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RSA continues to improve channel program despite EMC acquisition

RSA put meat on the bones of its channel program just months before being acquired by EMC; VARs say they continue to prosper, as RSA continues to fatten up the channel.

Since its inception, RSA Security has touted itself as a vendor that counts on its channel relationships to leverage the best of an indirect sales model. But that characterization didn't always ring true.

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Channel partners were distinctly second-class citizens in RSA's world. As little as 18 months ago, the Bedford, Mass.-based security vendor couldn't even point out on its roster a dedicated channel executive.

It changed that in October of 2005 by hiring channel guru Michael Ross from Nokia, who has focused on expanding the ranks of RSA's channel partners and integrating the company's field sales organization more effectively with the channel.

The result of this new attention has been new channel program innovations that have increased the company's number of registered VARs by at least 20% -- and brought channel partners more opportunities to make money.

"RSA supports the channel in the right way; if we have done our homework and make sure we meet their requirements, they adhere to their side of the deal," said Reza Zarafshar, president and CEO at Advanced Computer Concepts in McLean, Va.

That level of confidence demonstrates Ross' effectiveness at reassuring RSA channel partners that the company's acquisition by EMC last summer wouldn't reverse all the work they and Ross had done in the previous eight months.

Despite layoffs and reorganizations at EMC, RSA's channel program remains independent of EMC's, and will remain so for the foreseeable future, according to Ross.

EMC's direct-sales model and focus on large customers doesn't mesh well with RSA's channel-oriented approach, Ross has said publicly. RSA's commitment to the channel and its decision to sell all its SecureID products, for example, through the channel won't change.

RSA's new channel program

The new program is a lot less rudimentary than RSA has offered in the past, First as Security Dynamics, and than as RSA Security.

"We've been working with RSA for 10 years, and they've always been great to work with," said Susan Crabtree, president and CEO at Mission Critical Systems, a security VAR in Pompano Beach, Fla. "They've come a long way."

The last major conversion happened in April 2004, when RSA revamped and relaunched its SecurWorld Rewards Program. About 85% of the company's partners chose to rejoin the new program after the launch, and the company has been adding partners ever since.

"Initially, the program was launched with basic rewards for meeting certification requirements, as well as deal registration, marketing and sales tools," according to Ross, area vice president of North America channels, who is based in Irvine, Calif.

In its current iteration, the program offers three tiers: Registered, Solution and Access. Registered partners, who have not signed terms and conditions agreements or met any sales or training goals, have access to marketing materials and the partner portal.

The second tier, called Solution Partners, have met sales authorization goals and achieved technical certifications, while Access Partners have simply achieved sales authorization goals. The top two tiers have access to RSA's registered deal program.

To move up in the program, partners must ensure that 10% of their sales engineers have taken and passed RSA's online sales training.

"All of our sales reps take RSA sales training for at least one product if and we have two engineers certified in at least each of the products," said Richard Tarabour, director of product development at Alliant Technologies, LLC, a 150-person integrator in Morristown, N.J. "The sales guys find it helpful because it helps them understand the competition and how to position the product better."

Alliant names RSA as one of four strategic vendors, a list that also includes Cisco Systems, Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AT&T. The company has about 16 other vendors that it works with, he added.

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Apparently, RSA's incentives -- and its flexibility -- are working. In the first year after the program relaunch, partners around the world completed a total of 14,000 courses, compared to only 750 courses during the same period the previous year.

"One thing RSA has done is very valuable is that they've pushed out computer-based training," said Crabtree. "It is difficult to take sales reps and engineers out of the field for three or four days to do training. Now, they can do it on evenings or in the off times."

The company reports that it has increased its partner portfolio substantially in the last year. In addition, the new program has encouraged partners to become more involved in the program.

"The number of solution tier partners grew 22% in 2006," Ross said. "And we saw an increase in Access partners of over 60%. Those are all coming from the Registered Partner base."

This year, RSA added the requirement that Access and Solution partners generate a certain number of new license sales annually to maintain their status.

RSA's new sales approach

The shift in sales approach to focus intensely on the channel was a strategic one designed to drive revenue through partnerships rather than focusing on its own sales efforts and using the channel in a secondary role.

"We had a commitment from senior management to make RSA a best-of-breed channel organization," Ross said. "Traditionally, we'd approached the enterprise sales market with aggressive sales models and focused our channel efforts on fulfillment rather than revenue generation."

The company began to focus on helping its solution provider partners drive incremental revenue through new software licenses.

"New licenses lead to license upgrades, maintenance renewals and token renewals," said Ross. "The business does become an annuity stream once it's set up and a lot of that business can be done by the field. The channel can drive new license opportunities."

To encourage solution providers to push licenses, the company began to look for ways to make those sales more attractive.

For example, last March, RSA introduced the RSA SecurWorld Rewards Program for individual sales executives working at the solution provider. Participants receive a Visa debit card through which to receive cash payments won by selling new licenses for RSA software.

This initial shift was successful; licenses sold through channel partners grew more than 40% last year. "A lot of that success can be attributed to the hard work we did in putting together a field sales channel organization that reported directly to the channel," Ross said, adding that the company works to ensure that its field sales people are well versed in the company's channel program.

The company has also increased the number of field sales personnel dedicated to the channel. In fact, in the past year RSA doubled the number of channel managers, from five to 10, that it has serving the North American market.

Partners report that sales support is a critical resource. "Typically, we walk in the door with RSA because we want to show the partnership," said Crabtree. "And we work together to close the deal."

Read more about how RSA is communicating better with the channel.

Company Name:

RSA, the Security Division of EMC


Bedford , Mass.


1986; Formed as the Security Division of EMC in September 2006

Partner URL:



Technologies Developed:

secure enterprise data; compliance and security information management; secure consumer identities and assets; secure remote access; Web access management; secure enterprise access

Tiered program name:

RSA SecurWorld Rewards Program


Registered, Solution and Access

Number of partners:


Percent sold through channel:

More than 70%

Number of distributors:

Three major North American distributors

Senior channel exec's Name:

Michael Ross


area vice president of North American channels

Number of years at company:



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