Symantec COO tries to mend fences with channel

COO Enrique Salem's keynote at Partner Engage 2008 highlighted Symantec's commitment to the channel.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Symantec chief operating officer Enrique Salem tried to mend fences with Symantec partners yesterday, telling Partner Engage 2008 attendees that the channel is an integral part of the company's business model.

Salem sparked serious concern among Symantec partners this summer, when he told Wall Street analysts that Symantec's largest customers had the option to bypass the channel and buy from the vendor's direct sales force.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, Symantec chose Salem to give this morning's keynote address to partners. And he spent a significant portion of the speech stressing Symantec's commitment to channel partners.

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"You are making a difference," he said. "The majority of Symantec's business goes through our channel partners, and that will not change. … Our future is inextricably linked to all of you. Make no mistake about that."

Julie Parrish, Symantec's outgoing channel chief, handled damage control for Symantec after Salem's comments went public. She said at the time that Symantec has always allowed its largest customers to buy from its direct sales force, and that there are rules in place to prevent the direct sales force from going after most smaller customers.

With Parrish absent from Partner Engage 2008 -- she's leaving Symantec for NetApp at month's end -- some Symantec partners were wondering if the company would change its tune. But at a luncheon with reporters today, Salem said the incident is in the past, and he reiterated his earlier comments about Symantec's commitment to the channel.

"If we've got a different agenda than our partners, we might as well pack up," he said. "We might as well close up shop."

Many Symantec partners at the conference said they never doubted the company's channel commitment, and the controversy this summer was just noise.

"[Salem] gets it," said Kurt Klein, president of CMT, a Symantec partner in Santa Clara, Calif. "He's a great addition to that level of Symantec management and understands what we're trying to do."

Salem shows Symantec's commitment to channel

During his keynote, Salem said that Symantec is trying to become an easier company for channel partners to work with. He discussed how the company has simplified its price list, eliminated SKUs that nobody used and consolidated its phone support service for partners.

Mike Clesceri, vice president of marketing for Laurus Technologies, a Symantec partner based in Itasca, Ill., said working with fewer SKUs has been a "big benefit" for his company.

Other channel partners also pointed out areas of improvement.

Tom Maloney, director of software sales for CDW, said problems with Symantec's ordering process, inside sales support and customer service used to take up a lot of the distributor's time and would stall potential sales. But thanks to some Symantec personnel changes and direct involvement by CEO John W. Thompson, those issues have gone away, Maloney said.

In his keynote, Salem also talked about the quality of Symantec's products, which some partners have complained about.

"We've stubbed our toe a little bit," he acknowledged.

Salem said that the new version of Norton Internet Security, Symantec's consumer security product, reduced its memory footprint by 90%, significantly cut installation time and improved malware detection. The latest update to Symantec Endpoint Protection, the enterprise product, will feature some of those same upgrades, he said.

"We're committed to higher quality," he added.

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