On Monday, February 8, CRN announced its annual list of Channel Chiefs. This prestigious annual list celebrates the achievements of IT channel executives and managers in supporting both channel partners and customers.
This year, we're proud to share that two of our channel executives, Mark Fitzmaurice, Vice President of Worldwide Channel Sales, and Todd Debell, Director of Channels for the Americas, have been named to the list. I had the chance to interview Mark and Todd about their approach to strategy, their thoughts on how COVID-19 changed dynamics within the channel, and the future of the channel at ExtraHop and beyond.
Q: Mark, you've been working in channel sales for more than two decades. Can you share your thoughts on how the channel has changed over your career? What's the same?
MF: Channel partners have always represented leverage and scale for technology vendors. When I first started out in channel sales 25 years ago, that leverage was more linked to product-centric opportunities. Everything was on-premises, very little was services based, yet the product margins were huge. Fast forward to today and the as-a-service model dominates both IT and the channel. Customers want opex costs and services delivery models, and the channel has adapted to that reality.
What hasn't changed? Partners expect strong margins, and they should. It's how they run a successful business. That margin comes from new opportunities and expanded value into their accounts. Vendors have had to adapt how they work with the channel by allowing their channel partners to create value in a repeatable way, including services-led models for their customers. ExtraHop works hard to solve customer requirements while ensuring strong value to and through our channel partners. For example, when we launched Reveal(x) 360, our SaaS-based NDR solution, we worked closely with partners around the world to optimize our compensation and enablement models toward their success.
Q: Todd, security is a crowded market. Why is the channel important in helping customers cut through the noise to identify the right solution to meet their needs?
TD: Channel partners are uniquely suited to connect vendors and customers. Great channel partners know which customers have deployed which solutions. Partners have the expertise to understand how to round out a customer's technology stack with best-of-breed solutions. Partners see where the strengths are, where the gaps are, and they are uniquely positioned to implement best-of-breed solutions and not just one-size-fits-all options.
For a company like ExtraHop that has built a best-of-breed product at the forefront of an emerging category, having our channel partners' expertise and understanding of the security tech stack and customer environments is hugely valuable for us. They know how to build in ExtraHop as part of a bespoke solution. For us, that means more opportunities. For our customers, it means that they don't have to settle for out-of-the-box solutions.
Q: No interview these days would be complete without a question about COVID. We've heard a lot about how COVID-19 has affected public and private sector customers. How has it affected the channel?
MF: I was coming back from Australia last March when things really started to shut down. Over the course of that flight, so much of the way that business gets done was just completely upended. For sales teams generally and channel teams particularly, so much is relationship-driven. Face time matters. It builds rapport and trust like nothing else can. In spite of that, we found ways to work with and enable our partners that are really unique. Nothing replaces those interpersonal interactions, but I'm proud of our team's creativity in finding ways to connect to large groups and individuals under really difficult circumstances.
TD: Channel partners were suddenly bombarded with requests from customers whose needs changed overnight. The shift and interest to things like IoT security and management, WFH enablement, and remote access exploded. Partner relationships were key to connect with projects, data centers and budgets where ExtraHop solved immediate challenges with the expanded office from anywhere. Partners leveraged the ExtraHop attack lab and other resources to show off the power of ExtraHop's next generation technology around network visibility and the technical advantages of the security engine for pre- and post-breech support.
Q: As part of their 2021 Channel Chiefs coverage, CRN spotlighted how some big name software vendors took measures to support channel partners through the pandemic. Can you share some of the ways that we worked with our partners to help them navigate the crisis?
MF: When COVID-19 hit, we really stepped up our game. We enhanced our monthly partner webinar to anchor our agenda around timely issues like the shift to remote work, Ripple20, and SUNBURST SolarWinds––topics we knew customers were focused on, and where our channel partners could play an instrumental role in supporting them with ExtraHop.
We also launched an aggressive sales incentive for partners to identify and close new logos. Beyond the financial incentive, we armed partners with the exact tools, competitive differentiation, and content they needed to execute on that campaign. We know that it requires more than pointing your channel partners at a target. If you want them to be successful, arm them with the information and resources they need. ExtraHop invests considerable time and energy doing exactly that.
There's also a technical presales component. Supporting channel sales reps is only half the job. You also need to equip their technical presales and services teams with the right tools to be successful. When COVID hit, we amped up our technical enablement for our partners––not only strong technical documentation and assets, but webinars and one-on-one sessions specifically for their presales engineers and professional services teams, as well as office hours with our own technical teams. Justin Bauer leads our partner technical presales efforts globally, heavily supported by our field engineers and leadership. Partner presales enablement and field level engagement is baked into our culture.
TD: ExtraHop focused and invested in our channel partners and team members. This included driving technical updates within our partner base to support partner SE's with the new challenges the pandemic presented.
Q: Alright, we've looked back. Now let's look forward. Can you share some predictions for 2021—for the channel or otherwise?
MF: Expect to see further increases in channel appetite for consultative and managed services, including security offerings around detection and response. The ways customers consume security solutions continues to rotate toward services, and that's changing how the channel partners operate as well.
We also expect more participation from multiple channel partners in a single deal. That includes influence from large GSIs and technology alliance partners. Our ExtraHop ecosystem continues to expand in value and importance. We rarely do channel partner events without involving an ecosystem partner like CrowdStrike or AWS. Channel partners are demanding richer, more strategic solutions to take to their customers. That means best-of-breed solutions that integrate well, allow channel partners to add value, and have support from the vendor partner ecosystem.
TD: I think we're going to see three major themes continue into 2021: more partner consolidation, more global deals, and a need for creative financing. Partners are leveraging consolidation as a competitive differentiator. Why build when you can buy and accelerate their business goals?
There's also the globalization factor. Deals in 2020 were more global in scope, with customers having to consider GDPR and other compliance requirements. The channel will continue to play a major role in bringing the local and international expertise that both vendors and customers need to make sure they're prepared for these regulations.
Finally, creative financing and management were both essential elements to ExtraHop's success in 2020. With interest rates so low, partners with financing solutions and management solutions found projects and closed deals faster. Customers are looking at ways to get the most from the products using a smaller staff size—and to preserve cash as the uncertainty of the pandemic continues. Even as pandemic concerns ease, expect to see some of these approaches stick around.
Q: What does it mean to you to be on the Channel Chiefs list?
MF: It feels great. Being on the CRN Channel Chiefs list is great visibility for ExtraHop within the channel. Both Todd and I being included on this list speaks to our growth, visibility and relevance within today's partner community, and helps us build and deepen those relationships. It also validates how much our Panorama partner program has evolved and how much partner value it now delivers.
TD: It's an honor, but it's also a validation and a scale point for us. Mark Fitzmaurice, the ExtraHop leadership team, and our supporting channel and sales organization have made ExtraHop one of the most channel-friendly cybersecurity companies in the industry and the most friendly in the expanding NDR space. ExtraHop values partners and we continue to invest in a product to help partners secure that attack surface with confidence.