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Symantec partner program leader denies channel conflict reports

Channel chief Julie Parrish addresses the furor among Symantec partners as some solution providers come to the vendor's defense.

Symantec's top channel executive is denying published reports that the company is creating channel conflict and taking lucrative business away from Symantec partners. But she admits that Symantec needs to do a better job getting the word out about its direct sales strategy.

Worldwide channels vice president Julie Parrish responded to two reports that said Symantec is cutting costs by shifting its 900 largest accounts and its license renewals for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) from channel partners to its own direct sales team.

"We've always allowed our customers … to buy directly from Symantec," Parrish said. "Fact of the matter is, they find more value buying from partners most of the time."

Parrish said that earlier this year, Symantec received questions from

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several partners about where they could expect to compete for sales with the vendor's direct sales team. Symantec told those partners that its largest 700 to 900 customers were a likely area, because two-thirds of the business from those customers already comes through the direct team, Parrish said.

Symantec also set up a process that requires most other customers to apply for an exemption before they can do business with Symantec's direct team, Parrish said.

"We've set up a very strong rules of engagement process," she added. "There aren't many exceptions."

These changes happened in March, and Parrish said partners have not been up in arms. That changed this week when ChannelWeb posted two reports that sparked a furor among Symantec partners. The first report said that "Symantec is retreating from its position as a channel-focused company."

Its main source was a transcript from a private meeting between Symantec COO Enrique Salem and Wall Street analysts last month. According to the report, Salem briefed the analysts on Symantec's strategy for selling to its largest customers, and he told them, "Those deals will now give the customer the option to go direct."

That report was the first time many partners had learned of the news, because, as Parrish acknowledged, Symantec did not "push a mass email button" to notify its partners. At the time, Symantec did not want to trumpet the strategy for competitive reasons, and some partners did not need to know about it, because it did not affect them, Parrish said.

But, Parrish said, "with communication, your job is never done, and obviously it's a message I need to continue to push. … Communication is critical."

Andrew Grose, president and CEO of Nortec Communications, a Symantec partner in Falls Church, Va., said Symantec has been "very strong" in delivering leads to his company, and pretty much every vendor deals directly with its largest clients.

"They just may not be as forthcoming about it," he said. "I like the way Symantec has integrity about what they're doing."

Advanced Internet Security, a Symantec partner in Colorado Springs, Colo., does business with some of Symantec's 700 to 900 largest customers. President Gary Cannon said Symantec has not tried to take any of that business, and those customers continue to choose to stay with the partner.

"They all work with us for whatever reason, even if they could deal with Symantec directly," he said.

And Jonathan Dambrot, managing director of Prevalent Networks, a Symantec partner in Warren, N.J., defended Salem from criticism that he is antipartner.

"Enrique has been a strong advocate of the channel and has helped us build our business personally," Dambrot said. "It has always been a customer choice."

The ChannelWeb reports also caused a stir by suggesting that Symantec is creating channel conflict by taking SMB renewal business from its partners. When a subscription has 60 days remaining, Symantec notifies the customer with a referral to the partner of record. After 30 days with no action, Symantec sends another notification that includes the partner referral as well as a direct link to renew for the manufacturer's suggested retail price.

"We are not taking our SMB renewals direct," Parrish said.

Cannon said he likes the notifications because renewals sometimes aren't top of mind for either customers or partners, and the reminders make sure no business is lost.

"I've never seen that as a problem," he said.

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