CRN Interview: SonicWall Channel Chief Mike Valentine

Mike Valentine, former vice president of channel sales for SonicWall, in May was named vice president of America Sales for the security company, responsible for its U.S. channel strategy. Valentine recently spoke with CRN Editor Heather Clancy about SonicWall's ongoing effort to reclassify its various solution providers, including a category he's describing as a sort of value-added DMR, and recalibrate its channel program to support a set of different benefits it offers each unique group. Excerpts follow.

CRN: What's your strategy regarding direct-marketing resellers? How do you differentiate vs. what you do with the core VAR channel?

Valentine: Stepping back a bit, that actually is what I'm bringing to the role, some of the vision that I have. I think if we had to encapsule what we really want to do with the channel, it's really inclusive, meaning that I think that the way we're looking at the channel is a little revolutionary. We have the larger DMRs and then what we classify as VAMs, the value-added merchants. This is somebody that is typically working over the Web. They do service, they do a great attach rate, but it is a value-added merchant. Where we would consider Ingram and Tech Data a broadline distributor and Alternative Technology a VAD, we would consider some of the larger DMRs to be broadliners and these companies to be more value-added.

CRN: Can you give me an example of one?

Valentine: Virtual Graffiti [of Irvine, Calif.] CPU Sales and Services here on the East Coast [in Waltham, Mass.] Those are two. Traditionally other manufacturers in the past, I think, they have tried to take their VAR program and shoehorn these guys in. They don't do business like a VAR. They just don't.

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CRN: How do you treat them different?

Valentine: It's license structure — what they get on the back end, what formulates their rebates, what formulates their back-end dollars. What drives their business is what we're going to wrap our program around.

The VAR channel, we know what that brick-and-mortar VAR wants and needs in certifications, and [we understand] the value that they bring in the larger deals and the relationship that they have face-to-face. I like what we have now as far as the medallion program. It's solid: the Approved, the Silver and the Gold. We're going to go with Solution Provider as the term. So, we see that being augmented, not so much changed.

It gets back to the word inclusive, because I really believe that our channel program is going to be inclusive. We're going to recognize the different aspects of resellers in that channel and tailor our program to meet their needs.

What drives their business: I don't go and hand a piece of paper to a VAR and say, 'This is what you have to do.' I want to be able to go out and say, 'Here's three different programs we have for the reseller,' and then talk about those three. And then, we have an authorized distribution program.

Those three different [solution provider] types are, of course, the solution providers that we deal with today. The VAM program we've talked about. We've also identified another set and we're finding them more and more a key avenue for us to sell product, and that's the consulting partners. They do not take title to the product. They don't even have an account with Ingram and Tech, but these guys, we're going to open up a door for them. We're going to make them a partner. They will never buy a [SonicWall] TZ 170 from us. But I guarantee you that the people we're going to put into this program are going to be some of the largest producers at the end of the day of revenue.

CRN: How does that count in the channel sales mix?

Valentine: We're learning this. It's new. But if they're a typical break-fix house and they're in, they seem to get these long-term contracts. They become the trusted IT source for the SMB. They were really there just to install Windows, but you know what, they came back, they did a good job. They're moving forward. Now they've become this trusted source. But they don't want to sell our product. A lot of times they'll say, 'Go to Dell, go to CDW, buy the product. Here's what I think that you need.' I believe working with them or developing a relationship with them makes sense.

CRN: Typically, when people talk about influencers, that's code for a big integrator. But aren't you talking about much smaller companies?

Valentine: This is absolutely an SMB play. There's no reason it can't scale to enterprise. It's typically an SMB that is relying on an IT organization that is either doing some sort of service or some sort of consulting. We're not going after the big integrators with this program. That's not what this is initially targeted at. There are a number of identified people that we believe would fit in this role. It's still being developed and it will definitely be part of our four-tier approach to the channel.

CRN: So, this is something you're working on that will become part of the program at some point?

Valentine: Yes, we should be by the end of the calendar year ready to roll out our four-point program. The four points being VAM, Consultants, Solution Provider — that's the one that's based on our Gold, Silver, Approved — and then our Authorized Distribution Program.

CRN: What's your main intention? To really realign with existing partners? Or do you really see an opportunity to go out and recruit?

Valentine: We're really going for two things. We want to be inclusive. We don't want to have a one-size-fits-all program. We want them to take a look at the menu and say, 'You know, this fits me.' The second thing is we are going to be aggressive. We have utilized some of the sales techniques from Lasso Logic. This was a wonderful meld of sales. They had such a hard-nosed approach to sales, and they were fantastic at outbounding and recruiting. We took that team down to Sunnyvale, melded them in and promoted someone from within. It's a team of about six people, and what they do is they actually recruit VARs. They go out and they hit the phone. It fits in with their culture. So we want to be aggressive in our recruiting structure. And then when we recruit these people, now we're back to having them look at what fits them the best.