Global channel chief explains next-gen Symantec partner program

Global Channel Chief reveals why Symantec is redesigning its partnership program and discusses the future for partners and challenges ahead.

This month, SearchITChannel spoke with Garrett Jones, vice president of global channel operations at Symantec, to gain insight into the progress the company is making with the overhaul of its partner program, its tighter field/partner alignment and his goals for the year.

According to Jones, who has been with Symantec since June 2006 and in his current position since March 2013, the fine-tuning of the yet-to-be-launched partner program is critical to its success. The goal is to attract the next generation of Symantec partners who will be key to the company's transformation, also known as "Symantec 4.0."

Symantec has about 40,000 partners globally, about 2,000 of whom have received an accreditation or specialization. These are the partners who are most committed to the brand. Yet the redesign of the Symantec partner program will reshape the partner pyramid, with those at the top receiving the most benefits for driving the most amount of growth, according to Jones.

What's happened since Symantec Partner Engage in November 2013?

Garrett Jones: As part of Symantec's new strategy design and the go-to-market evolution, we've moved a large percentage of our named accounts from the commercial space to channel-led accounts, and so our channel business is growing. That kicked off in the July 2013 timeframe.

Since Partner Engage in November 2013, there's been a continued evolution and better traction. One of the announcements made at our partner conference was the guiding principles, which some people call   rules of engagement.

The goal behind [the redesigned program] is reshaping the pyramid, because the feedback we got was that there wasn't enough differentiation for the partners with the deepest skills and the strongest performance.

Garrett Jones, vice president of global channel operations, Symantec

It explains to our field organization how we work with partners. It's short and to the point. It says that we operate with integrity when working with each other's customers.  There's detail about what we'll share and what we won't share. We talk about how we'll engage partners throughout the sales cycle and how Symantec won't quote end user pricing directly, meaning the partner will provide those quotes. It really points to the confidentiality of the field/partner relationship but sets a very firm standard.

When a rep accepts their compensation plan, they also accept these partnering guiding principles. Our senior vice presidents made it clear that if reps don't follow these principles, there are significant consequences. We have a top-down endorsement that this is our go-to-market strategy and the way that we're going to be successful.

We had rules of engagement before -- possibly a 10-page document. Now it's short and sweet and part of the compensation plan.

However, simply publishing a document doesn't change anything. But since then, Partner Engage reps are beginning to understand how they need to change their behavior on a day-to-day basis. I talk to our partners often, and they express a feeling of inclusion and that the transformation we're talking about is real.

What was the driver for the new rules of engagement?

Jones: When we stepped back and redesigned our strategy for go-to-market and our goals in the marketplace -- 5% organic growth and 30% operating margin -- we saw that the channel was key to both the scale of that growth and also to the operating margin in terms of how we structure our sales force to make it more channel led.

So that came down from the top. But when we asked, "How do we enable our sales force on what to do on a day-to-day basis?" -- That's when the concept of the guiding principles was first born.

We've shared the rules of engagement with our partners. We also told them that if they see behavior that is not consistent with the language of the rules, we want to know, because we mean it, we stand behind it and we'll take action.

Symantec has been talking about its new channel program for months now but hasn't officially launched the program. Why not?

Jones: The way we designed [the Symantec partner] program has been very iterative with a lot of partner inclusion along the way. We had three very specific rounds of what we call "validation," where we did a very high-level design, took it to our partners across the world, took it to analysts and received feedback and iterated on the program. [We] took it to the next level, shared it with partners and went to more of a final design and took that out to partners for feedback. We continue to make tweaks and adjustments.

We worked on the design with 92 of our select partners and took it to them for their feedback and validation. But we haven't done a great reveal yet. We did share a greater level of detail with our partners at EMEA Engage this past February. We put together an FAQ document to support them when they had questions.

Now we're at the point where we're putting together the details of, "How will the thing work? How will partners transition from the accreditation that they hold today to the competencies they will hold in the future?" That kind of thing. We're going to announce those details in a couple of weeks.

What would you say are the highlights of the new Symantec partner program?

Jones: From a partner perspective, we're spending more on financial benefits than ever before. The way the program is designed, we're reshaping that pyramid where there will be more benefits and rewards for our most capable and committed partners.

At that point, it really puts the onus on the partners to decide, "What do I want to be and where do I want to invest?" Because the money is there. We're going to spend more and, potentially, on fewer partners, because it depends on how many partners will step up to meet the new requirements, deliver growth and perform. The ball is in their court.

