO, will hopefully be invaluable to the team at Cato.

We’ve made some great hires in the Americas, adding a strong team member to handle the resell and MSP side. Plus, we’re also looking to really hit some of the mature markets that we have over in APAC, like Japan and Australia, and add people to the team there.

Cato is very much a channel-first company.  We were built around the channel and wanted to hire, not necessarily for skill gaps, but people that have proper channel experience. Just like our leader, Shlomo Kramer, who has been there with various companies before, we look out for channel builders, not just channel maintainers.

How do you plan to build successful channel partnerships?

It’s all about hard work. One thing that has been truly heart-warming recently is I’m able to call on people that I’ve had relationships with throughout my career in the channel and talk to them about a new solution, offering them yet another golden opportunity for their business.

With all partners, you want to be able to have a very tight plan and strategy to be able to grow together. Many of the people I’m talking with have seen their business change over the last 12 months and we look to see how Cato might be able to help differentiate itself going forward creating a fresh strategy for growth.

It’s about context and not going in simply to sell how fast and secure Cato is with multiple PoPs, yes that is part of the value proposition, but it is more about understanding their business model and how we can fit into that. We want to understand how we can work together to make a more creative business. It doesn’t do anyone any good simply to swap out one competitor for another, or for us to swap out one partner for another, what does make sense is being creative and looking at the opportunities that might not be obvious.

For channel partnerships to be successful you need to have a plan. You need to be able to allow that partner to increase their margins with your support and there has to be a value around your offering.

What can channel partners expect to see in the coming months?

Our partners are going to see a number of different things. Firstly, they’re going to see the technology rapidly advance. Partners will also see programme enhancements. But going back to my previous statement, we will most certainly respect what has gone before but innovate beyond it. We’re going to listen to our partners and look at what is and isn’t working for them. Our partners will see new managed and professional services, they’ll be able to interact with us differently in the marketplace. Every single stakeholder within Cato is aligned with further building the channel business for success and this makes for some very exciting opportunities.

How are channel partnerships evolving?

So let’s talk about the obvious and that’s how the business models are evolving. By this I mean, where you used to have self-funded businesses, they’re now private equity. Partners in the UK are a good example of this. UK-based Computacenter made acquisitions in the US which enabled it to go global. Also, US channel giant CDW has acquired Kelway to give them a European presence. Our partner Presidio wanted to invest in a partner like Arkphire in Ireland, not only to be able to expand their footprint but also their expertise.

One fascinating transformation is how partners that were traditionally data centre focussed are now cloud, security and networking. They’re becoming big businesses that are not just contained to four walls. There are no global boundaries restricting business anymore. On top of that partners are acquiring consulting firms for skills to expand their business in an entirely different direction. It certainly is an exciting place to be right now.”

How can channel partners take advantage of cloud products?

Cato is a cloud-native solution, so it offers partners the ability to expand globally, and upgrade complicated customer environments easily without having to send someone to every individual site to swap out physical boxes.

Now, the negative perception around that is the channel does less and that is so far from the truth. In fact, the channel has the opportunity to optimise the design and manage their customer’s environments. They’re doing that right now.

The cloud provides all kinds of uptake, but then it goes beyond that. An example would be the work AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Red Hat have done for dealing with the cloud marketplace. They’re now offering a whole different way of being able to secure products, manage customers, and in the case of some of the marketplaces, be able to add money that could be spent on your product because they’re burning down consumption commitments to be able to purchase other things.

The cloud has enabled the channel to be global, it’s taken away some of the natural barriers and has been fully embraced to the point it’s definitely not going away.

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