McAfee Launches Revamped Channel Program

McAfee went live with the launch of a new channel program aimed at increasing margins and restoring confidence with partners. But whether the revised program will make up for past high turnover, inconsistent renewal policies and direct sales competition, remains to be seen, partners say.

Above all else, the channel initiatives, which went live Monday, attempt to align numerous disparate programs and inconsistent policies from Reconnex, SecureComputing and others into one streamlined program with unified components.

The slew of channel program changes, first announced in January, fall under three categories: margin, enablement and the final integration of the Secure Computing acquisition.

"Enablement is obviously top of mind with partners all over the place," said Alex Thurber, McAfee senior vice president of worldwide channels.

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"We've got the right framework, but the devil is in the details. In terms of having a value-based program, that's what we need to continue to grow our business through the channel," he said, adding "The biggest thing is that we pulled together all these disparate programs into a single global partner program."

One of the most significant initiatives, executives say, falls under the umbrella of the newly created Margin Advantage program, which incorporates numerous sales incentive programs aimed at driving increased profitability.

The program includes revamped deal registration, tiered pricing and teaming plans, along with a Market Development Fund designed to drive demand generation, as well as the creation of various specific incentive programs that benefit partners in addition to their sales reps and engineers.

Among other things, the new Margin Advantage program includes revised deal protection with a policy that only provides quote exceptions and special pricing to the partner who first registered the deal. Meanwhile, the enhanced incumbency protection program establishes another registration option that only provides additional margin to the partner who closed the original deal.

Some partners hailed the margin implementations as a good move for the channel.

"This is a great step toward protecting some of those margins," said Stephen Nacci, regional account manager at Everything Maintenance, a division of TLIC Worldwide, based in Exeter, R.I. "With margins being challenged by budgets, whether it's public or private sector, we need to stay in the business somehow."

In addition, McAfee's rejuvenated channel program incorporated a series of enablement programs and tools, including a new program termed Ready, Set, Sell which takes a three-phased approach to partner training. Executives say that it acts as a ready-made checklist for partners throughout all areas of the McAfee SecurityAlliance Program.

Next: ACE Partner Readiness Program Unveiled

The Santa Clara-based company also launched the brand new McAfee ACE Partner Readiness Program, which offers recognition and rewards for solution providers who have achieved the highest level of certification within a specific technology area.

Down the road, McAfee executives said that they plan to increase channel field resources and supply new channel engineers with the intention of beefing up partners' technical expertise and enablement.

With the launch of the McAfee's SecurityAlliance program also comes the completion of the Secure Computing integration following its acquisition in October of 2008, executives said.

Up until recently, Secure Computing acted almost as its own entity as it was phased into McAfee, retaining its own channel program and own line of network security products. The channel integration however established one unified set of specializations that spanned across the company's portfolio of networking defense products, executives said.

"It's all just that process of integration. Most companies who go through a lot of acquisitions, you just have to support and maintain existing business while you're setting things up to grow," Thurber said.

Thurber said that in the past, the company often failed to enforce partner program and certification criteria--in part, because it housed numerous disparate policies from multiple programs that weren't fully integrated following their acquisitions.

Going forward, however, McAfee partners will be required to adhere to more stringent, and consistently enforced, criteria for various program tiers and certifications—an implementation that could result in some partners being unexpectedly demoted.

"To be honest, we weren't enforcing them," Thurber said, adding that McAfee planned to convey to partners "We are very firm about the integrity of this program and we will enforce these rules, depending on when your current certifications expire. We don’t want to cu anybody off."

Next: Channel Partners Hopeful, But Doubts Remain

The new criteria for certifications also wouldn't be implemented immediately, but rather would be applied when it came time for partners to become recertified.

Executives said that the channel rollouts were an attempt to overcome numerous factors that served to destabilize the channel and undermine partner trust over the years, including high executive and field rep turnover and a highly fragmented channel program.

Some channel partners applaud the changes, and contend that McAfee has worked hard to establish and maintain trust and communication with its channel.

"The reps are really trying. They're really working hard and they have a bigger load. They're taking up the challenge," TLIC's Nacci said. "I can't complain at all."

. Other McAfee partners were more skeptical. Jim Freeman, principal and chief financial officer of Englewood, Colo.-based Attain Technologies, said that McAfee had a long way to go to repair past damage.

While Freeman said that he was hopeful, he said he didn't know that the channel rollouts would compensate for previous high channel rep turnover and a sales model that set up McAfee's inside sales force to directly compete with its channel.

"I'm getting a little short tempered in competing with McAfee for my own renewals and new upsell opportunities," he said. "They don't have their inside sales rep behavior under control yet."

In addition, Freeman said that he had concerns about the slew of new certification criteria for partners, as well as questions regarding how long sales reps would stick around and if the company would establish a sales force that "worked through the channel instead of around the channel."

"It's bad timing to be asking people to recommit, because that recommitment costs money and money is in short supply in the channel," he said. "I could really care less about the press release. In the weeks and months and quarters ahead, I want to know exactly how we're going to market together."