Sophos emphasizes Channel Best strategy at Vegas Partner Kickoff

Sophos also introduced Project Darwin, their initiative to integrate the machine learning technology they acquired with Invincea last year, and which has been limited to their Intercept X solution, into their broader Synchronized Security offering.

Kendra Krause, Sophos’ Vice President of Global Channels

Cybersecurity vendor Sophos is making a concerned push in 2018 to convince the channel that they are the best security vendor to work with. At their recent Partner Kickoff at the Sophos Discover event in Las Vegas, the company emphasized this theme. They highlighted their transition from their long-time Channel First approach to what they are now calling a Channel Best approach. They also drew attention to their channel support programs – none of which are brand new, but some of which are recent, and one of which had not previously been formally announced. Last, and not least, they also announced Project Darwin, their initiative to bring the machine learning technology they acquired with Invincea in 2017, into their Synchronized Security platform.

“We used to talk Channel First as our strategy, emphasizing our 100 per cent channel approach,” said Kendra Krause, Sophos’ Vice President of Global Channels. “I’ve evolved that to a Channel Best strategy. A lot of vendors say that they are 100 per cent channel – but they aren’t the best vendor to work with.  I believe that’s what sets Sophos apart – that we are very easy to work with.”

Krause focused on the Channel Best strategy in her keynote, delivered to almost 600 Sophos partners at the invitation-only event, which was for Sophos’ top North American partners. Sophos’ overall global channel has grown from 30,000 partners to 39,000 partners during their latest fiscal year, paralleling their rise to over 300,000 customers, at the rate of over 10,000 new customers a quarter.

“The productivity of individual partners is also up,” Krause said. “We use a metric to define our most productive Blue Chip partners, classifying them as highly active if they have done 5+ transactions in the trailing six months. The number of these partners rose to 7000, up from 6100 in the previous fiscal year.” Partner cross-sell and upsell  rates also rose, from 129 per cent in the 2017 fiscal year, to 140 per cent in Fiscal Year 2018.  Another plus is that Sophos Central – Sophos’ dashboard for MSP partners – now has over 66,000 customers.

“Most of our partners are either already in managed services now, or are planning to move to it,” Krause said.

For Fiscal Year 2019. Krause said that the focus is further improving partner education and knowledge, and getting them to better leverage the resources that Sophos has available to help them build their businesses.

“We are giving them further access to Sophos threat experts, and to SophosLabs research and its real time data and analysis,” Krause said. “We are also making it easier for them to give their customers access to that.

“We have also improved the ability of partners to do content syndication, which is a quick and easy way for them to increase their Web traffic, and increase their security profile,” Krause added. The content syndication is available to all Sophos partners, and they have over 1000 partners now syndicating this content.

Also available to all Sophos partners is the Sophos Channel Service Center.

“It provides access to a team that will help them with things like cobranding documentation, or putting together road shows or other types of events.” Krause said. “That’s also available to all our partners.

“We also provide access to experts through our Competitive Intelligence team,” Krause added. “This is a team of industry and product experts that are available to partners to arm them with competitive information and battlecards to improve their ability to go up against specific competitors on deals.” The Competitive Intelligence service is available to Sophos Platinum partners – their top partner tier.

The Competitive Intelligence service is the newest of the Sophos support offerings, coming in since this same event a year ago. It has never actually been formally announced before this. The Competitive Intelligence and Channel Service Center have also been limited to North America before now, but are now being rolled out to other geos.

Getting partners to use these services, even when Sophos prominently endorses their use, can remain a challenge, Krause acknowledged.

“There are so many resources available to partners from all over,” she said. “It’s easy for the messaging to get lost. We think our offerings here have exceptional value, but the challenge is how to differentiate them to partners. When our partners do use them, they rave about them. But it is just a smaller percentage using them at this point and we want to expand that out. Our Partner Advisory Council has told us that partner-to-partner messaging is the best way to do this.”

On the product front, Krause emphasized the Synchronized Security opportunities available to partners.

“We are really focused on the Synchronized Security story,” Krause said. Sophos defines this as an ecosystem of integrated products managed from a central platform, where the products dynamically share information in a co-ordinated, mutually-aware manner.

“Our approach to Synchronized Security sets us apart from our competitors,” Krause said. “They  try and replicate what we do with partnerships, but we believe that the ecosystem is stronger if it is all from one vendor.”

The highlight here was Krause indicating Sophos’ plan to add the deep learning neural-network algorithms they acquired with Invincea a year ago to their Synchronized Security platform. Project Darwin is Sophos’ term for this initiative to bring machine learning to their Synchronized Security.

“Our machine learning capability is in Intercept X, which we have been selling as a standalone solution since the acquisition,” she said. “What we will be doing is taking that technology into our Synchronized Security, so that it will be involved with our XG firewall and our central endpoints talking to each other. It will help things be more predictive.

“The theme of this event was “See the Future,” and we talked a lot about predictive security – why it’s better for customers and a better offering for partners,” Krause stated. “We think that this, and our overall channel strategy, are what differentiates Sophos.”