That's what our partners have been asking for -- that they wanted higher expectations around their capabilities, around meeting certain revenue thresholds and for Symantec to provide remuneration to those partners for meeting their requirements.

From the customer perspective, what it does is make sure that we can meet and exceed customer expectations. With our strategy -- where to play it, how to win -- we looked at customer segments with the solution and we asked, "What are the partner capabilities to deliver for this product in this segment?" For customers, that means there shouldn't be a mismatch with a partner who doesn't have the right capabilities or the ability to really meet their needs with Symantec solutions.

In the past, our partners were rewarded on volume rather than value, so it provided more motivation for our partners to sell up and down the stack across our portfolio, whereas the program design now is more about, "Where do you want to focus? What areas of the portfolio? What market segments?" And to go deep in those areas and grow. And partners will make a lot of money.

Another key piece of the new program is the competency enablement model versus a specialization model?

Jones: We've identified specific competencies -- an area of skill -- and partners will decide which competencies they want and go and meet those requirements from an enablement perspective. And there will be a requirement around minimum revenue thresholds. Later, we'll introduce something around customer satisfaction -- making sure that the customer is satisfied with the results, that the products are getting deployed properly, etc.

The benefits are around registering the opportunities; there will be a growth incentive rebate. And we'll also have development funds that will accrue so that we can go and collectively invest in the partners' business around areas where we want to jointly focus.

One of the things that we're absolutely doing as part of the transition is protecting the investments that partners have already made, so existing specializations will map to the new competencies. And we'll help them identify if there are any gaps between where they are today and where they want to go.

So, when will Symantec officially launch the redesigned partner program?

Jones: So, what's launching is the specific details around how partners will move from the old program to the new program. This will be the transition period. Partners will be given a period of time to understand where they want to be and what it will take to get there.

The program officially transitions when the old program goes away and is replaced by the new one -- probably late fall of this year.

Sum up your top three goals for the year.

Jones: Rolling out the redesigned program is the biggest thing that we're doing this year. The goal behind it is reshaping the pyramid, because the feedback we got was that there wasn't enough differentiation for the partners with the deepest skills and the strongest performance.

So as a part of this transition, we have to reshape the pyramid, or this doesn't meet the intended objectives of the program.

The second goal … [is] we need to enable a robust planning process with our partners. We have the tools that are under development -- some are available today -- to do that to where we sit down with the partner and have a plan; we know where they want to go with their business and we work together to help them meet their goals.

It's going to be a consistent process globally and we're going deeper than we ever have before. These plans will be documented and revisited over time. We're putting structure behind the planning process.

The third goal is for us to grow in the partner-led space. That's the intent of everything we're doing this year. Our overall channel objective and our strategy is shared profitable growth with our partners and Symantec. We believe that the tools we're putting in place and the changes we're making will allow that to happen.

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

Jones: Executing the partner program. It is a change, it's new and it requires a new level of attention and planning from both Symantec and our partners. There are higher expectations, and it's going to be more of a resource-intensive process to sit down and plan and commit to this.

Another challenge is how to make the changes real in the field. Moving to a more channel-first, channel-centric model requires an increase in the business acumen and the types of skills that both our partners have and also our field [have] in terms of how to work with the channel.

The last challenge is more about the market. The channel is undergoing a major evolution right now with partners going from a license model to subscription, on-premises to cloud. There are a lot of emerging routes to market, and there are challenges around partners moving into this hybrid world where they do both.

So right now, it's a challenging ecosystem based on this evolution. We designed our program to be flexible in that regard. However, we know that there's more to do in terms of really enabling these cloud-centric, subscription-centric, service-provider-type models. And if you look at the growth of the industry overall, those are the models that are high growth right now.

What you have -- and I'm sure it's not unique to Symantec -- is that you have a high concentration of investment as well as our revenue in the traditional routes to market, as well as the traditional business models, whereas the growth is coming from these new ones.

So achieving that balance and that evolution is a challenge. We're participating with our top partners to help them make that leap and we want to make that leap with them. That's a lot of what went into this redesign and we have some more stuff coming that we think will help us be successful in that space.

I'm not ready to reveal anything yet, but it's a big focus of ours. We'll go through a process similar to the one we're going through now and look at how we can better enable the service provider space … probably this year.

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