Symantec Lets Partners Take Lead On Consulting Services

In a move that will define services boundaries and reduce channel conflict, Symantec is handing the reins of its consulting services business to its partners.

"(Symantec has) a fairly broad range of services. Some of those make perfect sense to deliver ourselves," said Bill Robbins, Symantec EVP of worldwide sales.

But there were others that Symantec felt that would be better delivered by partners, Robbins said. "We think we can create a more scalable consulting business by leveraging a group of qualified partners, and we can do this in a way that everybody wins," he said, adding. "It allows our partners to feel really comfortable in building practices around Symantec."

The move fundamentally changes the way the company goes to market with its consulting and professional services business, and establishes clearer boundaries between services delivered by Symantec and services delivered by partners, ultimately reducing channel conflict, Robbins said.

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Initially, Symantec's consulting services will be handed over to a select group of certified partners located in specific geographic markets, slated to "test drive" the new model. However, that partner subset will eventually be expanded to more channel partners as they choose to incorporate professional services into their portfolio down the road.

Meanwhile, partners currently taking on Symantec consulting services will undergo a knowledge transfer, as well as training and enablement opportunities, while having access to Symantec support throughout the sales cycle.

"Partners will now have more certainty and clear rules of engagement around when they leverage services to the customers," Robbins said. "We're very cognizant of making sure we hand over the channel enablement programs. We want to make sure that our partners are positioned to successfully and profitably deliver these services."

Subsequently, Symantec will be looking for partners who have already built a robust services business. But new partners wanting to jump on board will also be able to access training as the consulting business becomes more channel-centric.

All in all, Symantec's consulting services division represents a relatively small portion of Symantec's business. Services comprise about five percent of the company's business, executives said -- the bulk of which includes Symantec Hosted Services, launched after the 2008 MessageLabs acquisition, which incorporates an array of messaging, content filtering and e-mail security services, delivered by Symantec in the cloud.

And Symantec will continue to provide its own hosted services and managed services, and where applicable, provide some consulting services to organizations such as certain arms of the federal government required to adhere to stringent policies regarding third parties and clearance requirements.

However, Robbins said that he expected to see upwards of 85 percent of the company's consulting bookings going directly into the channel.

"The default will always be that we're looking to move the consulting services to our partner base, except where we're contractually obligated," Robbins said.

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But if all goes according to plan, the company will inspire increased partner loyalty by providing enablement and support that will expand partners' own consulting businesses, Robbins said. Meanwhile, customers receiving services from Symantec channel partners will likely be more satisfied and will be more likely to continue to do business with Symantec while retaining Symantec products in their IT environment -- that's the hope anyway.

"Partners will feel like investing more into Symantec because they have a certainty of return," he said. "Revenue on the consulting side is more important to our partners. We're a software product and solutions company. We believe that by creating greater loyalty, we'll have more pull through on the products side. We'll also have a greater level of customer satisfaction."

"We make investments as partners. We have to make investments and have limited resources. And we have to select who we work with," said Feris Rifai, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Bay Dynamics. "This gives us a great incentive to partner with Symantec."

The shift to a partner-led consulting services model is a continuation of the Sell With program that Symantec announced in November during its PartnerEngage partner conference. However, partners later said that at its inception, the program was largely undefined, and had its fair share of structural and revenue challenges, which included the problem of determining which services belonged to Symantec and which ones were up for grabs in the channel.

But partners said that this next phase of Sell With could pick up where the first one left off, representing a discernible change with definable boundaries and tangible returns.

"I feel that [Sell With] was a step in the right direction," Rifai said. "This is a true continuation of this effort. It's much more channel friendly. This allows us from a partner perspective to be able to drive more growth, and focus more on Symantec."

Kurt Klein, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based CMT, said that this recent shift will generate more trust and loyalty between Symantec and its partner base, adding that it will get him to "drink the cool aid more."

"It's a good positive shift from their past polices around professional services and I think it will foster more synergy between resellers and Symantec and provide a unified front for the customer," he said. "This is a major shift and we think it's a much better way to go to market altogether."

Symantec's decision to take a step back and let partners take the lead on professional services represents a "night and day" difference from where the company was before, partners say. In the past, Symantec retained a fast hold on its professional services division that excluded its reseller partners, resulting in escalating channel tensions stemming from unclear boundary issues and distrust.

But the proof is in the pudding, partners say.

"I'm in there doing the pre-sales and the licensing and a holistic strategic view, and at the end I'm not there. For us, that was frustrating. We learned through a couple iterations we weren't going to fight that," Klein said.

Some partners said that the move wasn't necessarily -- or only -- a capitulation on Symantec's part that it failed to successfully expand its own consulting services.

"I think it's that new leadership has come in and assessed what they do well and what they can improve upon. None of this can happen overnight. The ebbs and flows I've seen over the last five years were sometimes frustrating," Klein said. "But Enrique has made it very clear that this was his end goal."