SBL: Building a Successful Virtualisation Business

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Formed in 1987, SBL is a leading provider of software licensing and information assurance solutions. The company employs more than 85 people with its headquarters in York and offices in, Glasgow, and Swindon. SBL has built a strong reputation in serving all manner of public sector customers, as well a growing number of commercial enterprises in sectors as diverse as finance and legal to manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

The company provides professional services – from network design to full systems migration and implementation – as well as hosted and managed services, network security, and complete virtualisation solutions.

Virtualisation was a relatively new area for SBL. However, with the right support, the company has established a highly successful, multi-million pound virtualisation practise within a matter of 12 months.

Business Challenge

Required skills to respond to customer demand for virtualisation technologies and was not competitive

• Wanted to create a complete VMware solution capability, but needed to build the technical know-how and professional services skills to do so

• Needed support to make the cultural shift from selling VMware licenses to “solution selling” and building a VMware sales funnel


• Teamed with Magirus, a distributor that works on various levels – consultative, technical and marketing – providing a road map for where SBL wanted to go and the support services needed to get there

• Training to move SBL from VMware Professional Partner to VMware Enterprise Partner, giving it additional commercial benefits

• Use of Magirus VMware accredited professional services consultants so that SBL could engage sales opportunities while its staff gained accreditation

• Support with marketing and lead generation programmes


• Established a complete virtualisation capability and healthy sales pipeline with revenues forecast in excess of £1.5m this year

• Opportunity to pull through additional related business in storage, back up and recovery, business continuity and security

A Leap of Faith

According to Ruth Schofield, SBL’s alliances development manager, the company’s decision to enter the fast growing virtualisation sector was in response to customer demand for VMware licences. “The move to provide complete virtualisation solutions was a leap of faith for us,” she said.

“At the same time we saw how building a virtualisation business would unlock value in complementary markets such as security, disaster recovery and storage, and provide clearly defined, incremental revenue streams,” said Schofield. The problem was that as a VMware Professional Partner, SBL did not have access to the full VMware partner schemes that would enable it to service larger enterprises and grow its business at the pace it wanted to.

It was at this time SBL was introduced to Magirus. Mel Wilks, Magirus virtualisation sales manager, described it as “a meeting of minds with both parties realising the need for SBL to become a more senior level VMware partner.”

“Magirus opened our eyes, they told us that if we were only selling licences then we might win the business this time around, but next time our customer would be more likely to engage a company providing a full virtualisation capability, including the professional services,” said Schofield.

The goal of becoming a VMware enterprise partner made sense. But what was missing was a roadmap of how to acquire not only the technical and professional services skills but also the wrap around business and marketing expertise. “We needed to sell this ambitious plan internally first while cutting out the risk for entry. Becoming a solution provider represented a massive cultural shift for us,” said Schofield.


Where do you want to go?

The first conversation Magirus had with SBL was to determine its strategic objectives. “It soon became apparent we needed to move them up to become a VMware Enterprise Partner,” said Andy Chrismas, SBL’s account manager at Magirus, “this would enable SBL to design, plan and deploy virtual infrastructures and qualify them for financial rewards such as more attractive rebates and enablement offerings.”

To achieve this goal, Magirus trained two SBL staff to the level of VMware Certified Professionals and three to VMware Certified Sales Professionals. “This alone was not going to cut the mustard,” said Chrismas, “so we held a number of workshops.” These took place at SBL’s premises and focused on training sales staff and account managers. “Today training is ongoing, with regular courses held on a quarterly basis,” said Chrismas.

Talk the Talk

“Magirus helped us to properly engage customers about virtualisation. Many people are confused about virtualisation – there is so much hype out there,” said Schofield. Also, Magirus helped SBL’s staff to engage customers on “solutions sale” level. This meant behaving in a more consultative fashion, enquiring about customer needs and exploring opportunities for additional margin-rich business. During this phase Magirus introduced SBL to additional virtualisation product vendors such as Platespin and Vizioncore.

SBL prides itself on the professional and technical competence of its staff and knows that training and accreditation takes time. Meanwhile customers were knocking on its doors. So rather than turn away business, Magirus supported SBL with its own VMware accredited staff to consult on and implement projects.

Filling the Pipeline

To help SBL build its virtualisation business Magirus worked with its marketing staff to establish a lead generation programme and helped it to access co-operative funding. “Magirus was fantastic. They advised us what would work and what wouldn’t and then helped us to negotiate the funding,” said Emma McGhin, marketing manager at SBL. A multi-touch email and telemarketing campaign was created, which resulted in a third of the leads designated “top level.” “Magirus also wrote articles helping to explain the benefits of virtualisation for our quarterly customer magazine, IT Matters,” said McGhin.

Magirus also helped with pre and post-sales support and every fortnight its account manager works on the sales floor with SBL staff to maximise sales opportunities. In addition, Magirus introduced SBL to VMware territory managers to strengthen its relationship with the world’s premier virtualisation company.


“SBL has come from being in the foothills of virtualisation to a place high up the peak,” said Chrismas, “it started off selling licenses. Now it offers clients a formidable capability, from data centre server consolidation to the latest virtual desktop infrastructure solutions.”

According the Schofield, SBL is on course to grow its virtualisation sales by over 50 percent in the next six months. “The shift to selling solutions should see us realise virtualisation revenues this year in the region of £2m of which licenses comprise about £1.5m,” she said.

Now, as a leading solution provider, SBL is a trusted partner for virtualisation. Virtualisation has opened up doors to pull through additional business, selling complementary technologies such as storage, back up and recovery, business continuity and security products and services.

“VMware has become our fourth largest vendor within 12 months,” said Schofield, “and we aim only to strengthen our relationship with them, which means great news for our customers.”

The Magirus Consultative Distribution Approach

Consultative approach: Listening and asking questions; understanding each partner’s strategy then offering a combination of technical, market and business development knowledge.

Strategic Business planning: Working with partners to define specific business objectives and develop joint business plans to achieve them.

Partner Enablement: Pro-active skills transfer, mentoring and pre-and post-sales support. Assisting partners to go-to-market rapidly – maximising investment and minimising risk.

Partner Marketing: marketing services to help partners achieve growth, differentiate their solutions and their brand.


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