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Top Gun 51 Profile: Trustwave’s Suzanne Swanson on Growing Partner Relationships to Build Success

When it comes to the channel, it’s all about people and fostering relationships to grow success, she says.

Todd R. Weiss

December 9, 2019

5 Min Read
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With 30 years of work experience in the channel, Trustwave’s Suzanne Swanson says her biggest business strength today continues to be her hands-on involvement working with partners.

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Trustwave’s Suzanne Swanson

Swanson, the company’s global vice president of channels, was recently named as a Channel Partners Top Gun 51 Award winner and spoke about her work, career and how she approaches Trustwave’s customers and channel partners every day. Trustwave’s products provide cybersecurity and managed security services to help businesses fight cybercrime, protect their data and reduce security risk. The Top Gun 51 awards recognize a new generation of channel executives who are building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Channel Futures: What has made you an impact player in the channel over your long career?

Suzanne Swanson: It’s easy as you go up the ladder in leadership positions to get disconnected from your partners. I work to maintain those relationships even though I am in a leadership position. I think it’s important to keep your ear to the ground for how the channel is going and what customers are looking for from our partners.

CF: What are your responsibilities at Trustwave and how involved is the company in the channel today?

SS: I’m responsible for strategy, operations and channel relationships around the world, since I joined the company early in 2019. Trustwave has historically been more direct-sales-centric in the past, but as they expanded their portfolio, they have been expanding their channel involvement over time. We do about 15-20% of our global business through the channel presently. We see it expanding year over year as Trustwave continues to grow in its leadership position in managed security.

We recently unveiled our “Top Gun 51,” a list of today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

CP: You’ve worked in the channel for Conga, IBM, CloudVelox, Worksoft, BigFix, Applimation, Symantec and other companies in your career. What do you bring to your latest company?

SS: I’m here to help Trustwave grow their channel involvement. We have an opportunity to really go after a lot of channel partners who can really deliver value to our customers. They brought me in to grow this. In the 10 months that I’ve been here, we’ve more than doubled our channel team and added technical sales and presales people. We’re investing in the channel.

CF: What does this opportunity mean to you personally?

SS: The interesting thing to me is that from the CEO on down, all the senior executives and leaders here are focused on the channel. I’m using my experience to help drive that forward. What I’ve been doing since I came to Trustwave is looking product by product to see how customers are consuming cybersecurity. Customers are changing how they get service, such as through the cloud, and how they engage with their vendors and partner community. Ten years ago, customers called a sales representative to buy something. They got a standard pitch, and they may have looked at several vendors. Now we know that 80% of the sales cycle is done before they even pick up the phone because customers are doing their research, going online and talking to channel partners and colleagues before buying things. They’re doing a lot of their research outside of the vendor. As part of that, we’ve got to be sure we are in front of the channel partners so they know what we do. We must do more to help channel partners when customers arrive.

CF: Is there anything else different in the channel today when it comes to cybersecurity?

SS: In cybersecurity today, it’s important to …

… have an integrated approach in the channel. The average customer now has 26 individual security companies they work with in an enterprise. And we’ve seen customers who have even more. The challenge for the customer is integrating it all. What Trustwave does is to help our customers deal with this. What we’re doing from a direct sales standpoint is making sure we have sales representatives who are trained for the breadth of cybersecurity so they can help customers better know their own needs.

CF: How did you end up working in the channel?

SS: I was attending the University of Kansas and I was waiting on tables in a restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas. One day I had customers from Pioneer Standard, a hardware distributor. They were a couple senior managers. They handed me their cards and they mentioned that they were hiring a new sales representative. I got an interview, made the cut and then had to make a presentation on why I was the best fit. I got the job. At Pioneer, I was an inside sales representative. I had started at school as a computer science major, but I ended up in sociology.

CF: What’s your philosophy about working with channel partners?

SS: I just love working with partners, including the fact that it tends to be a mutually beneficial relationship and that you tend to get to know each other and work with each other closely. I really like that. With customer relationships, they have their agenda, and the sales representative has their own agenda. With partner relationships, you’re able to more closely align those agendas. Another piece I figured out quickly is that on my own, I could only go out and talk to X number of customers by myself. But if I had a partner, I could talk to 10 times as many customers. That showed me the value of having partners.

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About the Author(s)

Todd R. Weiss

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist who covers open source and Linux, cloud service providers, cloud computing, virtualization, containers and microservices, mobile devices, security, enterprise applications, enterprise IT, software development and QA, IoT and more. He has worked previously as a staff writer for Computerworld and eWEEK.com, covering a wide variety of IT beats. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies and collecting toy taxis from around the world.

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