10 minutes with Tony Ball, SVP Payment & Identity Business and Global Channel Identity & Access Management at Entrust

What was your first job?

My first job was as a trainee buyer for a company called Airwork. I worked there for a year and was responsible for the procurement of all manner of materials for aircrafts – from entire wings to the nuts and bolts that would hold the engine in place. It taught me a great deal about the integrity of the supply chain and the true meaning of priority for an “aircraft on ground” AOG.

How did you get into Channel marketing?

My first experience in Channel was when I got headhunted away from the work I was doing running the payment and identity business for an organization in EMEA. I was recruited by an access control firm looking for someone to build out their Channel program. The program needed restructuring and a go-to-market strategy from the ground up. We had to dive in and figure out what motivated our Channel partners. Our relationships needed cultivation, and our partners needed training and development and clear incentives to perform with product and solution priorities established. We built out the program based on fundamentals and took the business from $55 Million to $650 Million by the time I left. From there, I joined Entrust to lead the Instant Identity business and took on the challenge to build a world-class program learning from past experiences. The key difference was incorporating a strong digital component that is going through a revolution, and rearchitecting the program to meet the needs of our Channel partners, their clients and projecting us as “one Entrust”.

Best day on the job ever?

The best day I’ve had on the job was the culmination of taking our program here at Entrust from barebones through a digital revolution when we invited our premier Channel partners together in London and introduced to them the next generation of physical and digital solutions from Entrust. We first provided an augmented reality demonstration of the next-generation solution in an intimate setting with our senior leadership present. When I first met many of them, I had convinced them to continue to invest in us with the promise of future innovation as we were behind in our product and solution offer. The excitement was palpable, and the fact that over two years later we delivered on that promise and our mutual loyalty has been more than rewarded with an industry leading experience.

Biggest thing that’s changed in the industry since you started?

The transition from physical to digital-first solutions has been the biggest change I’ve seen across the industry. It sounds like such an obvious change, but to some degree it’s not, especially when dealing with a broad spectrum of partners with differing levels of maturity, capability and appetite for growth. Some partners who were previously interested in reselling only printers, now want to grow their business and be enabled to resell authentication, signing, PKI and other digital solutions. A big challenge is building a program that enables continuity for some, complimentary business for others, and total disruption of their industry in some cases. Getting the balance with reward, behaviour, preferred outcome for both parties and continued growth requires a cultivation of program and relationship that is a 24/7 challenge that we are clearly up for. The addition of COVID-19 challenges has clearly shone a spotlight on the importance of getting this right as many physical business models came to a grinding halt, but with investment, communication and a long term view we were able to navigate this together as a community.

Best ever deal?

When working with partners you need to understand that you have to earn the right to have a seat at the table with them. For example, I was working with a partner in Asia, one that had built their central issuance business over 30 years. I travelled out to meet them and start building a relationship and after several days together, they decided to take a leap of faith with us and take a chance on reselling desktop solutions so they could provide a new service to banks and the government in identity issuance. It completely transformed their business model and its proof you can change the way you do business if you have partners you can trust and who trust us.

How has the pandemic changed your priorities?

Honestly, the pandemic hasn’t changed my priorities. I will always be focused on the well-being of our partners and their ability to trust us and be enabled by us no matter what outside influences are present. Rather, the pandemic has changed how I deliver on my priorities. Since we can’t meet in person with our partners, we have incorporated different mediums of communication. Also, we are much more focused on how to give them the confidence to run their business in these trying times and asking for their trust now more than ever when they can’t feel and touch our next generation products and solutions in person. This whole pandemic has hammered home the importance of long-term relationships and has added more depth and meaning to the word “trust”.

Are you witnessing a skills shortage and difficulties recruiting people into the Channel? Why should young talent choose a career in the tech Channel?

Yes, everyone is experiencing skills shortages and recruitment challenges – it’s not unique to our industry or to Channel sales. For young people starting out their careers, Channel sales can prove to be a unique experience that provides a broad range of skill building opportunities – How to motivate partners, learning the importance of keeping the value proposition simple, how to derive mutual benefits for growth, and how to build a sustainable ecosystem. The Channel is an often overlooked competitive advantage that can quickly bring scale and strong ROI to a business and will give young talent a chance to learn a business model quickly.

Tomorrow’s world: your prediction?

With the increased reliance on remote communication tools, I’m worried that some might lose sight of the importance of building the real meaningful connectivity that we as humans thrive on. Human beings are social in nature and we shouldn’t rely too much on technology to the point where we forget how to build relationships with our partners – there needs to be a balance in our human interactions. I predict the pendulum will swing too far and that a rebalancing will be required to unify the physical with the digital engagement model.

Then and now- the one thing you wish you knew back then?

The one thing I wish I knew then was how important it is to always understand the “why”. Not the “what” or “how”, but the “why” behind everything. Spend more time on the “why” and the rest will fall into place. Why should the partner buy from you? Why are they asking for certain things? Why do they run their business the way they do?

Tony Ball is the SVP and GM of the Instant Issuance business unit and head of the channel alliance program at Entrust. Mr. Ball joined the company in 2016 to provide leadership, global strategy and innovation for the access control and authentication solution segments. Mr. Ball has deep knowledge in the industry and previously served as President IAM for HID Global and as Senior Vice President for banking and security products for Gemalto across EMEA. He began his career at Schlumberger Technologies with over 20-years in multiple leadership roles across the globe preceding appointments to the executive ranks. Mr Ball studied business and finance at Bournemouth & Poole College UK, and completed the IMD executive leadership program, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Visit Tony Ball’s LinkedIn profile here