MSSPs, Let’s Get Vertical! Q&A with Fortinet’s U.S. Vertical Sales Executive

Digitally generated image of man standing on staircase in front of neon portal. Concept of chosing the right path.

For managed security service providers (MSSPs), vertical markets have stories all their own but with the universal theme of “huge opportunity.”

Each industry vertical has different characteristics and situations. However, all require strong, modern cybersecurity solutions as their organizations embrace digital acceleration.

So now is an excellent time to explore the opportunities for MSSPs in vertical markets. In short, let’s get vertical!

Author: Michael O’Brien, regional VP – strategic routes to market, Fortinet.
Author: Michael O’Brien, regional VP – strategic routes to market, Fortinet.

The first in a four-part series, this article is a general overview of how MSSPs can capitalize on vertical markets. In the upcoming months, we’ll have three additional MSSP Alert posts that will take an individual deep dive into the most promising and active industry verticals for cybersecurity: healthcare, retail, and operational technology (OT).

To help us navigate this expansive terrain, I’m calling in a Fortinet colleague to be our expert guide. Shawn Reilly is the regional vice president of Vertical Sales in the U.S. I recently interviewed Shawn. Below are the highlights of our conversation:

MICHAEL O’BRIEN (MO): Shawn, I understand you have a mission statement for the Fortinet vertical sales team.

SHAWN REILLY (SR): Yes, I do. Our mission is to help customers solve cybersecurity and networking challenges by demonstrating that we deeply understand their specific industry and provide a tangible connection between the solutions we offer and the business outcomes they require.​

MO:  That’s great. How do you apply those goals to MSSPs?

SR: MSSPs that want to crack open the door to vertical industry markets need to gain specific knowledge of what makes the organizations in these verticals tick. Why? Because ​vertical maturity equals customer confidence.

At Fortinet, we know that when we enhance our vertical maturity and work with the right partners — ones that have expertise in the specific vertical — customer confidence will increase significantly. This in turn removes risk and doubt from the buying process and can lead to increasing sales wins for our MSSPs.

MO: Do you think there’s a common misconception that MSSPs have about verticals?

SR: Yes. Some partners look at verticalization as a distraction, but it's not. Many are already creating “use cases” for their solutions inside specific industries. This is a form of verticalization. The problem is they look at it only on a use-case basis and stop there. Some think you have to hire an entire new sales force of vertical experts, which is not the case. You could create a smaller overlay team that can assist the existing sales force with the expertise needed.

When you start to peel back the covers and really start to ask these potential customers questions about their specific industries, you discover it’s not just about understanding their products. It’s also important to have a deep understanding their end-goals and overall business needs. It's really how we're inserting these products into their initiatives to create outcomes.

MO: How do your salespeople and partners build credibility with potential customers?

SR: When we speak to prospects in their “native language”— and create a tangible connection between what is it that they do for a living and how our product can help them do their job — that creates immediate credibility. We’re taking a solution-based approach. It’s completely different from others that are talking in a product-based marketing approach and trying to sell something.

We focus on solutions because prospective customers can read a white paper or read web copy about products. But it can be hard for partners to articulate why our solution sets are solving problems inside specific industries. The “why” that Fortinet offers sets us apart.

MO: So talking in a common vertical language—or talking in their industry’s language—is the quick path to credibility?

SR: Oh, it completely is. Also, we understand that time is not limitless. We don’t want to lead by asking questions like:

  • Do you have a firewall?
  • When was the firewall last updated?
  • When is the firewall up for renewal?
  • When was the last time you looked at your managed services contract?

All these things are important questions, but they're not the questions that are going to really get you a seat at the table with decision-makers and we certainly do not want to waste prospects’ time.

We understand the need to enter the meetings with a perceived understanding, and asking probing questions like, “Our current customers are experiencing high demand from their customers for always-on applications and payment offerings with little to no downtime. What is your strategy around this today?”

MO: How is selling different when you're in a vertical?

SR: All these prospects have A, B, and C funding buckets for their projects. The C buckets might or might not get approved, so we want to get our solutions into the A and B buckets. If you’re an MSSP, you want to be considered as a serious option. You need to come to the table with some significant value-based approaches as to why they need your cybersecurity solution; why they need your networking technology; why they need your SASE; or why they need your MSSP versus another. If your approach is specific to the prospect’s industry, you're much more likely to be in that A and B bucket as opposed to the C or D ones.

MO: So you’re saying the ability to demonstrate business value is rooted in the understanding of the vertical industry?

SR: If you're an MSSP that has trained people in a specific industry, you should go to the table speaking on that experience to that customer right out of the gate. The credibility is there. They understand that you understand their business and that their time isn't going to be wasted. Not to mention, they're going to get value out of the meeting and the specific approach to solving a problem.

Keep an eye out for next month’s Fortinet MSSP Alert article, when we’ll take a deep dive into the retail industry vertical market.

Author Michael O’Brien is regional VP, strategic routes to market, Fortinet. Read more Fortinet blogs hereRegularly contributed guest blogs are part of MSSP Alert’s sponsorship program.