What Security VARs Want In A Partner Program

Stefanie Hoffman
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If there was one consistent theme from VARs, it was that they needed to know that their vendors were there to watch their backs, whether by helping to build a solid customer base, providing strong deal registration programs or guaranteeing they wouldn't be deserted--even in the face of a lost deal.

Security technology vendors were prominent among the companies whose channel programs were deemed worthy of gold status in this year's VARBusiness Partner Programs Guide, including major vendors such as McAfee Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.; Symantec Corp., Cupertino, Calif.; and Trend Micro Inc., Cupertino, Calif., as well as smaller suppliers like Sophos Plc., Burlington, Mass.; Websense Inc., San Diego; and Imprivata Inc., Lexington, Mass.

Five-Star Gold Vendor:
Marketing resources available to partners include outsourced marketing services, campaign designer templates, research, PR assistance, promotional events, product experts, Web portal with marketing guide.

Perhaps not surprising, many of the gold vendors provide solid and consistent support, in both sales and marketing, across the board. Michelle Drolet, president and CEO of TowerWall (formerly ConQwest), a Framingham, Mass.-based solution provider and Trend Micro partner, said she benefits from the vendor's strong channel support, even if a deal is lost.

"The senior management team understands that the channel can be your sales force. If they take care of you, you win. Even if you lose something, you don't lose it all."

Drolet said Trend Micro's channel support has improved since the solution provider first began her partnership, particularly in the past five years. That support manifests itself in dependable products, solid channel program infrastructure, higher-than-average margins and memorable personal touches.

Likewise Lou Rubbo, principal at Dirsec Inc., a Centennial, Colo.-based solution provider and McAfee partner, said his company had experienced solid support from McAfee field reps in streamlining marketing processes. For example, he says McAfee has streamlined its marketing processes for working with channel partners. And Rubbo said that marketing support throughout his four-year partnership with McAfee has remained consistent.

Yet, despite their gold designation, security vendor partner programs have their share of shortfalls, solution providers say. Among the criticisms voiced, VARs cited problems with the configurations of vendors' partner program Web sites, inefficient certification processes and vendors that sell through CDW, undermining partners' businesses.

And even gold vendors don't always excel in areas of support.

Larry Dannemiller, president of Business Security Solutions Inc., Houston, a Websense partner, said there has been a lack of strategic marketing support and co-branded marketing materials from the vendor. "The company focus on marketing with the channel seems to be decreasing," he said, noting that while the vendor recently spent a lot of marketing dollars at the RSA Conference, "it doesn't help on an individual [solution provider] level."

But Dannemiller said Websense has recently made improvements in its deal registration efforts, which helped keep his company in the game.

"We're confident that [with] all that hard work we do to keep a Websense customer, we won't end up losing them based on pure prices," he said. While Business Security Solutions might sell less volume than large software selling houses, quality of customer care usually wins out, resulting in continued customer relationships and recurring revenue streams. "We have a tremendous amount of touch to the customer," he said.

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