Symantec PartnerEngage: New Specializations Program Requires Partners To 'Go Deep'

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Symantec is taking its "go deep" philosophy to another level with the launch of a new channel program that eliminates revenue requirements and instead give incentives to partners to invest in specializations and certifications. The new program was unveiled Wednesday at Symantec's 2010 PartnerEngage partner conference held at MGM Grand in Las Vegas Nov. 2 through Nov. 4.

In lieu of revenue requirements, the company is attempting to drive more value through expertise with the debut of Master Specializations program, requiring partners to ramp up their technical acumen with a combination of consulting, technical and service capabilities in several specialized solution areas.

Partners are now required to meet new milestones in their chosen specialization areas to achieve a metallic Silver, Gold and Platinum status. Those that achieve specializations will be eligible to receive additional discounts, teaming agreements, access to enablement resources and recognition by Symantec with a certification trust mark.

"To have a partner that can really support all that, they're really going to have to know their stuff. So we're giving you a model that we think has that -- we're wrapping it around specializations and a Masters program," Randy Cochran, Symantec vice president of Americas channels, told CRN. "The whole theory is, the more you invest, the more you'll obtain. But there is no more revenue requirement."

Partners who have piloted the new partner program say that the addition of specializations has helped give them a competitive edge in the marketplace, while simultaneously providing instant credibility with current and future customers. Victor Villegas, vice president of business development for Santa Clara, Calif.-based CMT, said that Symantec's official specialization channel program validated the deep investments his company has made in the areas of backup and DLP, adding CMT's last quarter was "the best quarter we've ever had."

Next: Symantec Partners See Benefit In Being Specialized"Customers are looking for that certification or that additional partner that's better in this space or one that they should trust more in this space than others," Villegas said. "For us, specializations not only validate what we've done from an investment standpoint, for us, it's helped and is helping validate who we are."

Villegas added that CMT's success was bolstered by its first "real Altiris deal," made after the company acquired the necessary specialization.

"Specializations killed a few birds with one stone for us, and gave us access to people we've never worked with," he said.

The elimination of revenue requirements and implementation of a specialization program represents an about face from Symantec's previous channel programs. Previous minimum revenue requirements were between $50,000 and $249,000 for Silver, $250,000 and $2 million for Gold and over $2 million for Platinum level partners.

Cochran said that the new program is driven by overall company goals and strategies, which include profitability, exceptional customer value and revenue-generating solutions. Cochran added that the specializations were intended to differentiate Symantec partners in the marketplace and establish partner loyalty.

Next: Symantec Rolls Out New Specializations"How do you make them want to work with you? How do you get them to focus on yellow?" he said. "It's not just differentiation on competition. It's differentiation on mindshare."

Thus far, the Master Specializations currently exist in Enterprise Security, Endpoint Management, Data Loss Prevention, IT Compliance, and Archiving and eDiscovery, each of which requires its own level of services, consulting and technical expertise.

In addition, Symantec introduced three new specializations on the storage side of the house in the areas of Data Protection, High Availability, and Storage Management.

The company also launched an SMB segment specialization, which will ultimately provide cross-over opportunities with some of the other niche solution specializations, Cochran said.

Partners will have about 10 months to get up to speed on their chosen specialization, which includes achieving certification benchmarks needed to maintain their current partner level. However, partners that have already invested heavily and met requirements in a particular niche area -- for example DLP -- will automatically receive that specialization.

Next: Partners Look Back At Prior Services LaunchWhile the nine specializations cover a wide range of Symantec products, the program is also scalable, allowing for additional product categories and technologies obtained through future acquisitions.

Executives say that the deep expertise required for the specializations is the next step in Symantec's overall strategy that essentially shifts services business away from the company and under partners' control.

The partner-led shift was first introduced with the Sell With program, announced at the 2009 Symantec PartnerEngage, which promised to let partners take a direct lead on its services attached to a registered deal using Symantec tools and support -- the idea being that qualified partners who perform services wrapped around sales will receive a higher daily rate, and have streamlined access to Symantec support channels.

However, partners maintained that Sell With was flawed out of the gate. While the program ostensibly aimed to hand over the bulk of its services to partners, it instead fueled channel tensions and created distrust in the partner community by juxtaposing a direct services model with a channel-oriented one, partners said.

Dave Unger, director of sales engineering for BlueChipTek, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based solution provider, said that this most recent iteration of the services-led strategy seems to be a little more on-target, by providing partners with all the required services information and documentation, and a full best practices knowledge transfer and intellectual property handover. "Symantec has finally got its act together," he said. "They're finally enabling partners."

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