IN THE HOT SEAT: Looking after the little guys

IN THE HOT SEAT: Looking after the little guys

Londoner, Zoe Nicholson, has had a few changes in her life. With a background in IT hardware, a love of animals and an interest in overseas work, she moved around the world late last year to head up Sophos Australia channel sales. The move supports the UK security vendor's SMB push, which is still a fledgling market for the primarily enterprise-focused company.

What is your professional background and how long have you been in the role?
Zoe Nicholson (ZN):
Prior to joining Sophos UK nearly five years ago as an account manager I'd been with TekLogix Psion and Research Machines. At Sophos I eventually moved up to become a senior account manager looking after our largest VARs before being appointed channel sales manager earlier this year.

What are your main responsibilities?
I'm responsible for the Australia and New Zealand channel including account managers, resellers and partners. My focus is to grow and develop the Australian channel by providing our account managers with sales tools such as training and support. In the UK, Sophos had a developed channel so I've had to take a step back here to analyse how we can develop it rather than just managing it. For instance, the focus is different here because there are a lot more SMEs rather than large corporates for us to represent.

How is the Sophos channel set up in terms of distribution and resellers?
Our channel is made up of Resellers, Partners and Certified Partners. We do not have a local distributor.

With your declared SMB push, would you consider appointing a distributor that specialises in small business resellers?
You cannot ever rule it out and there are benefits. But on the reverse side there would be changes needed. Resellers like the fact they are dealing with the vendor. We have control of the product and can differentiate it by giving margin by value, for example. Resellers may have a many-to-one relationship with Sophos account managers but it is a skilled relationship.

I believe the local Sophos channel has recently been restructured. Can you tell me why and what has changed?
It started in April but it wasn't drastic. I wanted to firm up the existing structure and increase the quality of the skills. I also wanted to adapt our global model for the region so that we were all running under the same rules and regulations. Training was a big focus. We had to give our partners product and technical training to do pre- and post-sales.

We also introduced an online product training system, which every partner has to do. Prior to that, we found it very hard to reach the 600 accounts with two or three sales people. It also involved putting partners into the appropriate level that suits their business model and some resellers were moved between categories. We're not trying to drop people but rather to develop them.

Will you be undertaking any new channel strategies in the near future?
We are on an SMB reseller push and looking for up to 200 new partners during the year.

How can prospective partners benefit from a Sophos relationship?
We reward them on value as well as the volume of sales because we have lot of smaller resellers to look after. What I want to do is say: you are loyal to us, have done all the training, can do pre- as well as post-sales and, therefore, are of value to me. So I want to reward them on that basis rather than just rewarding the big guys that do a lot of dollars. I think that is where we differentiate ourselves.

What are the current market drivers for your technology?
Spam used to be a nuisance but now it's becoming criminal. Policies within companies are being driven by governing bodies that create stipulations about how people deal with email. They have to deal with spam policies a lot more so people are buying that product a lot more from us. As a result, we are working with bodies such as the Australian Communications Authority to ensure cyber crime is not as prevalent.

How are market conditions at the moment?
We have just had our largest quarter in Australia so we aren't complaining. There are some enterprise wins coming through and our renewal rate is exceptionally good.

What would you do for a living if you weren't in IT?
I'd look after abandoned animals or become a veterinary nurse. But at the moment I make do by occasionally looking after friends' dogs and horses!

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