Sophos CEO To Partners: We're Poised To Disrupt The Network Security Market

Sophos' ability to build out a fully integrated security platform that is easy to deploy and maintain will help the security vendor come closer to unseating market leaders, according to company CEO Kris Hagerman, who kicked off the 2014 Sophos Americas Partner Connections conference Wednesday.

Hagerman and other senior executives said they are putting the tools in place to make Sophos a disruptive leader in endpoint security and the network security market with its networking appliances. Sophos' partner conference is taking place a few blocks away from the Las Vegas strip where endpoint security stalwart Symantec held an executive summit for a select group of partners alongside its annual user conference. Hagerman told partners that Sophos' market strategy is very different from that of Symantec, McAfee or Kaspersky Lab.

’We see an opportunity to combine endpoint and the network to be a real winning one,’ Hagerman said.

[Related: Sophos Inks Ingram Micro Distribution Deal, Streamlines Partner Program ]

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Sophos is winning mind share and market share, Hagerman said, citing gains in the endpoint security market and calling network security a priority for the company.

A key part of the strategy is integrating all of the company's technology components, Hagerman said. Engineers are working on what the company has called "Project Galileo," bridging the communication gap between Sophos’ endpoint technology, server protection and network security products to provide visibility and control through a single, cloud-based security management console. The integration points can enable the products to better identify threats and provide complete protection across a business' systems, he said.

Sophos also is introducing new server software that contains whitelisting and reputation capabilities, according to Hagerman. Sophos Cloud, meanwhile, addresses endpoint and Web and mobile device protection and will include server-based encryption later this year, he said.

Fully embracing the channel by significantly investing in support and enablement is a key part of Sophos' approach, Hagerman said. The company now has a simplified licensing model, a new website designed to draw more traffic, and it has realigned the sales organization to fully embrace the channel, provide better support and identify more opportunities for partners, he said.

"We view you as an extension of our team and we hope you view us as an extension of your team and your companies," Hagerman said. "We are 100 percent focused on the channel; we don’t do any billings unless it comes through the channel, so we only win if you win."

NEXT: Sophos Channel Vets Making Big Improvements, Say Partners

Partners told CRN they are seeing positive changes to Sophos' sales approach under the guidance of channel veterans Michael Valentine and Kendra Krause, previously from Fortinet, and John Keenan, previously from Dell SonicWall.

The company needed to move away from mixing channel and direct sales, said Michael Miller, owner and vice president of operations at Oakley, Calif.-based solution provider Assorted Business Services. Miller, who is attending the conference, said he had grown increasingly frustrated over disputes with the company's direct sales strategy.

"There's really been a turnaround in a big way," Miller said. "I think they brought in people who know how to build out and better utilize the channel for growth."

Sophos made a $4 million incremental investment year over year into enablement and additional personnel to support partners, said Keenan, Sophos' regional vice president of sales for the Americas. Keenan told partners that the channel team has expanded to about 150 employees and Sophos has added support in the field, creating 25 territories with marketing, sales engineers and account executives to support partners.

The company's partner program has been completely revamped and simplified, bringing six tier levels down to four tiers, said Krause, vice president of channel sales for the Americas. The deal registration program also was improved to provide more protection, and Sophos has increased discounts and margins to offer partners a base discount competitive with the marketplace, Krause said.

The company also addressed order processing and operational efficiencies with its distributors, Krause said. Sophos signed a deal with Ingram Micro in February, extended its relationship with Lifeboat and in March, and struck a deal with D&H Distributing to carry its unified threat management appliances.

"We learned that we needed to be frictionless," Krause said. "I want to be the best channel company for you to work with."

Over the next year the company plans to address renewals for the midmarket, increasing discounts to put them in line with SMB discounts, Krause said. An incumbent renewal protection program also is being added and a partner advisory council is being formed to solicit feedback from engaged partners, she said. The company is making adjustments to its new managed services program as well.

Krause said the company has seen a 42 percent year-over-year increase in certifications due to a push to get partners trained on the products. A revamp of the company's certification program provides more opportunities for certifications with authorized training centers in North America, she said.

Other partners attending the event also said that they are seeing benefits from the sales and support changes. Growth with Sophos has been consistent, said Andy Thon, an account executive at Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based solution provider Versatile Systems, who cited Sophos’ growing channel team and the channel veterans on that team as a reason for many of the positive changes.

"They know how to build out the support and incentive structure that works," Thon said. ’They've been easy to work with and are always accessible when they’re needed.’