From product selling to ‘providing solutions’

Channel Post speaks with Harish Chib, Vice President – Middle East & Africa at Sophos on driving a successful channel-only business and the challenges that it presents.

Harish Chib, Vice President – MEA at Sophos

What is your career history to date and key career achievements?

I have spent most of my career working in the IT security industry. One of my key achievements is spearheading the global expansion of Cyberoam (acquired by Sophos in 2014), with a customer base across 125 countries. I was responsible for overseeing the operations and worked with more than ten thousand partners and was able to acquire more than 60,000 customers for Cyberoam.

During my career, I successfully led the Global Sales and Business teams in Americas, EMEA and APAC. I also managed the channel marketing team and the global pre- and post-sales technical support team. Post Cyberoam acquisition, I took over the Middle East & Africa region for Sophos under the combined and larger organizational structure.

Today, I lead the channel business of more than 2000 partners and distributors, and a customer base in more than 50 countries with the help of my team of 54 people in 9 countries across the MEA region.

What are your roles and responsibilities in the company as a channel influencer?

My main focus is to align the MEA region with Sophos’ vision. At Sophos, we have well defined strategic goals. I have been given the opportunity to drive our strategic goals like providing innovative, simple and effective security solutions that deliver complete end-to-end cyber security capabilities in the MEA region.

My role is to lead the group’s pioneering synchronized security strategy, where the products share contextual information and thus enhance the protection available to its customers in the region. I am also responsible for ensuring that we are committed to our highly successful channel-only sales strategy by bringing simplicity in channel operations. I am focused on driving Sophos’s global business strategies that fit very well with the local needs of the market and also maintain our status as a leader in the security industry in the region.

One of my key result areas is to drive Sophos Central in the region. Sophos Central is a single, integrated cloud-based management and reporting platform that was launched for customers in order to derive benefits as cloud technology underpins our channel strategy for the region. It continues to enhance Sophos’ partner-centric management console, enabling partners to easily manage, update and configure the Group’s products. We have made a significant investment in providing partners with additional tools to help manage, grow and accurately understand their business.

What qualities should a channel influencer possess to lead the channel?

A channel influencer has to act as a bridge between his company and the partner ecosystem. The influencer should be able to design a forward-looking scalable channel business model that is complimenting the product category and company’s vision. He needs to establish clear roles and responsibilities for distributors and partners. He should invest in partner enablement activities like developing and enriching technical competency of Partner Sales Engineers for successful proof of concepts, solution mapping with customer requirements. And the most important aspect is the ability to build a sustainable, profitable and scalable business through a healthy partner ecosystem.

What is your advice on finding success in the channel?

For a channel to be healthy there has to be clear and honest communication within all the stakeholders involved.

Vendors should have a well-defined channel strategy that is based on long term business goals. This strategy should be complemented with an equally meticulous channel execution plan. They should not change plans based on short term gains.

Partners, especially those that deal with SMEs and Enterprises, should start moving away from a single product selling approach to a long term service based model.

While selecting vendors especially in the security domain, partners should go for a vendor that provides comprehensive security portfolio. This would be beneficial for their customers to have single window support. Partners can also reach the higher level of the partnership if they have multiple products from one vendor to be sold to their customer ecosystem.

How would you assess the current state of channel?

This is the state of transition especially for the security channel. Transition from product selling to providing solutions. We are glad that we have already started this transition for Sophos partners and I can proudly say that Sophos partners will evolve faster than the rest of the community in this transition.

What is the biggest challenge facing the IT channel in the region?

  • Choosing a wrong vendor who does not have 100% channel centric approach
  • Managing complex security from multiple vendors
  • Having a complex training and certification calendar program which does not focus on skills development

If you could improve one thing about the channel business what would it be?

End-to-End automation of system that facilitates partners for prospecting, solution mapping, selling, supporting and identifying cross sell and up-sell business opportunities.

How can partners work effectively to generate growth in the channel?

The increasing cyberattack surface, and the rapid growth and sophistication of these attacks is a challenge that needs to be dealt with. In order to address these challenges, vendors, distributors, resellers and retailers have to work in coordination. Vendors should provide IT security solutions that are one step ahead of cyber attackers, advanced and comprehensive, yet simple to deploy and maintain. Distributors, resellers and retailers should work towards securing their customers with such comprehensive security solutions.