Symantec CEO: Channel To Take Lead On More Customers

Symantec CEO Steve Bennett said the company will rely heavily on its partners as it makes a major reduction in its sales force in the wake of the massive restructuring of the company.

In an interview with CRN Friday, Bennett said the company's sales team will focus exclusively on global and high-end enterprise accounts, leaving other opportunities to strategic partners that have been successful.

"We are going to call on fewer people direct and let the channel take the lead on more customers," Bennett said. "In my view, over time we will call on less accounts direct and free up more accounts to be handled entirely by partners for both creating and fulfilling demand."

[Related: Symantec Responds To Strategy Questions, Channel Optimistic ]

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Bennett said the plan calls for major cuts to marketing and sales investments. As a percentage of revenue, marketing and sales will go from 41 percent of revenue to 27 percent, which falls more in line with the industry average. "You are going to see more use of e-commerce and telesales and in-product marketing," Bennett said. "It will be a more effective and more focused, direct sales-force coverage with more reliance on partners."

Bennett replaced former CEO Enrique Salem in July following quarterly earnings that fell nearly 10 percent. He joined Symantec's board in 2010 and was previously CEO of Intuit from 2000 to 2007. Shortly after taking the helm, Bennett pledged to refocus the company's approach.

The Mountain View Calif.-based security giant unveiled Symantec 4.0 strategy this week, starting with organizational changes, including layoffs of reportedly 1,000 employees. The company also has plans for a complete reshuffling of its entire product set, integrating point solutions into a more cohesive portfolio. Partner program changes will be rolled out incrementally through 2013, and few details have been revealed about the impact the changes could have on partners.

The company has more than 50,000 partners, Bennett said, and still needs to iron out a more cohesive channel strategy that creates value for customers, the channel and Symantec shareholders. The plan could result in a "material reduction in the number of customers or named accounts that we actually send Symantec dedicated resources to focus on," Bennett said.

"Over time we will call on less accounts direct and free up more accounts to be handled entirely by partners for both creating and fulfilling demand," Bennett told CRN. "I see us going deeper with fewer accounts."

NEXT: Some Symantec Partners May Have To Go, Bennett Said

At the same time, Symantec's Bennett said the company will significantly reshape its relationship with partners in a major overhaul of its partner ecosystem, shedding partners that don't add value while engaging with those that have proven a commitment to the security giant. The company is also creating a renewals organization, but more work needs to be done to iron out the details, Bennett said.

"My guess is that we will have fewer partners with deeper relationships in total with a better economic profile for the people that we view add value to both customers and our go-to-market strategy," Bennett said.

Bennett said Symantec's more than 50,000 partners have called on the company to make some sweeping changes to its go-to-market strategy. The company has great technology, but it needs to treat its technology as a cohesive portfolio with fewer point solutions, Bennett said.

"Some think we are confusing, complicated and hard to do business with, but they want us to get our act together," Bennett said. "We can't get there incrementally; we have to be bold and aggressive both on the offering side and our go-to-market side."

Rick Marcotte, president of Herndon, Va.-based DLT Solutions, a major Symantec partner with a public sector focus, called the reduction in sales and marketing expenses "significant," signaling good news for the channel. "The devil is in the details and how the plan gets rolled out in field," Marcotte said.

"The only way for that reduction to happen is if they rely more on channel and have a more organic staff and sales force to take products to market," he said. "That point alone is bullish for channel."

Bennett said he has long had an understanding of the importance of channel partners, beginning with his time at GE where he started the company's electrical distribution business and later went on to run the firm's appliance division where he worked closely with partners.

"I have a long history of dealing with the channel, and it plays a very strategic and intricate part of the go-to-market strategy for Symantec in multiple ways," Bennett said. "We have to figure out a way to run this company in a way that these technologies bring value to end customers and partners."