Channel partners are an extension of Sophos in India: Sunil Sharma

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Our channel partners are almost like an extension of Sophos in India. Over the years, we have built strong relationships with our channel partners,” says Sunil Sharma, MD – Sales, Sophos India and SAARC.

For most vendors, whether it be software or security, channel partners continue to play a crucial role in driving these companies and their offerings into the markets globally.

But the rise of cloud technology has impacted the traditional channel partner business model with the addition of new partners in the form of Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).

However, this hasn’t lessened the significance of channel partners among companies and their dependency, whether it be software vendors or security providers. And this is also true for global cybersecurity solutions provider Sophos – a 100% channel-driven company.

In this interview, Sunil Sharma, MD – Sales, Sophos India and SAARC talks to TechHerald on the significance of channel partners for Sophos in the Indian market. He discusses Sophos’ channel business strategy in 2021, its partner ecosystem and growth in India and the engagements with MSPs and CSPs in offering security to customers.

Edited excerpts…

Q1. How much Sophos relies on channel partners in driving the business and serving customers in India? And what has been the overall strength of these channel partners?
Sunil Sharma: Sophos is a 100% channel-driven company. All our business is conducted through the channel partners and we serve all our customers in conjunction with them only. Our channel partners are almost like an extension of Sophos in India. Over the years, we have built strong relationships with our channel partners and we are committed to growing this ecosystem further.

As a result of our various partner enablement programmes including periodic training, our channel partners are highly proficient in Sophos’ next-generation security solutions and services. This has been our biggest strength-jointly as the vendor and the channel. In India, we have a strong channel base of more than 3,000 partners because of this, we have been able to protect organisations of all sizes and verticals with our solutions and services.

Q2. When it comes to channel partners in India, can you share some insights on the types of partners that closely work with Sophos?
Sunil Sharma: At the structural level, Sophos works with various partner tiers including authorised partner, silver partner, gold partner, platinum partner and sub-distributors. We also closely work with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) as our partners.

And above all these, we have distributors. These partners work towards pre-determined goals according to their respective tiers. In addition, we also have discount and incentive structures designed based on the tiered- structure of our partners.

We also work closely with partners that specialize in operations for a particular sector or size of the organisation. For example, certain partners are well versed with the BFSI segment, whereas certain partners are with SMBs and startups.

Q3. What is Sophos’ channel strategy in 2021?
Sunil Sharma:
Our channel strategies are well designed and driven through our global partner programme. Our strategies emphasize the following parameters:

Simplicity and Transparency: The Sophos Global Partner Program is comprehensive but simple. It clearly defines and informs our channel partners on the registration process, enablement tools, training, and growth path opportunities available through the program.

Partner Profitability: Our partner program rewards commitment to Sophos. The more partners are committed, the more profitability they can achieve. Partners can attain profitability under two aspects of our partner program:

  1. Tiered Discounts: We provide tiered discounts aligned to respective partner tiers: authorised partner, silver partner, gold partner, platinum partner and sub-distributors. These discounts help partners built consistent profitability.
  2. Margin Retention Opportunities: ‘Deal Registration’ and ‘Incumbency’ are the arrangements to provide margin retention to our partners. Deal Registration helps partners to secure upsell, cross-sell and new customer opportunities. Incumbency helps them with renewing customers.

Partner Enablement: The training modules under our partner program enables partners to be responsive to the changing needs of today’s cybersecurity. These training empower our partners to tackle common trends that are impacting our industry, such as customers moving to the cloud, increased consumption of managed services across the full security spectrum, and of course the proliferation of advanced and targeted attacks.

To enable our partners, Sophos provides certification for each important role: Certified Sales Consultant, Certified Engineer, Certified Architect, and Certified Technician.

Q4. How has been the growth in terms of partner numbers in India in recent years? And which types of partners suit Sophos’ overall business and taking security offerings to customers in the Indian market?
Sunil Sharma: Channel business is a bit different and its growth cannot be measured merely in terms of the number of partners. The real measure of growth for a channel-driven company is how many partners are actively working to promote your solutions to their customer base. This is the area where Sophos has made tremendous growth in the last one and a half years.

Though we continuously grow our channel in terms of new partners that we add, we also make sure that we grow deeper with each partner that we have onboarded so far. All our partner enablement programs have empowered them to be trusted security advisors for the organisations they serve.

Q5. In aftermath of the pandemic, there’s been manifold adoption of digital among consumers as well as businesses and enterprises along with cloud services globally. So what has been Sophos’ engagement with MSSPs and CSPs in India?
Sunil Sharma: The demand for accelerated digital transformation post the pandemic has made organisations move towards cloud adoption and managed services. At Sophos, we address both these trends through our channel partners. We address managed service trends through our MSP partners, and we provide cloud security through our partners that deal in this domain.

Sophos MSP Connect is our dedicated program for managed service providers, where they can meet all security needs of their customers by providing Sophos’ next-generation security solutions. By working with only one vendor, MSPs can provide Sophos’ complete portfolio of security solutions and services – that work together and are integrated – to their customers.

The Sophos Central security platform is at the heart of Sophos MSP Connect. Designed with MSPs in mind, the Sophos Central Partner dashboard lets MSPs manage all of their customers and control all of their Sophos products through a single pane of glass.

For the organisations looking for cloud security, Sophos helps our partners to provide cloud security on a shared responsibility basis. We emphasize that cloud security is a shared responsibility, where the cloud provider takes care of the security of the cloud and Sophos helps organisations with the security of assets that organisations put in the cloud.

Sophos’ next-generation security solutions help organisations to cover security, compliance and configuration monitoring controls around all cloud assets, cloud infrastructure, to protect against the range of potential cyberattacks.

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