Partner enablement

Nidal Othman, managing director, StarLink discusses the company’s multi-faceted channel approach and how it is developing its security business by helping partners to develop some domain expertise.

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Partner enablement Othman wants StarLink to sharpen its partner focus in the MEA region.
By  Manda Banda Published  December 11, 2013

Nidal Othman, managing director, StarLink discusses the company’s multi-faceted channel approach and how it is developing its security business by helping partners to develop some domain expertise.

Channel: What is StarLink’s channel strategy for the Middle East region?

NO: StarLink’s channel strategy for the Middle East region is a multi-faceted one as we have three types of partners and 18 vendors within our value-add distribution (VAD) portfolio. The partners that we work with are defined as Strategic Partners, Partners and Resellers. Strategic partners are those that align very closely with us for mulitple solutions within our portfolio and commit to revenue, and invest in growing the business by allocating dedicated sales and technical resources to the partnership. They are essentially security focused large systems integrators. The Partners tier usually comprises security-focused VARs and service providers that align with StarLink on one or more technologies, but do not usually commit to revenue goals and have a limited pool of resources to share across all vendors and distributors they work with. The Reseller category covers organisations that are typically opportunistic and do not align on any specific technology area with StarLink.

Channel: What is your vision for the Middle East value-added distribution business and how do you cover this massive geography?

NO: Our vision for the Middle East VAD segment is to continue bringing best-of-breed next-generation security technologies to the region and most importantly, to be a ‘true VAD’ to vendors, partners and customers. What this essentially means is that to each party, StarLink operates like an extension of their team. To our vendors, many of them do not need to have any local presence at all because StarLink is able to offer end-to-end expertise for the vendors’ solutions including sales, pre-sales, implementation and support. To our partners, many do not have the resources or skill sets to position, deploy or support all of the technologies that they align with StarLink. We have dedicated product managers for each vendor in our portfolio so that each gets 100% focus to achieve the revenue, channel, marketing and training goals.

Channel: What has been StarLink’s channel focus for 2013 in the Middle East region?
NO: The main channel focuses for 2013 in the Middle East have been partner recruitment, clear segmentation of our partners into the defined categories that include Strategic partners, Partners and Resellers. In addition, we have paid particular attention to aligning our own channel activities with Strategic partners and Partners.

Channel: How many active channel partners do you have across the Middle East region?

NO: Today, we maintain approximately 70 partners (Strategic Partners and Partners) across the Middle East, Turkey and Africa regions. From the total, 55 of them are in the Middle East region. As mentioned earlier, there are many additional Resellers as well but there is no strategy at the moment in terms of a formal programme of managing them since they operate opportunistically.

Channel: Last year, the Middle East IT market witnessed unprecedented business in the IT security segment largely driven by the need for companies to protect their enterprise networks. How is StarLink raising its brand across the MEA region?

NO: StarLink as an organisation is 100% security focused. We always have been, and will continue to be the trusted security advisor for our partners and their customers in the market. From a brand perspective, our previous success is not only attributed to our strong focus in security and extensive on the ground coverage, but also because of our marketing engine. Marketing is considered the lifeblood of our business and we rely very heavily on public relations, communications, events, telemarketing, email campaigns, focused workshops and other activities that drive lead generation and create brand awareness with partners.

Channel: How have you segmented your channel business in the Middle East region?

NO: As far as partners are concerned, our Strategic partners typically operate in the enterprise and government segments of the market while those in the Partner category are usually vertical-focused. Depending on the size of the market we typically aim to have between two to five Strategic partners and Partners in each country. We still don’t have any strategy for Resellers.

Channel: Does StarLink offer a channel partner programme in the Middle East market?

NO: Yes the StarLink Channel Partner Programme emulates what a vendor programme would usually offer partners. The advantages to the different type of partner organisations range from channel management focus, a range of discount levels, opportunity protection, credit facilities, payment terms and other benefits. Of course our full menu of marketing, sales and technical services are offered to all channel partners as is required by them.

Channel: What value-added services and offerings is StarLink pushing in the regional channel?

NO: We have been raising our brand awareness activities through public relations campaigns, events, telemarketing, email campaigns, focused workshops, direct sales engagements along with our partners. In addition, we offer technical presentations, product demonstrations, providing demo equipment, proof of concept (PoC) deployment, implementation, level one and two support. All these offerings are optional but are available to the entire channel and are selected by channel partners based on their needs.

Channel: How challenging has the Middle East IT security market been for Star-Link and its channel partners?

NO: This may sound clichéd, but it has not been challenging at all other than the expected fallout observed from the global recession in 2008 from which everyone experienced. We are privileged to be in a space of the security market that has high barriers to entry, requires strong expertise which we have invested in. In addition, with the current threat landscape and compliance regulations impacting this region, these are the two main drivers for our business and that of our channel partners.

Channel: How big is grey marketing a threat to StarLink’s security business in the Middle East region?

NO: This is not a concern at all for StarLink because firstly, essentially all of StarLink’s solutions are niche and are not commoditised to even have a flourishing grey market. Secondly, a large majority of our solutions are software-only, again removing the grey market capability for those products.

Channel: What are the core vertical markets that your company is targeting in the MEA region?

NO:  We cater to the banking and finance, telco, oil and gas, healthcare, education and government entities.

Channel: Does StarLink have subsidiaries in other countries in the MEA region?

NO: StarLink has sales and technical operations in 14 locations in the Middle, Turkey and Africa region. We have physical offices in Dubai (the headquarters), Abu Dhabi, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey and South Africa. We also have in-country presence without an office in Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Depending on growth in the countries mentioned where we do not have offices yet, we may look at setting up subsidiaries there in the near future.

Channel: Where will majority of your growth come from in the Middle East market this year and in 2014?

Our growth in the region will mainly come from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.

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