Partners Look To Hale To Ramp Up Sophos Channel

Sophos' new Vice President of Global Channels Steve Hale is joining a company that is poised for growth, but solution providers say Hale has a lot of work to do to focus its channel program, integrate products and re-establish communication with its partners.

Hale said Monday that he's looking forward to building a cohesive global strategy as Sophos gets ready to expand following last year's acquisition by Apax Partners, and most recently, the company's own acquisition of unified threat management firm Astaro Networks.

Hale took the helm of Sophos' global channels after leaving Novell, which was recently acquired by Attachmate in a transaction valued at $2.2 billion. At Novell, he held the position of vice president of global channel sales in the security, systems management and operating platform group under John Dragoon. His term at Novell followed a one-and-a-half-year stint as vice president of North American channel sales at F5 Networks. Prior to that Hale served as general manager of the U.S. enterprise partner group at Microsoft.

Hale said that 17 years at Microsoft as well as his experience at Novell has prepared him for growing Sophos' channel and expanding their offerings.

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"In the conversations I had with Sophos, it became really obvious that it was a good opportunity. At some level it allows me to come to Sophos at the time of their growth," Hale said during a CRN interview.

Hale said that he has already met with Matt Fogelgren, Sophos director of North American channel sales, and plans to aggressively meet with internal sales teams and channel partners -- starting with the partner advisory council -- to determine a comprehensive global partner engagement strategy.

"Let's figure out what our global partner engagement strategy is, even if each one differs region by region. Where do we have consistency? Where should we have more global consistency?" Hale said."What is the role we want our channel to play? It's examining that at a deep level and asking, 'Do we have a really good business proposition for Sophos partners?'"

On the heels of the Astaro acquisition, Hale said that he didn't plan to immediately change anything regarding the network security vendor's channel in the near future, but would integrate both channel programs over the next year to year and a half.

"The way that they're executing now through their VAR channel is very, very healthy," Hale said. "Obviously, over time what we want the companies to do is become more integrated -- look at the programs and make sure we get down to one at the right point in time."

Hale added that he planned to be "fanatical about partner enablement" going forward. "One thing I've learned, if you don't do partner enablement really, really well, you're missing a fundamental pillar that will make your engine work," he said.

Next: Partners Want Better Communication, Product Integration

However, channel partners look on his previous stints with some concern, but they're hoping his appointment will serve to improve marketing, communication and enhance product lines and integration at Sophos.

"He has experience, but some of that experience is a little concerning," said Andrew Plato, president of Beaverton, Ore.-based Anitian Enterprise Security. 'He was formerly at Novell and F5, and I wouldn't uphold either of those as a model of channel friendliness. Hopefully, this will give the channel a little more focus."

Plato said that Sophos "seemed to understand the channel reasonably well," but that going forward he hoped that the channel program would become more robust by "recognizing and rewarding different types of resellers, while leaving room for consulting-oriented solution providers."

Hale said that he hopes to alleviate channel conflict by finding an equitable model for both internal and partner-led services.

"The approach around services is to build up the right set of partners that will match the demand for the services that come around our product portfolio," Hale said. "That key set of partners really becomes an extension of our sales and delivery organization. It's our every intention that wherever possible, we're going to have a clear business proposition for our partners."

On the product side, Plato said that he hoped to see more comprehensive marketing and branding from Sophos, as well as products that are more interoperable and better integrated.

"I think the largest thing they need to address is their benefits over Symantec of McAfee. They come off a little soft on the marketing," he said, while adding that "Sophos is still too fractured in their consoles. They need to get their console unified and they need to beef up their endpoint offerings to include things like file integrity monitoring and configuration change management. These are tools people really want tight now."

Robert McMillen, president of Portland, Ore.-based All Tech 1, added that he looked to Hale to help improve communications with the channel. He said he had experienced a widening communication gap with Sophos, compounded by lack of face-to-face contact that has served to estrange All Tech 1 from the antivirus vendor.

"Their lack of communication to partners on a one-on-one basis has caused problems with us," he said, adding that his company often was left in the dark about what products Sophos was releasing.

"We need a sales rep to call on a regular basis. We understand why it is that Sophos would be struggling -- they've broken down all communication with their partners," he said. "If they could bring in Steve Hale as someone who could build up the channel again, then we would definitely cheer that move."