McAfee Partners Irked Over Direct-Sales Meddling

Although they're not taking deals direct, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based security vendor's sales reps have been dictating the terms of enterprise deals and doing end-runs around partners, even when the partner brings McAfee into an account, one McAfee channel partner said.

"There have been several occasions when we brought them in and their reps have ended up working the deal on their own. It's almost like they think channel partners can't handle the big deals," said the partner, who asked for anonymity.

Several McAfee partners outlined a similar scenario: After they bring McAfee into an account, the vendor's sales reps will contact the customer directly to cut special deals, bring in their own engineers and give free evaluations. But partners said what riles them most is that the McAfee sales reps have been negotiating prices directly with the customers.

"At that point, we're nothing more than a distributor. They're completely taking away our ability to be a trusted adviser," said one solution provider, who asked not to be named.

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A McAfee spokesman said the vendor remains "extremely committed" to its channel partners and noted that the company increased its number of partners "significantly" last year.

Last month, McAfee reorganized its sales resources around three business segments: small/consumer (1 to 100 seats), midmarket (100 to 1,000 seats) and enterprise (1,000 seats and above). Although McAfee said the midmarket team will benefit partners by better qualifying leads, some VARs believe that explanation is just a smokescreen.

"It's not about empowering the channel in the midmarket; that's spin. In the end, it's going to be about keeping us out of the enterprise," said one McAfee channel partner, who requested anonymity. "What they're basically saying is, 'the enterprise is our turf,' because they know that's where they can get the most ROI."

Another solution provider suggested that McAfee is using an elastic interpretation of what it means to be a "100 percent channel" company.

"When a vendor sells solutions cooperatively, they go on joint sales calls and the channel brings them in on deals. But when they're fulfilling through the channel, all along their enterprise sales reps do everything by themselves, and then the customer calls a fulfillment partner," said the solution provider, who asked not to be identified.

"When someone says they're 100 percent channel, you have to ask, how much is going through fulfillment partners and how much is going through actual VARs?" the solution provider added.

However, some McAfee partners said the vendor remains as committed as ever to the channel, and they chalked up concerns about sales reps overstepping their bounds as isolated incidents that affect every vendor that sells through the channel.

"We haven't seen this behavior. In fact, we've been seeing more collaboration and dedication to the channel from McAfee," said Casper Zublin, CEO at DynTek, Irvine, Calif.

Being a field sales rep is difficult because it requires the ability to balance the needs of the partner customer and the end-user customer, and new field-sales reps sometimes don't understand that, according to Zublin. "This is not a systemic issue, but an individual issue," he said.

Jim Brown, manager partner at nGuard, a Charlotte, N.C.-based solution provider, said that in the six months since he became a McAfee partner, he hasn't had any conflict with McAfee's direct-sales force.

"We work with them on very large deals and RFP responses, and they bring a high level of back-end knowledge of what their technology can do, which helps us to close deals," he said.

In light of the increasing commoditization of its consumer products, McAfee clearly would like to boost its enterprise business, which the company said in its latest quarterly report represented 32 percent of its gross bookings.

One channel partner said the increased involvement of McAfee's direct-sales teams could signal the vendor's intention to do whatever is necessary to close lucrative enterprise deals. "If you look at the percentage of business from large enterprises, that's where they are really sucking wind," said the partner, who requested anonymity. "But that's where they're going to have to be strong, when they start really competing against Microsoft."