CRN Security Roundtable: What Services Do Partners Need To Adopt?

‘That services opportunity is not a nice to have, it’s a need to have for our partner community. If they truly want to be differentiated, they have to have professional services, staffing, pre-sales consulting, and the entire suite,’ said Palo Alto Networks’ Karl Soderlund.

Solution providers need to move beyond implementation services and adopt an assessment-based sales methodology, according to a panel of the security industry’s top channel chiefs.

“There’s a great opportunity for partners to … go in there and assess the customer’s environment and then make suggestions,” said Jon Bove, Fortinet’s vice president of channel sales. “That’s a great opportunity that is in my opinion untapped.”

Bove’s remarks came at a CRN Roundtable titled “Security: Where To Place Your Bets In 2020,” which also featured channel chiefs from Bitdefender, Check Point Software Technologies, McAfee and Palo Alto Networks. Partners should leverage the programs vendors have made available around assessment-based sales methodologies to build up their consulting services on the front end, according to Bove.

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The traction Palo Alto Networks has gotten from its Best Practice Assessment since releasing it a little over a year ago has been amazing, with the results from the report feeding right into Salesforce, said Karl Soderlund, Palo Alto Networks’ senior vice president of worldwide channel sales. The assessment measures the customer’s usage of firewall and security management features across their deployment.

In fact, Soderlund said half of the Best Practice Assessments or pre-sales assessments delivered by Palo Alto Networks lead to increase activity in the partners’ pipeline. The channel opportunities generated by the Best Practice Assessments can range from technology upsells to incremental services delivered by either the solution provider or under the Palo Alto Networks brand.

“I always struggle when I sit with partners and say, ‘Why are you not leaning into any of the pre-sales assessments that we offer?’” Soderlund said. “Because it truly is driving a lot of pipeline right now.”

Check Point has also found the return on investment for assessment-based selling to be phenomenal, according to Frank Rauch, Check Point’s head of worldwide channel sales. The company has been doing joint cloud security assessments that are branded with Microsoft for Azure environments, Rauch said.

“It’s really, really good,” Rauch said. “Partners are definitely embracing it.”

Customers, though, are starting to become immune to assessment services provided by vendors since they always seem to find a gap, cautioned Ken McCray, McAfee’s head of Americas channel sales and operations. Partners need to go beyond telling the client that they’re missing something or need something and instead highlight the outcome or what it’s going to drive customers to, McCray said.

“When you walk in and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do an assessment. I’m going to do a health check.’ Nine times out of ten, they’re going to say, ‘Well, you’re going to find something,’” McCray said.

Solution providers must shift the value proposition from what they found with the assessment to what they’re going to do for the customer to assuage their most significant fears, McCray said. The customer probably already knew the gap was there and might even have a product on the shelf that would address it, but typically, they didn’t have the time to expertise to implement it, according to McCray.

“How do you take what you found and help him [the customer] improve his posture?” McCray said.

Nearly all clients understand their on-premise and next-generation firewalls, but assessments can in helpful in ensuring customers have that same level of security as they migrate to the cloud, according to Tom Turkot, vice president of client solutions at Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based solution provider Arlington Computer Products.

End users are willing to pay a third-party to look at what they’re doing in the cloud, how much they have secured, and what else needs to be protected, Turkot said. Assessments are a great way for solution providers to get into net new accounts, establish a foothold, demonstrate the value they’re able to deliver, and lock up work, according to Turkot.

“I think the assessment is a great door-opener and a way to get in in a non-salesy situation,” Turkot said. “Once you do the assessment, you’re right in line to do the solution.”

Outside of assessments, partners can make a lot of money helping customers with cloud conversions and migrations, according to Joe Sykora, Bitdefender’s vice president of global sales and channels. The margins from cloud services opportunities are something partners can lean on if they’re only receiving referral fees off the sale of many cloud products, Sykora said.

“That services opportunity is not a nice to have, it’s a need to have for our partner community,” Soderlund said. “If they truly want to be differentiated, they have to have professional services, staffing, pre-sales consulting, and the entire suite.”

Building out a services business has always been a case of the chicken and the egg, Soderlund said. Partners that invest heavily standing up a services team but can’t have them fully utilized suffer from a tremendous burn rate, which hurts the partner, according to Soderlund.

But the inverse - where partners go and win services opportunities but are relying on contractors only since they don’t have a bench of talent - causes the customer experience to suffer, Soderlund said. Palo Alto Networks has worked on a blueprint to help partners transition to a services-led approach, Soderlund said, knowing fully well that some solution providers are more advanced than others.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Soderlund said. “It’s a really customized approach to go in and lean in with them to help them through the process.”

Enabling solution providers to deliver services needs to go beyond training and include a shadowing element to give partner technicians deep expertise, Rauch said. The Check Point CheckMates user community has more than 40,000 members and makes it easier for the company to train and shadow these stakeholders as a community, according to Rauch.

Fortinet, meanwhile, introduced specializations as part of its new Engage partner program to shrink the time to success from a sales training, technical training and enablement perspective, Bove said. The need for training is so important that the company has allowed partners to identify which specializations they want to be badged in: dynamic cloud, data centers, secure access and branch, and SD-WAN.

The company has also gotten a big headwind from its Network Security Expert program, which Bove said has certified more than 270,000 individuals globally. And with the new partner program, Bove said Fortinet has now aligned its certifications specifically into specializations that solution providers are able to take to market.

“Partners play in sometimes very niche technology areas, and we want to make sure that we can enable them where they can invest, embrace and take our solutions to market,” Bove said.