Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 163

January 3, 2023

#163 Sonal Uban: Leading Cybersecurity with Open Ecosystem

Sonal Uban, Director of Marketing, Global Technology Alliances at Fortinet., joins Chip Rodgers on this Ecosystem Aces episode. Chip ...

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Joining Chip Rodgers in this episode of Ecosystem Aces is Sonal Uban, Director of Marketing, Global Technology Alliances at Fortinet.

As the largest cybersecurity company with an esteemed ecosystem model, Sonal discusses Fortinet's approach on the following topics:

  • Customer-first Company
  • Creating Joint Solutions
  • Partner Enablement Process
  • Scalability of Partnerships
  • Teamwork in Ecosystems

Customer-first Company

Fortinet has a large ecosystem with more than 300 tech partners and 500 integrations. At the heart of their network, they always take a customer-first approach when considering creating joint solutions with partners.

"We take a holistic product out to the customer. We're not just selling a piece or a single product–we want to deliver end-to-end security to customers," Sonal said.

Sonal shares that, with today's market, partners need to connect to co-innovate and co-create solutions that can bring value to customers throughout their entire experience. Today's co-selling models need to start with co-innovation.

The best way to identify joint solutions is to learn customer pain points and see which partners can solve them. When solutions from two or more companies are combined and customer pain points are resolved, that is the best time to develop your go-to-market product.

Sonal also shared how it’s so important to understand and work with partners as influencers in your ability to close business.

Creating Joint Solutions

Where do ideas come from for joint solutions?  

Sonal says that at Fortinet, products and solution ideas always come from customers. They may be routed through different channels like from partners, from product teams, from sales, or even c-level managers engaging with customers - but the true source is always from customers.

Paying attention to what customers want is essential. Aside from this, companies have to plan 5-10 years down the line and predict possible long-term requirements of clients by checking macroeconomic trends.

Partner Enablement Process

Partner enablement is critical for your joint success with partners. However, it’s important to understand that there tend to be two kinds of customers driving very different enablement needs.

The first kind of customer is those with near-term requirements, which most have urgent issues that need to be resolved.

Customers like this need better visibility and enhanced management capacity on each solution they have. Partner enablement is mainly focused on educating partners on the products being developed, thus, the use of simple assets like data sheets, solution briefs, and webinars.

Most of the work however is on the second kind of customer, who tends to think long-term.

She cited the rise of autonomous cars today as the development of their solutions could have started 20 years ago. For customers with ideas like this, companies must think about the right partners and the right joint solutions for these customers.

The partner enablement might require a complete product "evangelization" with all sales forces. To address these needs requires creating more strategic assets like white papers and other thought leadership assets. Enablement leans more on not just mastering go-to-market strategies but becoming experts in the field.

Scalability of Partnerships

Fortinet has shown remarkable scalability in its ecosystem. According to Sonal, scalability is about identifying and matching the partners to the appropriate journeys in the partnership.

On finding the right partners, Sonal reiterates its customer-first mindset. Fortinet prioritizes partners depending on their customer value–the innovation they can offer to provide holistic solutions to customers.

After identifying the partners, it's essential to know how compatible partners are with the company during the onboarding process. This includes identifying innovations they can offer and their willingness to reciprocate throughout the entire partnership.

Once onboard, partners should set goals and objectives they want to achieve together. From there, companies can plan go-to-market strategies with partners, including identifying their audience, customers, and verticals they should go after.

Ultimately, it comes down to the idea of defining the strength of partners, as each company has a niche to play. Furthermore, it is essential to build a program that gives partners what they need to achieve joint goals.

Teamwork in Ecosystems

In dealing with scaling internally, Sonal shared that her team has three primary focuses: onboarding, go-to-market, and verticals.

As mentioned earlier, the onboarding team determines the strength of each partner to provide complete solutions for customers.

The go-to-market team identifies how their team and their partners can build trust with customers to increase the win rate. From this, they start arming their partners with the right tools to co-innovate and the right assets to take into the market.

Their vertical focus team's activities lean more on scaling the business through partnerships. This includes doing a "plug-and-play" within the vertical to see the right partner for the solution.

Sonal said these three teams must connect with the sales team to take customer feedback and requirements. This way, they can assess the value of their solutions and see if they are enabling the salesforce correctly.

Wrapping Up

With customers and industry validation and organizations recognizing Fortinet's open ecosystem, Sonal can proudly say that they are one of the leading companies in partnering.

"When talking with customers, we're not just talking about Fortinet. We're talking about solutions and how to solve problems. And in almost all conversation is an ecosystem play," Sonal said

According to Sonal, an effective ecosystem's core is to give customers power through end-to-end solutions. This includes optimizing what they currently have and bringing key players to implement their entire idea.

Furthermore, Fortinet's goal is to be trusted advisers not just for the customers, but for their partners, too. This way, they can create a co-innovation cycle that supports ever-changing macro and micro-economic trends.

While there may be a mixed path toward an open ecosystem, Fortinet proves it boils down to placing customers first.

Follow Sonal Uban on Linkedin to stay updated on her work with Fortinet.

Links & Resources

To contact the host, Chip Rodgers, with topic ideas, suggest a guest, or join the conversation about modern partnering, he can be reached on Twitter, LinkedIn, or send Chip an email at:

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