History of Hard Deck: How to Build Predictability in your GTM

History of Hard Deck: How to Build Predictability in your GTM

Nine years ago Bill McDermott, currently the CEO of SAP but Head of Sales at the time, asked me to join SAP with the charge to build out a true channel, with the goal of extending SAP in the market, specifically in the mid market and SMB segments. He challenged us to capture net new logos and take revenues to the next level.

Goal: Create an Effective, Enforceable Channel Program

On my first day on the job I was pleased to learn that SAP had already hired McKinsey and Company to do an initial snapshot of SAP’s channel. Having worked with McKinsey before, I was excited to hear their findings.  

The report out was not surprising with the number one issue being the lack of predictability on SAP’s part. The channel basically did not trust the Direct Sales force of SAP, and SAP in general didn’t see the value of the channel.

Their recommended solution was to set clear boundaries of where SAP’s Direct team would sell and clear boundaries to where the channel could sell SAP. After explaining this concept to my team, the McKinsey partner said, “It’s what we in the industry call 'Hard Deck'." We almost fell off our chairs.

You see, ten years earlier, while watching a rerun of the Movie Top Gun in a Palo Alto Hotel at 3 a.m., I borrowed the term Hard Deck from the United States Navy.

In Naval Aviation, the Hard Deck set the boundary for where pilots could practice their craft of dog fighting. Above 10,000 feet was safe, and the area below “the deck” was deemed unsafe.

It seemed like a logical analogy to the predictability model that we desperately needed at HP. Above the deck (Fortune 700) equaled HP Direct and below the deck (everything else) equaled the channel.

The Genesis of Hard Deck

At the time, HP had the same problem that SAP was experiencing just a decade earlier. HP didn’t believe in the channel, and the channel flat out didn’t trust HP.

As the new channel manager I had traveled the country meeting with channel partners both individually and in groups. It was brutal. My staff and I were berated at every stop with stories of HP Direct stealing deals, setting prices, etc.  

I told both my wife and my boss that I had become a professional apologist and that was a pretty crummy job to have. We needed change, and we needed to change fast.

Fate, chance, circumstance, predestination by any name, a powerful, diverse and synergistic team came together to design and execute a go to market model that had the following key elements:

  • Co-existence between the channel and HP Direct

  • Economically accretive

  • Executable

  • Enforceable (this was probably the most important feature)

Most thought we were insane and had little chance of getting this epochal level of change done in a company the size of HP. To be honest, I had my own doubts.

The Hard Deck Team

While there were dozens of wonderful professionals who contributed to the design and successful execution of Hard Deck the core team was made up of the following:

Carrie Maslen, a trained engineer and channel veteran who drove both the pragmatic thinking of Hard Deck and owned the selling of Hard Deck to middle management. Carrie’s ability to articulate the vision, combined with a razor sharp ability to read the style and motives of whomever she’s dealing with was indispensable. Not only did she accomplish her mission of getting buy in for Hard Deck, but also she made fans for life along the journey.

Susan Reynolds, who combines a superior mind with cutting edge wit and humor, used these skills to win over resistors and those in the “it will never work” category. Not only did Susan execute Hard Deck, but also together with powerhouse Donna Waida combined the design and execution of Hard Deck with a complete overhaul of the Channel architecture under the new brand HP PartnerOne.

Laura Blackmer, Philipe Levy, and Scott Anderson took their passion and uber positive attitude and evangelized throughout the channel.

Karen Nunley and Elaine Foreman, HR and Legal respectively, owned communication and, most importantly, kept us within the rules and the law.

Dave Pansen and myself rounded out the team. Dave was our resident Mensa Society member. He knew deep channel theory better than anyone within HP and had both the courage and tenacity to debate our program to the highest level. Dave had a dual strategy: he would either win you over with hard facts and indisputable logic or he would wear you down to you relented.

My job was the easiest - stay out of the way of these diverse, powerful and committed professionals and to get Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP onboard.

Getting Buy-In for Hard Deck

As you can imagine, this level of change was met by serious momentum of the status quo. As Dave Pansen like to say, our change agenda was being viewed by most within HP and the Partner community as a virus. And the “white corpuscles” of resistance were trying to surround us and kill us.

Our buy in and execution strategy was simple. Get the top down buy in from Carly and the Executive Council, build excitement from the bottom up, and carefully identify key and powerful influencers from middle management that needed to be won over.

It worked. Carly loved both the concept of a “safe zone” or below the deck for the channel and a carved-out space where the Direct team that would test their selling skills by forcing them to earn a living within a defined set of accounts. She was bought in and, much to our surprise, took the internal code name Hard Deck and actively went public to the press, the Board and the analysts with it.

Up Next: Part 2: Hard Deck results, creativity in Hard Deck enforcement, and why a year later when HP purchased Compaq, why Compaq leadership despised Hard Deck.

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