Sunday, 27 April 2008

How do you solve a problem like EMEA?

If you were at InfoSec this week you will have noticed a few of the larger stands. For me, seeing companies like Juniper and F5 filling the show floor is comforting in some ways, but in others it indicates where there is work to be done.

If I was the CEO of a tech company looking at the successes of these guys I might think: "The way to tackle EMEA is to put in an office near London, staff it with sales guys and flood the market." Indeed, that is a tried and tested method, but not very successful. I mention these 2 companies specifically because I was lucky enough to work with them both when working in pre-sales at Equip Technology, their UK distributor a couple of years back.

Juniper of course built their success on their NetScreen firewall, and the reason for that success was its simplicity of administration. It sold in lorry-loads and was easily supported by the channel. I know probably 15-20 engineers who are qualified to support Juniper products, and as the company has grown, so has their product arsenal, their training capabilities, and their worth. I think they have a great model for the channel, which was the result of a lot of hard work, but not inconsiderable luck. They hit the market at the right time, and the product was simple enough to keep going locally.

F5 built their success on the fabulous BigIP and the family of products that can reside on one, the LTM, GTM, ATM, Link Controller and probably loads of others by now. When I left the channel they had just bought 4 new companies to fill their portfolio. I was a big fan, simply because they made the GUIs easy for administrators to understand and explain to others. The boxes usually worked and there were few things not possible with the help of iRules and iControls. Success here was down to the need to monitor and re-use infrastructure internally without messing too much with the front end. A bit more complex than the firewall, but easy to explain and justify the costs, this was a sales success more than a technical success, but sales success forces the technical side to keep up. As can be seen from the Juniper example above, the guys who put the work in are now very valuable engineers.

The sales for these pieces of kit were much fewer than with Juniper, but often much much larger. The last deal I was involved in for F5 kit was quoted at over £350k, for a number of devices. The margin on a deal like that is not inconsiderable, when you weigh up the fact that distributors are typically looking for 40% when they take on a new vendor.

So where does that leave everyone else? What about very technical products, or products where sales cycles are long and boxes aren't just shifted along like these guys have managed to achieve? If you've done the sales job in the US, the market doesn't automatically pick up on it over here. In fact, the whole sales job has to be done again, regardless of early adopters and good press. Relying on the channel is still possible, but without regular sales the salesmen soon get frustrated, and the technical guys forget what they have learned. For very technical products, encryption being my experience, this creates a problem which has to be managed very closely. Sales and technical people representing the vendor have to be available to go onsite on a weekly basis, just to keep the product in the minds of those pushing it out there.

This is hard to achieve from San Francisco, so very often an RSM is hired in the UK, they are of course given targets, usually unrealistic ones. They do not have technical skills, so an SE is hired, of variable quality. These 2 have to sell direct AND sell through the channel, 2 very different jobs which can spread them both too thinly, even if they are in constant communication. It is also very stressful, and involves a huge amount of travel, whether you feel like it or not, and whether it gains you anything or not. Selling direct for these long cycles is nerve racking and a thankless task, especially when it fails. However, if you hire someone to just cover the channel, what are they going to do for the other 3 days a week you are employing them?

At SecurEMEA we are helping technical companies address this gap cheaply and effeciently. Communication is key to our survival and success. Once we have helped develop a successful channel to market for a technology, we then aim to help build that company until it can stand on its own in the region. Maybe then you'll see a few more highly technical vendors on stands at InfoSec in the coming years.

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