Symantec Sales Chief To Competitors: Bring It On

That was the word from Symantec Executive Vice President of Worldwide Sales Bill Robbins, who spoke Tuesday at the 2009 Raymond James IT Supply Chain Conference in New York City.

Robbins, who is among Symantec's top executives and is in charge of sales and operations across all geographies, said that Symantec's main competitors couldn't offer the same comprehensive portfolio or the quality of solutions in security and storage.

"McAfee is clearly a key competitor. Trend Micro in other parts of the world is a key competitor. And there are other ankle biters out there -- Kaspersky, for example -- providing competitive pressure. So at the end of the day, we have to look at our position as No. 1 and makes sure we defend our install base," Robbins said in a fireside chat discussion with Raymond James analysts. "But we're focused on providing a much more holistic solution than a McAfee or other competitors can. Customers are looking to deal with fewer vendors rather than more, and we feel that customers are responding well to our roadmap."

Robbins said he was "cautiously optimistic" about an economic recovery in 2010, but agreed that people "felt much better this year" than they did 12 months ago. He said demand for Symantec product lines has held up well and the company has seen significant upticks in areas like data loss protection and storage management because both are the types of technologies that keep customers from having to do major capital expenditure to improve their infrastructure.

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"We're seeing a similar pattern to our June quarter, which is that customers are buying for what they need right now," he said. "Toward the middle part of 2010, you'll see some kind of natural lift. If the economy starts to pick up at all, that's when we expect to see people doing three, four, five-year buying activity. It's too early to see customers doing long-term buying right now, though. The pickup is between six and 15 months out."

Data deduplication would be a key Symantec segment going forward, Robbins said, as the company looks to gain market share in enterprise backup. He said Symantec was also trying align itself with the slow recovery of the server market.

"There's a lot of uncertainty around Sun and certainly suffering in terms of market share erosion. That's why we're working closely with HP and IBM to make sure we're attaching our technology to servers in the right places," he said. "We also want to make sure, though, that customers who are looking at Solaris environments know that we're still committed to that space. We're working not only with Sun but with many customers directly to make sure they know that we're still here for the Solaris platform."

Robbins said that the ascent of CEO Enrique Salem has helped Symantec regain its focus on the security space, especially in areas like endpoint protection and market segments like small business, where, he explained, channel partners will be especially vital to growth.

He suggested "time will tell" if McAfee can be an effective competitor against the likes of Cisco and Juniper in many of McAfee's network security offerings. Of other competitors like Check Point, Robbins said, "Honestly, we aren't seeing them. I won't say never, but certainly they don't have much traction. When you talk endpoint, Symantec is the clear leader, McAfee is No. 2, Trend Micro is No. 3, and there it is."

Does Robbins see Microsoft as a competitor to Symantec?

"We haven't seen anywhere where they've impacted us. You always have to take them seriously, but thus far there's been nothing," he said. "I think they've retrenched a bit from where they were with [security software Windows Live] OneCare. In the consumer space, where brand recognition really matters, maybe, but in the enterprise, they're not taking Microsoft as a serious offering, even mid-enterprise."

On the storage side, Robbins said, Symantec would continue to extend its lead in backup.

"It's a mixed environment," he said. "Comm-Vault's been trying to get in there, but we feel like we've been able to tamp them down over the last 12-18 months. EMC has great technology around de-duplication, but where they struggle a bit is that no one takes them seriously as a backup platform."

Data dedupe would continue to grow, he said, and there are "aspects of the backup environment that have potentially double digit growth opportunity" next year, thanks to a push toward storage management technology and cloud computing solutions that help manage a storage infrastructure.

Robbins also touched on changes Symantec has made to its go-to-market sales strategy. According to Robbins, Symantec uses a merged salesforce that has account managers handling both security and storage products. But this year, he said, Symantec also began experimenting with certain large accounts by providing multiple account managers, each of whom specialized in one piece.

"We haven't seen a meaningful change in those accounts versus those where we're going with a traditional account manager, but the test may pay off," he said. "As we see what happens here in Q3 and beyond, it may be something we want to explore further."

Robbins offered reassurance that Symantec would continue to "accelerate use of the channel."

"We're focusing on our partners very much driving incremental new business. This is not just a fulfillment mode," he said. "We've also been pushing our services opportunities to partners, as you saw at our recent PartnerEngage, to reduce conflict and make sure our customers know that our channel partners are fully qualified to help them. There is more wood behind the Symantec arrow in driving new opportunities."