Symantec Partners Hopeful With SMB Advisory Council Launch

Symantec partners say that the recent launch of an SMB advisory council is a step in the right direction to establish communication, but the company has a long way to go before the list of SMB needs are fully addressed.

Symantec's new 20–member SMB advisory council, which held its first meeting in June, is comprised of solution providers representing small companies or distributors with a small business focus, as well as large account resellers than have an SMB initiative, executives said.

Randy Cochran, Symantec vice president of North American channel sales, said that the executive team decided to compile an SMB advisory council in response to partners who amped up requests for the company to address issues specific to their needs -- issues that were often distinct from those of enterprise and even midsize partners.

In light of the fact that SMBs comprises the vast majority of businesses, the space was "not a one-size-fits-all market," Cochran said.

Sponsored post

"When we've gone to events like XChange, when we talked to partners, it became pretty clear to us that the SMB space has its unique issues," Cochran said. "Why not get a bunch of them together and ask them what they want? There was a little bit of that already, asking for it in a roundabout ways."

SMB partners contend that the advisory council was a step in the right direction in terms of communication, and indicated that company channel administration is trying to listen.

"It's good news to hear that they're putting together an advisory council," said Daniel Duffy, CEO of Fresno, Calif.-based Valley Network Solutions. "They definitely could use some more insight from SMB insider partners."

The initiative comes as an about face following a relatively uncommunicative past, when SMB needs -- especially those from the Midwest and less populous geographies -- seemed to fall on deaf ears, partners said.

Looking ahead, Darrel Bowman, CEO of Tacoma, Wash.-based said that he hopes that Symantec will consider feedback from a wide swath of partners from numerous geographic regions, as opposed to relying on a centrally focused advisory team from the East Coast or larger metropolitan areas, adding that

"Making sure those smaller partners have a voice. This is something I think is important for all partners. It disturbs me when they make delineations between what one partner can provide and another partner can provide," Bowman said, adding that "the Pacific Northwest gets left out quite a lot."

Next: SMB Partners Weigh In On Issues

Both partners and executives agree that subscription renewals were among the top priorities for the company's smallest partners. Symantec was subject to a firestorm of criticism in 2008, when it came to light that the company in some cases was undermining recurring revenue streams gained from subscription renewals by calling the customer directly, often times before their subscription had expired.

Meanwhile, SMB partners maintain that many of the renewal issues have appeared to have subsided, and that Symantec had made headway on processes that enable the partner to retain their recurring revenue stream.

"I have not seen it come up recently. There were a few times where we intercepted a solicitation from them to one of our customers. They appeared to have addressed it from what I can see," Duffy said.

However, it's not quite there yet. Bowman said that every so often Symantec makes a call directly to the customers to solicit a renewal, although in general they are at least waiting until after the subscription has expired before calling. Bowman said that he has discussed waiting at least a week before initiating a direct customer call, he said.

"By doing that they cut a direct deal. We didn’t give (Symantec) permission to call them directly," he said.

Another thing Symantec SMB partners say they want to see changed is the policy around support. In particular, Bowman said that he had concerns that partners -- and subsequently their customers -- experienced diminished support levels based on metallic status or volume sold. That decline in support inevitably translated to the end user customers, Bowman said.

"Why would you shortchange any level of support?" he said. "Every customer deserves to be treated as if they're the biggest customer on the planet, regardless of their size," he said.

Duffy said that he hoped to see Symantec address integration issues following acquisitions. In the past several months, Symantec made waves in the security industry with the serial purchases of encryption companies PGP and GuardianEdge and certification authority VeriSign.

"PGP has a great presence in the SMB and midmarket. We're going to be looking to leverage that," Cochran said, adding that eventually encryption would be folded into Symantec's product lines. "We defiantly have (an integration) plan in mind."

However, Duffy said that Symantec had farther to go in aligning programs and addressing the inherent channel conflict and infighting that has arisen as a result of the acquisitions.

"As a partner, I have been baffled why they continue to acquire companies without fully digesting them. I think the message needs to come from the top -- 'get along or get out," Duffy said. "Listen to partners. If they're serious about partners, they should follow through and hold their people more accountable."