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Symantec Partner Engage 2013: Symantec formulates new channel strategy

Lynn Haber

Symantec Corp.'s president and CEO, Steve Bennett, has been leading the company's transformation -- dubbed Symantec 4.0 -- which aspires to improve performance for the company, customers

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and partners, since his appointment in July 2012. Today, marking Day 1 of Symantec Partner Engage 2013 in Scottsdale, Ariz., the security vendor articulated a global partner strategy that emphasizes more reliance on its indirect sales force to achieve its goals.

The company has not only cross-pollinated its channel organization with some internal field sales leaders but has changed the way it segments accounts, moving about two-thirds of the named accounts, or those accounts that are handled primarily by Symantec's direct sales force, down to the commercial space (in North America). Symantec's commercial accounts are 100% channel-led, according to Garrett Jones, vice president of global channel operations at Symantec.

Symantec is also investing heavily in its inside sales organization to provide more support to partners handling commercial accounts. And, the company is rolling out new rules of engagement, or guiding principles, for its direct sales force -- setting expectations around appropriate behavior when working in the field with channel partners.

"Beginning with Symantec's commitment to deliver 5% organic revenue growth and 30% operating margins over the next couple of years, it became clear that we had to leverage the channel more effectively," Jones said.

A representative for Symantec further illustrated the changes: "Our channel has always played with us up and down and across the segments -- in the named account space, in the commercial space. That aspect is not new. What we are changing is the account management. We are putting forth a more thoughtful process around our resources and are looking to our partners to drive more of the account management with and for us across our customer base," she said.

Moving forward, expect to see the vendor shift the way it enables its channel partners, providing them with access to the same training and tools given to the company's direct sales force at the same time.

Symantec framed its new channel objective as "achieving sustained profitable growth greater than the market for our partners and Symantec by leveraging our joint assets to deliver value to our customers," according to Jones. Symantec intends to grow the pie with partners and split it equitably, he said.

The company's new channel strategy -- expected to roll out in 2014 -- begins with the customer and identifies the best-of-service routes to market to deliver its products.

Earlier this year, the company built a roadmap to consolidate its 150 products into 10 areas aligned with different specialties. Symantec will use this roadmap to provide guidance for partners on where they should make investments going forward, something the vendor has not done before.

"We had partners transacting up and down the stack because we didn't offer clear guidance or encourage them where to focus, nor was our incentive mechanism geared for anything else," Jones said.

That's going to change.

Going forward, Symantec is designing a channel program that identifies different partner types and the capabilities required to best deliver its products, along with a strategy that incentivizes performance in the space they're most capable, moving from a generalist to specialist mentality.

The company will then be better positioned to offer partners guidance on where to make investments from a market segment and product standpoint.

That's good news to Steve Barone, president and CEO of Creative Breakthroughs Inc. (CBI), a Symantec partner for a dozen years. "Symantec had a good channel program with good intentions for a long time. I think there's been conflict because they haven't had a high-margin play for those who committed more heavily on the technical expertise side," he said.

Under the new model, all sales partners will be able to shine, he added. CBI is a $38 million company with 80 employees, based in Troy, Mich.

While Jones wasn't prepared to outline new partner competencies or requirements, they are in the pipeline for next year. "When we make such an announcement, we'll do it in a thoughtful manner so that current partner investments are protected and a migration path is clear," he said.

According to Jones, Symantec has about 100 top partners in North America -- Gold- or Platinum-level -- that have deep relationships with their customers, make lots of bookings, and transact with mid-tier and larger enterprise customers.

Today's global channel strategy announcement isn't an expansion play. What it does emphasize is that the company will invest more in partners who invest in Symantec, up and down the stack.

"All of this goes back to the idea that our partner channel is front and center to Symantec, our way forward and part of our overall success," Jones said.


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