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SonicWall CEO: Success will come from listening to partners

The recently appointed boss of the cyber security player reveals the importance of working with the channel and the need to keep the dialogue flowing

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: Vendors need to listen and learn

SonicWall has always prided itself in being a channel-focused vendor, and when Bob VanKirk stepped into the CEO role last August, he was determined to improve that reputation even further.

VanKirk has been at SonicWall for several years, most recently in the role of chief revenue officer, but got the chance to take the top job last summer, and has set out a strategy of listening, learning and working even more closely with its channel base.

One of his first moves was to align the internal operations even more closely with partners to make sure the channel could be well supported.

“I kind of flipped the sales team upside down to really make the team aligned with our partners,” he said. “Our partners are a force multiplier, one of our key differentiators. Not diminishing our product capabilities, but from the-go-to market standpoint, I really leaned into better aligning, and better listening to our channels where they were going with their businesses, requirements, needs and pain points.

“I call it being more outside end driven,” he said. “It’s not just about sales and aligning your partners, and how to better support, understand and listen, but it’s absolutely around engineering, product management, support and finance.”

VanKirk said understanding partners was key to making sure it was able to provide better technology and support. “It’s one thing to share a roadmap and another to have our partners shape that roadmap,” he said. “We can get to that point – there’s no question in my mind. We’ve become a very powerful company.”

SonicWall is able to lean on its extensive security research teams, but it has also been able to support partners and customers with additional benefits. “Throughout the pandemic we have been able to fulfil 95% of our orders within three days. No other vendor can attest to that,” he said, adding that partners needed to have product to sell if they wanted to drive growth.


A final area where the firm has made efforts to support the channel has been with pricing. “While others have raised prices, we actually implemented a programme that we rolled out over five years ago,” said VanKirk. “The thought was, again, about how we better support and align with our partners in these tough times. We rolled out a programme that actually reduced our prices by double digits.”

The vendor is coming off a strong couple of years, and there are no signs that security threats are reducing, with everyone a target. “The attacks aren’t slowing down,” he said. “They continue to escalate. We saw record attacks and ransomware here in the UK.”

It has also become clear that customers of all sizes and across all sectors are targets, and putting IT security investments on hold will only risk exposing users to more threats.

“What concerns me out of this year’s Threat report is the fact that attackers will pivot to where the opportunity is,” said VanKirk. “If anything, over the past couple of years, they’ve been leaning more and more towards the SMB space. All the more reason to be diligent there.”

The chance to make an impact as CEO is one he is enjoying, but VanKirk is acutely aware his success will rely on the performance of partners.

“In the past eight months, I’ve really focused on the rest of the business,” he said. “That has pushed me, but we brought in a new head of product and a new head of support, which is very important to our partners and customers. We brought in a new head of PM and we have a new culture. It starts with our focus outside in, and a focus on our partners and how we can better support, align and listen.

“‘Listen more, talk less’ has been one of my key mantras,” he said, adding that the willingness to be open to partners would strengthen the business. “We have work to do, but having the right team with the right mindset is the first key step with the leadership ... and hearing that first-hand from the partners is the icing on the cake. I tell the partners to keep the feedback coming throughout the year.”

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