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December 28, 2023
It's no secret that an effective channel program can invigorate an organization, create key business relationships and improve revenue. But how do you make it happen?
While there are plenty of great resources for how to build a channel program, the cybersecurity industry presents unique challenges for aspiring channel pioneers. It is complex, regulated and under constant scrutiny. Therefore, it's not surprising that prospective channel partners will be discerning when evaluating vendors to work with. A cybersecurity channel program needs to be thoughtfully and carefully built to have any chance of sustained success.
Additionally, a common barrier to kickstarting a program is an organizational lack of understanding about the channel — or worse, unrealistic expectations about what it can do.
On top of that, the cybersecurity market is incredibly fragmented. There are lots of vendors — mostly small — competing for the same slice of pie. That creates a big challenge for channel partners that are expected to not only understand the market and solutions, but to also help their customers address particular business challenges.
The question is, how do you overcome these challenges to launch an effective cybersecurity channel program?
Earn internal champions: Leadership buy-in is essential. This starts with clearly dictating the process for launching the program, the costs and labor required to do so and the potential ROI. Be clear about what the channel can and cannot do and dictate what is expected of each of the functional leaders and their teams.
Additionally, don't try to force it throughout the organization. It's just as important to earn companywide buy-in as it is to earn senior leadership sponsorship. Spend the necessary time to help educate key stakeholders and create a sense of purpose so that team members want to be part of the channel program and contribute to its success.
This is especially true in the field with the sales organization. To truly succeed, it's wise to invest the time to educate sellers on how to collaborate with partners and create win-win situations where they benefit just as much as the partner does. Don't be afraid to also play into their competitive nature by highlighting those that are successful and blowing out their numbers due to their alignment with the channel.
Prioritize quality over quantity: A mistake many companies make is to "spray and pray" in their quest for channel partners. This means they take a "more is better" approach and sign as many partners as possible to scale and drive more business.
This approach not only comes at an operational cost of managing a large ecosystem of partners, but it also comes at a cost of zero to little loyalty among the partners. There are only so many opportunities available every month, and if 10 partners start competing for the same business, at least nine of them will end up disappointed and less likely to invest and lean into the partnership.
If, on the other hand, the number of partners in a geography/segment is limited, everyone stands to profit, and they'll be more willing to invest.
Make it easy for partners to work with you: It's essential to quickly invest in operational aspects that demonstrate a clear understanding of what matters most to the channel besides margin and profitability. It must be easy for partners to work with the vendor, and the engagement model needs to be predictable — both at the corporate and field level.
To do that, channel partners need to have easy portal access to enablement/training, deal registration, pipeline management, marketing materials and lead management, along with resources to support them across all areas of interaction. They need to be treated like family or insiders.
Additionally, people within an organization need to understand that there is no need to "partnerize" anything. What you do for your own field is what you do for your partners. The channel is an extension of your field, and they represent your organizations just like your own sellers would. It's easier to scale when you aren't wasting time needlessly creating new custom content or programs for partners.
Also, there's no need to hire an army of partner resources. Instead, ensure that various functional organizations in the company take on a level of responsibility for the "new family members." That creates a sense of "ownership" and shared responsibility and pride when they know that they were instrumental in helping the program get off the ground and accelerate fast.
Building a cybersecurity channel program has its challenges, but it can be tremendously rewarding once it's off the ground. To forge the best possible partnerships, organizations must earn internal champions, be easy to work with and always prioritize quality over quantity.
Vice President, Global Channels and Alliances, Synopsys Software Integrity Group
Channel veteran Tom Herrmann is vice president of global channels and alliances at Synopsys Software Integrity Group, responsible for indirect routes to market and the overall partner program. He previously built channel programs at Tanium and ran channel sales organizations at Oracle and VMware.
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