Appgate: Vendors Need to Tackle Direct Sales Culture When Building a Channel

Vendors need to bridge the gap between direct salespeople and partners, says Appgate’s Fiona Doak.

Christine Horton, Contributing Editor

September 29, 2021

4 Min Read

Vendors need to do more to tackle the cultural divide when moving from direct sales to a channel strategy.

So says Fiona Doak, director of channel sales, EMEA, at cybersecurity vendor Appgate. Doak is currently charged with building out a channel strategy in Europe.

Doak says vendors need to prove to the sales team that the channel can deliver opportunities. This is especially true when targeting enterprise and large to midmarket prospects.

Language plays an important part, she says.


Appgate’s Fiona Doak

“I tend to use direct touch more than direct selling,” said Doak. “I think that resonates better with both the direct teams and the channel. It bridges that gap and prevents that old experience we’ve all had when organisations sell direct and have a channel. That’s a very difficult bridge to build.

Doak says she has faced the challenge of overcoming a culture that favoured a direct sales strategy in the past. She said there was “a real divide” between the direct and channel sales teams.

“In certain circumstances, it’s the way it’s always been and the way they’ve always worked. Unless you drive a change, there that’s the way it will always be,” she said.

However, she was able to convince the sales team, ingrained in a direct sales culture, to believe in the channel.

Building up trust with partners is essential too, said Doak.

“From a channel in a direct perspective you can live and die by how you treat the channel,” she said. “One of the ways to build trust is to work a deal together. Partners appreciate that and will more often than not be doubly loyal back. However, if they have been not treated well, [or] had deals taken directly that they worked on, that lives with a partner for a long time. That’s something that I would emphasise that we are doing; we are bridging that gap in Appgate.

“It is a cultural change,” she added. “If you are an organisation that’s very serious about bridging that gap, it has to come from the heart.”

Incentivising Direct Touch Teams

Doak also stressed the importance of incentives for direct selling teams to work with the channel.

“The incentive for direct touch teams working with the channel is that they will have a wide net in terms of customers, opportunities and different verticals.

“Time after time after time, I’ve stood in front of direct touch teams. I’ve said, ‘Make friends with the partners, help them, go stand shoulder to shoulder with them.’ You will find you will build a natural friendship or relationship with that partner, and they’ll remember that. It’s a very natural way of developing a relationship within the partner to support your direct touch methodology.”

However, Doak says, “there’s no silver bullet” to switching from direct to channel sales. But the onus is on the vendor “to build that cultural piece into the whole sales organisation.”

Building an EMEA Channel

Appgate had some partners in EMEA but there was no formal channel structure prior to Doak joining in March. Doak is now tasked with building a partner channel, “because we haven’t really focused on that yet.”

“Although I work with a team of direct salespeople, they see the value of the channel,” she said.

Doak added they are “forging wider and deeper relationships with the channel” and “building a different route to market.”

“I never like to talk about quantity of partners because I think it’s about the quality of partners. It’s about identifying the right partners to work with. I’m not a big fan of tiering programs and all of those things. I’m much more a fan of, ‘Are we a good fit?’ It’s about shared vision.

“But I think right now, the world has changed significantly and people are looking to work very differently. Zero-trust network access (ZTNA) is a very hot subject. It therefore makes my job slightly easier. There is that mutual appetite, and that’s really important with a channel strategy.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Christine Horton or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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About the Author(s)

Christine Horton

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Christine Horton writes about all kinds of technology from a business perspective. Specializing in the IT sales channel, she is a former editor and now regular contributor to leading channel and business publications. She has a particular focus on EMEA for Channel Futures.

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