McAfee SecurityAlliance program stresses competencies

Security vendor pledges better integration of Secure Computing and other partners.

Security partners say that McAfee is saying and doing many of the right things with its new McAfee SecurityAlliance program, but the real proof will come when they see how quickly the pure-play security vendor can resolve ongoing systems issues and convince its own salespeople to fall in step.

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The next six to nine months will be critical for McAfee Inc.'s channel credibility, they say.

McAfee designed its SecurityAlliance program to reward sales and technical investments in five solution competencies: system security, data protection, risk and compliance, network defense, and Web and e-mail security. It includes more predictable sales incentives and a new sales and technical accreditation program called Ready, Set, Sell, which will be available online.

Alex Thurber, senior vice president of worldwide channel operations, said that in order to earn premier status, partners must invest in training for at least one competency; elite partners need three of the five. With those status levels come benefits in terms of true tiered pricing that gives them a margin advantage for value-added activities.

"The more they invest in us, the more we will invest in them," he said.

Bringing "acquired" VARs into the fold

One consideration in designing the new program was to ensure that partners associated with future acquisitions could be integrated quickly,

Thurber said.

McAfee has certainly been active on the M&A front, buying MX Logic, Solidcore Systems, Endeavor Security, Secure Computing, Reconnex, and ScanAlert in the last two years alone.

Thurber noted that McAfee is taking steps to align all of its processes -- from manufacturing to sales quoting to support -- around strategies that reflect its channel.

"We are taking channels into account throughout every process within McAfee," Thurber said.

One major focus is a new CRM system, something partners are clamoring for, as well as a new Web 2.0-inspired partner locator. Thurber made a point of mentioning that all of the video enablement materials given in early January to McAfee's own sales team are also available to its channel.

"We are really pleased with the actions being taken by the new team," said Dan Wilson, co-founder and vice president of vendor relations for Accuvant Inc., a Denver-based security solution provider that counts McAfee among its top five vendor partners. "We really felt like we had the ear of the team as the changes were being planned."

Thurber, a former Cisco executive, joined McAfee in August 2009. And McAfee's vice president of channels for the Americas, Fernando Quintero, assumed his position last May after running the South American division. Both executives are credited for taking action swiftly and for listening to a litany of partner concerns.

One of the biggest challenges will be the integration of Secure Computing VARs into the McAfee fold, a process that is supposed to be complete by May 1. Secure Computing solution providers will be mapped into the new Web and E-mail Security or Network Defense competency.

Easing concerns of Secure Computing partners

Thurber said methodic outreach and onboarding of the Secure Computing partners will be a major priority for his newly expanded enablement and training team. This team will also be charged with helping all of McAfee's roughly 2,000 go-to partners understand the program changes. "Every partner at McAfee will know someone and have someone they can talk to," Thurber pledged.

That's music to the ears of Secure Computing partner Towerwall Inc., which is eager to see how the next six months unfurl. Michelle Drolet, CEO and co-founder of the Framingham, Mass.-based boutique security firm, said her company has gotten little attention since McAfee's integration of Secure Computing. "They have phenomenal products, but I'm not sure where their story is going. We can't even get price sheets," Drolet said.

Respect for McAfee's technology could also be the saving grace for another Secure Computing partner, RICIS Inc. in Tinley Park, Ill. "From a technical standpoint, I am highly impressed with how they have been integrating their products. Their technology is really good," said Gregg Rosenberg, owner and CEO of RICIS.

However, Rosenberg said his team has been plagued by McAfee's system issues, which have made the process of formalizing quotes for his customers next to impossible. Orders for McAfee's competitors' products can be turned around much more quickly, he said. "My posture is that I will go back to them in June or July and get a fresh sense of where they're at," Rosenberg said.

Another key advantage for McAfee in the months to come, say partners, could be its singular focus on security and its developing end-to-end story. It might make it easier for solution providers to begin selling more than one McAfee line.

For example, Accuvant's Wilson noted that McAfee's Data Loss Protection (DLP) story gets stronger when it is integrated into McAfee's other security disciplines. That might make the difference against another DLP solution that is more standalone in nature, he said. For that reason, Accuvant plans to certify its team in all five of McAfee's solution competencies, Wilson said.

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