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CRN Crowns Sophos's Valentine Channel Madness Champion

Jennifer Follett

It began with 32 of the industry's most influential channel chiefs. It ends with one.

And that one -- after five rounds of voting and over 125,000 ballots cast throughout the past three weeks -- is Sophos's Mike Valentine, who bested a formidable foe, Verizon's Adam Famularo, in the championship round of the first-ever CRN Channel Madness Tournament of Chiefs.

It was a tough battle to be sure. Both competitors had proven again and again that solution providers would rally to carry them through the tournament with decisive victories.

[Related: CRN Channel Madness: The Top 10 Vote-Getters]

Valentine's fans credit him with reinvigorating Sophos's dedication to and focus on an interactive relationship with its channel, while Famularo is winning supporters with his efforts to introduce more IT channel partners to the lucrative world of telecom, networking and cloud services and the recurring revenue opportunities that come with them.

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When Valentine joined Sophos two years ago, he ushered in a new era of teamwork between the company and its channel, solution providers said.

"What he's been able to do is get channel partners more involved in assisting Sophos to work better with the channel, gaining from our insight and truly valuing our opinions," said Sean Stenovitch, partner at M&S Technologies, a Sophos partner based in Dallas, who sits on the company's partner advisory council and considers Sophos to be one of its top five vendor partners. "He and his team have set up a partner advisory council that has been, in my mind, the most effective and interactive, and that wasn't something that happened [at Sophos] before. He's been given the latitude to truly put his stamp on the channel program."

Stenovitch, who's expecting to see 10 percent to 15 percent growth in M&S's Sophos business this year, describes Sophos as "hardcore" channel-focused under Valentine's watch, stemming from the channel chief's willingness to "sit down, hammer something out and make something happen."

"So many times [with other executives] it's lip service. You can go into a meeting and walk out thinking nothing is going to come out of it. What I'm seeing from Mike and his team is they listen, they ask questions and they're not afraid to tell you that not everything is going to be great just for you. It's about the greatest good."

Sam Heard, president and owner of Data Integrity Services, a Lakeland, Fla.-based Platinum Sophos partner and co-president of the vendor's partner advisory council, describes Valentine as a channel mentor who advises solution providers on what works but who also seeks out new ideas from his partner base.

"He's constantly pushing the channel to push back with new ideas on how to do things better," Heard said. "He'll say, 'I've seen this work, but at the same time even though that's my idea, if everyone thinks the same nobody's thinking, so what's your idea?'"


Sophos regularly makes tweaks and updates as a result of partner feedback, including incorporating new features into its products, Heard said, noting that more than half of his company's revenue comes from Sophos-related business. The company expects to see 20 percent growth in new Sophos sales this year, Heard said.

Valentine's channel philosophy is a simple one: "Don't sell out, stick with the channel, ride it through, [have conviction]. Just don't sell out. The channel will come back and pay you. I promise they will pay you back in spades, you just have to go through the rough times and stick with it," Valentine said. "In everything you do, from sales to marketing to finance to distribution, just don't sell out. Once you've do that you've lost everything."

Valentine, senior vice president of worldwide sales of Sophos, had words of thanks for the partners that helped him to victory.

"There are a lot of solution providers that I've known for multiple years, and I hope that in everything we've done, they've gained as much as I've gained from them. This show of appreciation … is a nice piece of validation both for all of the work we've put in and the dedication they've [shown]. Really, they've backed me with their businesses. It sounds like if they've voted for me, we've come through this together," Valentine said. "Really it's heartwarming, it really is."

The Sophos deal registration program Valentine put in place 18 months ago that provides extra margin to the first solution provider to tag a new sales opportunity is at the center of his channel strategy for the security vendor, Valentine said.

"It is at the heart of everything we do because the validity of that program is, we think, what puts the trust of partners in us, meaning that if there's a very small partner in a tertiary market going up against a very large competitor like CDW or SHI, we stick to the letter of the law," Valentine said. "And conversely, if CDW is first and the smaller partner is second, we go by the letter of the law on that. And I think the partners over the course of the last two years have come to realize that this is real, and there is an unbelievable avenue to make money."

The match-up between Valentine and Famularo saw several lead changes through the course of voting.

Famularo, who joined Verizon Enterprise Solutions six months ago as its vice president of global channels, got off like a rocket and jumped out to a substantial lead early in the final round. It looked like a hill too steep to climb for Valentine, who trailed 76 percent to 24 percent with 24 hours of voting time remaining.

But those 24 hours were just what Valentine needed to orchestrate a come-from-behind victory. Valentine eventually pulled ahead and away, winning with 66 percent of the vote to Famularo's 34 percent.


Famularo showed himself to be a true competitor throughout the tournament, marshaling tremendous support throughout the channel ecosystem.

"For all the solution providers and partners out there that supported us thank you so much," Famularo said. "I really do appreciate them backing us and supporting us, and I hope that others see that there is some real excitement going on right now around Verizon."

Some of that excitement focuses on a program launched just last month that aims to bring new partners into the Verizon fold at a faster clip, Famularo said.

"We just created a program called Verizon Partner Advantage, which is a way for our partners to actually on-board faster by taking whatever program tier you're already at with one of our competitors and starting today with those same benefits inside of Verizon, so we're removing all of the barriers to come and join Verizon's partner program and start selling our great solutions in the marketplace."

Both Valentine and Famularo also credited their respective teams for helping them find channel success. Valentine spotlighted Sophos colleagues such as Kendra Krause, vice president of North America channel sales; Brian Vasiloff, director of enterprise sales, CMO Matt Fairbanks and John Keenan, vice president of America sales and operations at Sophos, while Famularo says he "walked into" a "tremendous" channel team that includes Janet Schijns, vice president of global enterprise, public sector, medium business and channels marketing and continues on from the top on down.

Famularo also lauded the tournament's field of competitors.

"The vendors were absolutely awesome. We were competing against everyone from NetSuite to VMware to IBM and then of course my good friend Mike at Sophos. These are top tier partner-centric organizations that are just amazing in the marketplace. These are companies ... I really hold in high regard in terms of the channel businesses they've developed."

PUBLISHED APRIL 9, 2015

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