Meet the Channel: Stephen Thomas, VP of Sales, Cyberbit

This week, we spoke to Stephen Thomas, vice president of Sales at Cyberbit, a company specializing in enterprise IT cybersecurity solutions. Thomas joined Cyberbit earlier this year following an 8-year stint at Symantec, where he served in a number of executive-level roles, and most recently served as the company’s vice president of Americas channel sales. TVG: What's the biggest thing that you're excited about for the future in the channel?

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

October 31, 2016

7 Min Read
Meet the Channel Stephen Thomas SVP of Sales Cyberbit
Meet the Channel: Stephen Thomas, SVP of Sales, Cyberbit

This week, we spoke to Stephen Thomas, vice president of Sales at Cyberbit, a company specializing in enterprise IT cybersecurity solutions. Thomas joined Cyberbit earlier this year following an 8-year stint at Symantec, where he served in a number of executive-level roles, and most recently served as the company’s vice president of Americas channel sales.

TVG: You’ve been in the tech market for 20 years, and have managed channel programs internationally. What running themes have you seen that are still apparent in the American channel today?

From early on in my career, I worked with partners. In large part I really started to work with partners since running international business. While I was in Munich, I ran relationships with big system integrators, and one of the things that you pick up when you’re working abroad is you need people who have and understand the local market and relationships.

That’s made a pretty strong impact on me, as my career has developed and as I think specifically about the North American market, because in a lot of ways folks in Austin or folks in Salt Lake or Charlotte, they are very similar to people around the rest of the world. They want to buy from folks that they know and that they’ve got relationships with. The ideal is to have and work with partners who have tenure with customers and have built trust over time. They haven’t come in and sold the customer on a “quick onesie-twosie thing,” but rather really understood the customer’s goals and values from a business perspective, and then helped them to meet those. Because again, as a channel partner, the partner’s job is really to help diminish the noise that is the technology environment these days, and help the customer see through to what is going to be the right platform or solution for them.

TVG: What’s the biggest thing that you’re excited about for the future in the channel?

Stephen: There are so few truly skilled cyber-warriors or cyber security professionals. I’m sure everybody’s seen the numbers gap around people or staff that they can’t hire from a cyber perspective. When you think about partners and the opportunity that’s in front of partners right now, [there is an opportunity] … to really help companies understand what their security posture should look like, how it compares to their peer group, and then how to execute against that.

In the execution piece, it’s almost a business process conversation. You get down to that execution piece and you’ve almost got to divvy up the work between the partner and the customer. What work can the customer actually take on? For example, as an MSSP, or managed security services provider, you can find good incident responders and then find ways to engage customers with the value that an incident responder or analyst can help bring to their business.

I just think there’s so much opportunity there, because people can’t hire those people, and they can’t retain them. You turn your head one way, and suddenly your best IR guy has a offer for $20,000 bucks more down the street. I think partners can really help fill that gap.

TVG: What is your biggest frustration with the channel?

Listen to Thomas’ answer below:

TVG: For partners who want to start integrating more security offerings into their portfolios and into the solutions that they provide their customers, what’s the one piece of advice that you would give them in order to succeed in that market?

Stephen: Candidly, I’d find a distribution partner that I could line up and work with, that could help me build relationships with the manufacturers. They’d probably also have some level of expertise in the security market. Because again, if you’re new to this landscape, you can call us up at Cyberbit or you can call Symantec, and you’re going to get a very, very singular view. I’m often an advocate for finding a distribution partner that can help you diminish the noise and really focus on what’s important. Those [distribution] folks often have a really good picture of what’s going on based upon what’s being bought in the marketplace, so they can coach you on the markets to really focus in on. What’s hot, what’s not.

TVG: When we’re looking into the future, let’s say over the next two to three years, what are the trends that you see emerging, and do you have any predictions for what’s going to happen in the security channel?

I think the MSSP is the place to be. The one trend that I think will continue is partners taking on more responsibility and accountability as well for cybersecurity for their customers in the form of managed security services. That’s obviously I think a very big trend.

The second piece is that I think partners can play a really strong role in being the external coach or advocate for a cybersecurity team inside of [a customer’s] company, to come in and drive that awareness, either with the board, or with individual employees and do simple education around things like phishing exercises and so forth.

I think those are probably the two big trends that I see partners filling. Maybe the last that I would share is I think partners have a job to continue to be very aggressive in understanding what technologies are coming to market and helping their customers really build a path. Really be that coach and help customers see what the long-term vision is. Again, I see a lot of customers buying onesie-twosie point solutions, and I think partners have that responsibility to help drive a customer to a longer-term goal and not a short-term fix.

TVG: In order to achieve that goal, what is the element that
partners are going to be clamoring for in their channel programs moving forward? Is it education? Is it enablement?

Stephen: I think education and enablement is the core to everybody’s program. But for me, I think it’s also flexibility in how the offering is served, if that makes sense. I think a lot of customers [want to] leverage a partner to manage the buying mechanism. So those manufacturers that are going to deliver flexible buying or licensing program is something that partners should be looking for. Whether they want to license it in an MSSP model and have the partner on it or have the customer on it, they manage it.

Then obviously I think (as all partners would probably say) a strong registration program [is key]. Really some level of engagement from the manufacturer, building that direct relationship with the manufacturer, knowing that that manufacturer’s going to go to market with them, and knowing the opportunities where they’ve decided to go to work together. I think those are probably the two things that stand out to me that I’d be looking for.

TVG: Is there someone maybe that you worked with in your early career who gave you a piece of advice or served as an influence that helps define the way that you approach business and your work relationships?

Stephen: That is a wonderful question, and I’ll use a fairly recent example. John Eldh, who’s a senior exec at Computer Associates, had one little tidbit that he was very clear with all of us that were on his staff: always take the conversation to a higher level. Oftentimes, again, I think this is very specific to partners, people get involved in solving the very tactical near-term need and they don’t take it up a level and really understand the broader problem that they’re solving for.

I think we all know that is part of the work that we should do, but I think that taking it up a level is really something that everyone should strive for. Whether it’s an engagement in your personal life or an engagement in your work life, understand what you’re trying to accomplish in the conversation in the broader environment. That’s really important to do and reflect on every day and in every conversation, and that makes us all better.

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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