Microsoft security software ads escalate Microsoft vs. Symantec fight

Microsoft is recruiting solution providers who've been turned off by conflict in the Symantec channel.

Microsoft is using the recent Symantec channel conflict to recruit partners for its revamped Microsoft Security Software Advisor program.

Membership in the Microsoft Security Software Advisor program has grown from 4,000 to 23,000 in the past year. Now, Microsoft has launched a new campaign to recruit even more partners -- and to take advantage of the bad publicity surrounding Symantec, a top competitor in the security software market.

"While some security vendors are increasingly going direct, Microsoft continues to invest in its partners," reads one online advertisement. "Grow a profitable Identity & Security business by becoming a Microsoft Security Software Advisor."

Symantec partners stirred last month, when news broke that the company lets up to 900 of its largest

We didn't just open up a security store yesterday.
Randy Cochran
North America channel vice presidentSymantec
customers buy direct from the vendor -- and gives small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers the option to renew software subscriptions direct as well. Worldwide channel vice president Julie Parrish said at the time that Symantec remained committed to the channel, but she acknowledged that the company has to better communicate its direct sales strategy to partners.

Other security software vendors also moved to capitalize on the controversy, but Microsoft is by far the largest and most influential.

"Reading some of that press coverage and the blogs, it's clear that some partners are uncertain as to which vendor to align with," said Mark Hassall, partner marketing director for Microsoft's Security and Identity Business Group. "It was timely to remind partners."

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The Microsoft vs. Symantec battle got a lot of attention last year but had taken a back seat to several new product launches by both vendors this year. That is likely to change thanks to Microsoft's latest salvo.

Randy Cochran, Symantec's channel vice president for North America, said his company's comprehensive approach to security and 25-year history in the market give partners more opportunities to make money. He encouraged partners considering Microsoft's security software to "make sure that the product stands up to the test of time."

"We didn't just open up a security store yesterday," he said.

Cochran admitted that the past month has been challenging: "We've been brushed with some bad ink." But he noted that partners have been willing to give Symantec -- and what had been its channel-friendly reputation -- the benefit of the doubt.

"You see a pause with the partners: 'Is what I read really true?'" he said.

Cochran also credited partners for most if not all of the success Symantec has had since its inception.

"To overnight turn our back on the channel would be foolish," he said.

Microsoft security software incentives

The Microsoft Security Software Advisor program gives rebates as high as 30% to partners who influence sales of Microsoft's security and identity software. One-time bonuses of 50% are also available to partners who make their first sales of security and identity products. In addition, those partners will receive vouchers for two free certification exams.

Getting certified is one of the requirements for partners to achieve the Microsoft Security Software Advisor competency. Hassall said 2,700 partners have achieved that competency so far.

The incentives are a key part of Microsoft's growth strategy in the security market. The rebates and bonuses will attract partners, and the certifications and competencies will allow them to make more Microsoft security software sales in the future, Hassall said.

"There's a very high level of awareness among Microsoft partners, and we wanted to see if we could extend that reach to other partners," he said.

Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, a Microsoft Security Software Advisor in Oakland, Calif., agreed that the incentives will create more sales. He also said the restructuring of Microsoft's internal teams will help partners.

As executives explained at last month's Worldwide Partner Conference, the Microsoft Security Software Advisor program received an overhaul after the company merged its security and identity business groups. The new Security and Identity Business Group is making a $75 million investment in partners this year.

Before the merger, partners had to work with one set of Microsoft executives and channel programs when they sold identity products and another when they sold security. That was a pain for partners, who typically have one manager responsible for both security and identity, Morimoto said.

"The combination of the two is a good thing," he said.

Some Microsoft security software products, such as Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server, are already popular, but "there are a lot of products that people haven't even heard of," Morimoto said.

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