Meet the Winners: Q&A with WatchGuard SVP of marketing and channel Michelle Welch

Josh Budd
clock • 6 min read
Meet the Winners: Q&A with WatchGuard SVP of marketing and channel Michelle Welch

Winner of Security Partner Program of the year at this year's Channel Innovation Awards, WatchGuard Technologies' SVP of marketing and channel, Michelle Welch, discusses how COVID has changed the industry for the long term, and silver linings during a tough year.

This article is part of a Meet the Winners Q&A series following the Channel Partner Insight's Channel Innovation Awards. Click here to see all of the award winners.

What has been your personal highlight of 2020?

I am going to cheat and provide two. My husband and I both travel frequently for work, and the silver lining of 2020 has been seeing each other daily for last nine months. Throughout this time, we've carved out new traditions, including cooking together, taking long walks, book time, and more. Before this year, I don't remember the last time we saw each other for nine days consecutively. I have enjoyed the extra time with him and our fur-baby immensely. Looking outside of my personal bubble, the highlight of my year has been watching people I have known for years adapt and change almost overnight to overcome the many obstacles that came with the pandemic - partners reinventing their portfolios or service models, employees adopting new tools and tactics at record speed, family members embracing technology and building new traditions. These moments delight me and inspire me every time I see them. It is a very good reminder that the only constant is change. While many people shy away from, or even fear change, this pandemic should remind all of us that we are all very capable of not only surviving change but also thriving in the face of it.

What has been the biggest challenge for your business this year?

As a 100% channel-focused company, WatchGuard's biggest challenges have always mirrored those of our global community of partners. In 2020, partners faced challenges with new pipeline development and maintaining expected revenue from existing clients. These are two areas that will likely continue to present difficulties for our MSPs in 2021 and beyond. In the wake of the global pandemic, companies will continue to shutter, while those that are still operating (even very well) will be looking to reduce costs and long-term commitments. This can be a very dangerous combination, but it's one that we're well-equipped to help our current and future partners overcome. Our partners' challenges and successes are WatchGuard's too, so we are ready and willing to continue rolling up our sleeves to help partners with business development, reducing costs through consolidation and reinventing their processes and business models to be more attractive for customer retention and growth.

How has COVID changed your business long term?

Like most other companies, the onset of COVID-19 forced WatchGuard to operate more flexibly. The health and well-being of our community is our top priority, so we have been watching closely since day one to assess and respond to both the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on our employees, customers, and partners. This nimble approach has allowed WatchGuard to maintain business continuity throughout this fluid and evolving crisis. We're currently operating almost entirely remotely across the world and will continue to do so until official health and safety guidelines deem it safe to reopen.

From a product and technology standpoint, COVID-19 and the resulting rise of remote work has placed a great deal of importance on endpoint security. The growing desire for security consolidation was what initially kick started WatchGuard's decision to acquire advanced endpoint protection provider Panda Security in June 2020. Our partners and customers have consistently listed enhanced endpoint security as one of the top solution categories they wanted to see from WatchGuard over the last several years. That said, the spread of the virus and the resulting acceleration of distributed, remote work has made endpoint security orders of magnitude more important for businesses around the world and for WatchGuard itself. We will continue to focus heavily on providing endpoint defenses fit to meet the needs of a post-COVID world, and more broadly, to invest in delivering the new security solutions our partners and customers need to ensure total security as the threat landscape evolves.

What technology or app has been most valuable to you during the pandemic?

WatchGuard has always been equipped to allow employees to work from home, so we've had the necessary collaboration and remote work tools in place for some time. While we all miss seeing each other in person every day, the transition to remote work has been smooth because of those existing tools and infrastructure. WatchGuard employees are leveraging video conference services, internal chat systems and more to stay in touch and work together during this difficult time.

What are your top predictions for 2021?

Throughout 2020, the global pandemic has rapidly accelerated the existing shift toward remote work, forcing employees to operate beyond the protection of the corporate firewall. In turn, hackers will exploit vulnerabilities found in the gaps between people, their devices, and the corporate network throughout 2021. This means there will be new challenges for MSPs, as well as opportunities to better support customers.

There are a few trends that will have a significant impact on the security channel in particular. First, we predict that the rise in remote work will cause cybercriminals to infest home networks with worm-enabled malware designed to identify and use VPN connections to infiltrate corporate networks. MSPs must ensure that customers' VPN infrastructure meets remote work demands, and that connections from home-based devices don't become a backdoor into their corporate network. Deploy a strong EPP suite (such as WatchGuard AD360) to defend off-network devices, and offer a managed detection and response (MDR) service to monitor employees' home-based machines for malicious activity. Make sure that your VPN offerings include an endpoint health check before allowing connections back to headquarters. This way, the worms used by attackers to target employees' off-network home devices as an entry point into corporate networks.

Second, we believe that attackers will leverage automation to drive a tidal wave of spear phishing campaigns next year. To combat this spike in volume, MSPs should deploy DNS filtering solutions (like WatchGuard DNSWatch) to prevent users from reaching bad links they click on, as well as advanced malware protection services (like WatchGuard AD360 or APT Blocker and IntelligentAV on our Fireboxes) to identify and strip the evasive malware documents typically attached to spear phishing messages.

These are just a few examples of the attack trends and techniques we expect to see in 2021. Check out the full list of our 2021 Cyber Security Predictions here.

What does it mean to you to win Security Partner Program of the Year in this year's Channel Innovation Awards?

WatchGuard is a 100 per cent channel-focused business that's dedicated to becoming the security vendor of choice for the MSP community. We've made great strides over the past several years in delivering a security platform that simplifies every aspect of security delivery for our MSP partners, so it's incredibly gratifying to see those efforts validated with the Security Partner Program of the Year award. We believe WatchGuardONE is a channel program truly unlike any other, enabling MSPs with the flexibility, education, support and wide-ranging benefits they need to build profitable security businesses.

Our global partner community has grown dramatically following WatchGuard's acquisition of Panda Security in 2020, and we're now enabling every partner to provide complete security for their customers, from network to endpoint. We appreciate this recognition and will continue to consistently invest in evolving the WatchGuardONE program to meet the changing needs of our partners in 2021 and beyond.

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