Symantec Preps Partner Program Changes Ahead Of Conference

Symantec is readying a new channel program that it says will reward partners that are committed to the software maker and can sell a more integrated set of products.

The company plans to roll out a retooled channel program next month when its closest partners meet with the vendor at its North American Partner Exchange in Scottsdale, Ariz. Speaking to financial analysts Wednesday, Symantec CEO Steve Bennett said the company has transitioned its sales team to conduct more field engagements with partners and recently took the wraps off multiyear engineering road maps, which will also be presented to partners.

"In the past, we treated everybody the same, and everybody sold everything. All of our incentives were volume based," Bennett said. "You're going to see a strategy much more aligned to having franchises of our products based on the channel's ability to sell and have the technical ability and capability to sell and service the customers and create demand."

[Related: Symantec Blames Sales Model Changes For Second-Quarter Losses ]

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Few details have been released, but the channel program economic structures, Bennett said, will be changed to better reward committed partners and enhance margins for partners that can go to market with a broader set of integrated Symantec products. Symantec is coming off a quarter with lackluster sales that was caused, Bennett said, by disruption to its sales force, which has been retrained into information management and information security specialists.

Michael Goldstein, president of LAN InfoTech, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Symantec partner, said field engagement during Symantec's restructuring has been "nonexistent." The lack of communication prompted a discussion about whether or not to consider reaching out to another security partner, Goldstein said.

"There's a very in-depth product line so having a local contact come by to explain what's going on is important," Goldstein said. "The relationship becomes very different when you get pushed to go through distribution."

Margins have been good under Symantec, Goldstein said, but any improvements to Symantec's channel engagement that reward vendors for their technical capabilities would be welcomed. "We shouldn't have to worry about our overall volume is," he said.

In addition to announcing a complete overhaul of the Symantec product lines to focus on streamlining and integrating a set of more than 100 point products, Symantec told CRN in January that it would retool its go-to-market strategy based on further embracing channel partners for sales.

NEXT: Committing To Program Changes, Partners

The Mountain View Calif.-based company laid off hundreds of employees over the summer, and industry analysts said its competitors, including McAfee, Trend Micro, Kaspersky Lab and others, were in a good position to boost market share during the disruption. The firms are posing solutions to emerging problems, said Matthew Casey, an analyst with Hampton, N.H.-based Technology Business Research Inc. Businesses are embracing the cloud, getting caught up with mobile security concerns and seeking ways to handle growing amounts of data beyond what had been the traditional enterprise perimeter, Casey said.

"They've got to reaffirm their positioning in some of these emerging spaces to remain at the level in the conversation with end customers the way they have been in the past," said Matthew Casey, an analyst with Hampton, New Hampshire-based Technology Business Research Inc.

The disruption, which included the loss of channel veteran Thomas Gillman and the departure of CFO James Beer, caused sales to decline, executives said. This week the company told investors it had losses in every area of its portfolio. It saw some gains in international sales.

The company, Symantec's Bennett said, is committed to the changes it is making, because it is a critical for long-term viability of the company. The company's generalist sales structure "was high-cost, had non-differentiated volume-based rewards for channel partners, was organized in silos and had an inefficient management structure," Bennett said. "Simply put, our structure, incentives and culture were hampering our ability to deliver value to customers and partners and limiting our growth."

Channel partners have seen Symantec retool its partner program a number of times in recent years, said Lane Campbell of Chicago-based Syntress LLC, a Symantec partner. A number of issues, including Symantec's source code leak, had an impact on sales, Campbell said. Some of the partner program changes haven't been positive, forcing smaller partners to suffer, he said.

"What they've done is ramp up the cost of certifications, and it eliminates the incentive for us to focus on them as a practice because they increase the cost of doing business with them," Campbell said.