Some McAfee Partners Excited, Others Wary About Channel Rollouts

The launch will occur in phases throughout the year, executives said. The channel initiatives, which McAfee first announced at its FOCUS partner conference in October, are part of an ongoing effort to restructure the channel and provide a better partner experience, executives say.

McAfee executives said that the channel rollouts came in response to extensive partner feedback, and are being implemented, in part, to help renew trust in the partner community following a tumultuous few years fraught with high executive and channel rep turnover, dwindling support and gaping inefficiencies in its channel operations.

"I think that was one of the things we were able to do this year," said Alex Thurber, McAfee vice president of global channel operations. "We're helping to show the partners that as a company McAfee is committed to working and fulfilling the vision and ideas we announced at FOCUS. We're starting to show that they're real."

"We can 'visioneer,' now we need to make it work," Thurber added.

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Thurber said the channel initiatives would ultimately help McAfee reach a goal of expanding its channel-led business from 85 percent into the low 90s over the next few years.

One of the most significant changes, partners say, is McAfee's new Interlock Advantage rollout, which provides a wide range of integrated technologies for customers' IT environment for partners to both cross-sell and upsell to their customers. Interlock offers a view of gaps in security infrastructure, and then connects corresponding technologies -- such as IPS, firewall, encryption and vulnerability management -- to best suit the needs of the customer.

"It's really brilliant, they have a heck of a portfolio," said Stephen Nacci, regional account manager at Everything Maintenance, a division of TLIC Worldwide, based in Exeter, R.I." Some folks don't have compliance or data security. Basically the endpoint is not enough anymore."

Another big aim was to entice partners to become members of their Security Alliance Partner Program, which, in turn, would offer them more access to product information, resources, training, support and promotion materials, Thurber said. Specifically, McAfee is also offering partners increased specializations and beefed up training that includes system security, data protection, risk and compliance, network defense and Web and e-mail security.

Among other things, the rollouts will give McAfee partners access to higher margins with the company's new Margin Advantage program, which incorporates numerous incentive programs allowing partners to earn increased margins around accredited sales and specific services while protecting partners who bring new business to the table.

As part of its release, McAfee is also launching numerous enablement tools, including a new methodology called Ready, Set, Sell as well as enhanced sales and technical accreditation programs, available to partners online for free. In addition, McAfee launched a new partner locator that utilizes a Web 2.0 collaboration tool and maps so partners find other partners in any particular geography based on their specializations.

"We absolutely look on our partners as an extension of our own sales force. The more we can help them to do that, the better," Thurber said. "It's all about knowledge and how to sell and what to sell."

Thurber said that as part of the effort, with a few exceptions, partners will be included and asked to participate in internal accounting, and financial and operational meetings.

Additionally, McAfee executives said they also implemented the final integration of Secure Computing, which the company acquired in October 2008. As of May 1, the company will fold the last vestiges of the "Secure Computing" partners into the McAfee SecurityAlliance Partner Program, relegating its partners into Web and Email security and/or Network Defense competencies.

Thurber said McAfee planned to ease the partners into the changes by providing more social networking tools such as Twitter and video blogging to help provide a "very clear framework" as they continue to roll out the initiatives. The communication tools would also be streamlined as the company continued to acquire companies and integrate channel programs. Executives alluded that they still planned to aggressively acquire technologies and companies to expand their portfolio down the road in 2010.

For the most part, McAfee channel partners hailed its massive channel initiative launch as a great boost to the company.

"For an Elite and Premier partner, they're making it easier to sell across their product line," Nacci said. "They're certainly opening the door. But everybody has to sell more and more stuff. But having that door open, you don't have to go through a giant certification process. Once you know how to sell something, they can support you and bring business that way."

However, other partners contend that while McAfee's products are solid, they continue to see a decided lack of communication and support from the company, despite pledges to re-engage the partner community.

"They're still doing a poor job of engaging the channel," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Valley Network Solutions, based in Fresno, Calif. "We're the largest VAR in our region, and we haven't heard a peep from anybody there."

Duffy said that McAfee's products were good, and he looked forward to further growing McAfee business by adopting SaaS solutions with recently acquired MX Logic. Among other things, Duffy said that McAfee has yet to comprehensively reach out to many Secure Computing partners, following the acquisition, and he expressed confusion that the company announced that it was in the final stages of completing the integration of its former partner base. That lack of support is painfully apparent when he has to service and support Secure Computing's Sidewinder customers, Duffy noted.

"After they acquired that company, you'd have thought they'd have done a better job integrating (partners) into the fold," said Duffy, who added that the Secure Computing people "disappeared after the acquisition."

"From our perspective, it looks like they missed the database of partners they inherited. Now we're having to wonder, what do we have to support those customers?"