Selling Security: Channel Chiefs On Who Partners Need To Be Talking To Today

Selling security has changed, and partners need to adapt to have new sales conversations with top-level executives, industry channel chiefs said.

The comments came at a recent roundtable discussion with channel chiefs from top security vendors, including ForeScout Technologies, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and Sophos. The roundtable was held at XChange 2015, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, in National Harbor, Md.

The conversation around security is moving up the stack, the channel chiefs said, with boards of directors, CEOs, CIOs and CISOs all looking to get involved in the purchasing decisions. That shift is driven by a recognition by top-level executives that, while security is an investment, the possible brand and financial ramifications of a breach are too great to risk, said Joseph Sykora, vice president, Americas channels for Fortinet, Sunnyvale, Calif.

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"It's board level. It really has gone there," Sykora said. "There's definitely been a shift in buying behavior and all of our partners should take advantage of that."

However, while top-level executives might be interested and growing in knowledge about security, it is not their only priority. It is the responsibility of the solution provider to communicate the importance effectively and have a "disciplined approach" across every business group to keep the conversation top of mind, said Ron Myers, vice president of worldwide channels at Palo Alto Networks, Santa Clara, Calif.

[Related: Channel Chiefs: Security Specialization Key To Partners' Success]

"You really need to have a strong tenet within your organization to … touch every group within the enterprise, and you're going to win more than you're going to lose," Myers said.

That shift in purchasing decisions drives a different type of conversation around security, one that is focused more on the business and outcomes rather than just technology, Ryan LaSalle, global managing director of security transformation services at Accenture, said. While CEOs and board members are starting to ask different questions about security, their main focus for now remains on the more business-oriented aspects of security.

"That relationship is really evolving," LaSalle said. "Security leaders are more attuned to the threat and making sure that what they are buying is having an impact. The business leaders aren't really at that level. They're trying to make sure they are asking the right questions and measuring the right risk and outcomes."

The good news about the board getting involved is that there is more budget than ever being allocated for security, Palo Alto Networks' Myers said. Fortinet's Sykora, however, did note that where that budget is coming from depends on the size of the organization. Larger companies tend to have a dedicated budget and midsize companies have a blended approach with the networking budget, he said.

Partners also have more tools at their disposal right now to translate that budget into purchase orders, with the channel chiefs noting a particular opportunity around security or risk assessment tools. Most of the vendors said they had some sort of assessment tool for partners, one they encouraged partners to lead with in any sales conversation with clients. For clients, assessments are "eye-opening," Sykora said, citing a recent partner example where the original deal plan was $20,000 but expanded to more than $250,000 after the assessment showed flaws in the company's security posture.

From there, the partner is able to kick off a deeper and more valuable security conversation that expands beyond technology to include employee behavior, network structure, data encryption and more, said Devin Archer, Americas channel director at ForeScout, Campbell, Calif.

"I think it's a combination of technology and business processes and it's all changing right now -- people recognize that there's gaping holes in security and in the network," Archer said. "There's a huge opportunity for bolstering defense and it's not just the technology play."

However, one tool that partners should not use to sell security is fear, all of the channel chiefs agreed.

"Fear-mongering doesn't work anymore," Palo Alto Networks' Myers said. "If we had partners or we have personnel that are using fear as a tactic, quite frankly that customer is going to discount them right away."

The good news for partners is that they probably don't even need to use fear at all, as the market environment is doing all that work for them, ForeScout's Archer said.

"The good thing about this market is we haven't had to use fear much at all," Archer said. "We've been able to sit back and watch the environment -- the press is doing it. We're able to raise our hand and say, 'We can help.' "