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Five rules for surviving life at a VAR

In this post from his blog Security Incite, security analyst Mike Rothman offers insight and advice to a fellow colleague who is making a career move from security management to a Value Added Reseller (VAR).

The following is a post from security analyst Mike Rothman's blog Security Incite. Learn more about Mike and his blog at the bottom of this post.

I'm very happy for my blogging buddy Michael Farnum, who is leaving security management-land to join the wild, woolly world of the reseller community. In this post, Michael goes through his personal selection criteria on what was important to him and why ultimately he decided to go with Accuvant.

All of these are good thoughts, and he seems to be going into the situation with his eyes open. I hope. So not to be Mr. Wet Blanket because I know a lot of people who are very happy being a pre-sales engineer for a VAR, but let me point out the reality of a couple of things Michael will have to deal with.

And of course, I think these tips are applicable to more than just Michael, or else I would have just sent him a note.

You've got a number -- Whether you are in pre-sales or carry the bag yourself, ultimately you have a number. That number is based upon the margin you bring into the organization. And you are expected to get to that number because it pays your salary. That may create issues with "high pressure sales" and selling what pays high margin, as opposed to what the client needs.

SPIFs and promotions -- Vendors (especially ones that are breaking into the channel) tend to make it attractive to sell their box. There are lots of kick-backs (I mean incentives) and promotions to move the boxes. At time, they can be hard to pass up. In the past I've used fancy trips, Rolexs and cold hard cash. I wasn't playing with the ethics of the reseller, I was trying to create urgency in the community to move boxes.

Pressure from corporate -- Pressure to push one product or another will happen. It happens in every organization. Of course, some more than others. But be wary of it and learn how to deal with it. So what's the best way to prosper and thrive in this kind of environment?

Rule #1: Do the right thing for the customer. ALWAYS. Yes there will be pressures and you may be able to make more money in the short term by pushing something with a good SPIF but you will have to support it, and if you want to sell anything to that customer again, you better do right by them.

Rule #2: Tell them the truth. If the customer is on the verge of doing something stupid, tell them. You may lose the sale because there will always be someone that will take the money, but that person will remember what you said and work with you the next time. That is if their head is still attached to their body. The users I've worked with don't want yes men. They get enough of that out of the vendors trying to move their wares. The reseller's job is to help them make the best decisions.

Rule #3: Pick a few products and learn them back and forth. You'll never be as deep as the vendor's sales rep, and you can't possibly know everything about every product on the line card. But you want to be known as a specialist in a few products. The go to guy for a few hot categories. Then other folks within the organization will lean on you for expertise and you have a chance to move up the ranks.

Rule #4: Cut your losses. Referring to my third point, if you pick the wrong product to get deep on (and it will happen), don't go down with the ship. If the post-sales support is crap, or they get bought by a big company that is going to screw things up (like most of them do), then find an alternative and find it quick.

Rule #5: See Rule #1. Remember that your loyalty is to the customer. Not the vendor and not even to your own organization. There are a billion resellers out there and as you develop a loyal and profitable customer base they will follow you wherever you go.

And finally, have fun. Some days suck. You will lose deals. You will miss your number. But if you aren't having fun, then find something else to do. Life is too short.

Good luck amigo, I hope this helps, even a little.

About the author
Mike Rothman

You can check out what Mike's ranting about today on his Web site (, by reading his blog via RSS ( or by subscribing to the Daily Incite newsletter (send email to dailyincite (at) securityincite (dot) net).

Mike Rothman is President and Principal Analyst of Security Incite, an independent information security research firm. Having spent over 15 years as an end-user advocate for global enterprises and mid-sized businesses, Mike's role is to educate and stimulate thought-provoking discussion on how information security contributes to core business imperatives. Prior to founding Security Incite, Mike was the first network security analyst at META Group and held executive level positions with CipherTrust, TruSecure, and was a founder of SHYM Technology. Mike is a frequent contributor for TechTarget and a highly regarded speaker on information security topics.

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