Sophos' New Channel Chief: Partnerships Are A Two-Way Street


Ex-Fortinet executive Michael Valentine, less than 24 hours into his new role heading up Sophos' global channel program, said he plans to apply his own philosophy to the company's channel program, with subtle changes aimed at reigniting business in the U.S. and Canada.

To reignite that business, U.K.-based Sophos needs to attract new partners, Valentine told CRN in an exclusive interview. The well-known sales executive was attending the 2013 RSA Conference, meeting with solution providers and other Sophos partners.

"The North American space is where we are doing the least amount of business, and the gap is absolutely huge," Valentine said. "I see the opportunity given the product set and the new management allowed to run it and what I would call an 'enriched channel program.' "

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Valentine will be based out of Sophos' U.S. headquarters in Boston. In addition to antivirus software, Sophos' endpoint security platform provides software for encryption, vulnerability monitoring, data loss prevention and mobile device management. The company also sells unified threat management appliances and a Web and firewall following the acquisition of Astaro in 2011.

Valentine said the midmarket is where he sees significant opportunity for growth. Symantec, McAfee and Trend Micro make up the bulk of the market for endpoint security management sales, according to research firm Gartner's estimates. Sophos sells exclusively to enterprise markets and appeals to buyers who want simplified administration and management, Valentine said.

"We're not way down in the commodity space," Valentine said. "This is a complete product set and I understand the UTM is an aspect of it, but we're also able to go to wireless and the endpoint, to walk into a midmarket company through the channel and say, 'Here's a complete, simple solution.' "

Valentine said it was too early to provide any details on changes to the Sophos partner program, but he described strengthening Sophos' three-tiered program with additional support and attention to partners. The company had retooled its Solution Provider Partner Program over the past year under Emmanuelle Skala, vice president of global channels, with new certifications and training. A redesigned partner portal also provides deal registration, product and promotion information.

"There's going to be a lot of optimization of the existing channel specifically in the United States," Valentine said. "I have to structure the program in order for partners to say, 'This is profitable, this is helping me as a going concern and I want to make this a part of my business.' "

At network security appliance vendor Fortinet, Valentine was vice president of Americas sales and at the company during its 2009 IPO. While there, he transitioned the company's resellers to take on managed services and sought to take advantage of the cloud. Valentine was previously at SonicWall, where he served as vice president of America sales for the security company, responsible for its U.S. channel strategy. SonicWall was acquired by Dell last year.

Valentine said his philosophy has been that partnerships are a two-way street with the vendor providing the tools to help partners be successful and the partner doing its part to sell product.

"It's not about the vendor barking down to the reseller and saying this is how it has to be," he said. "We'll both be working to make this successful, because if they're not making money then they won't want to be a partner."

PUBLISHED FEB. 28, 2013