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Symantec: New Named Accounts For Top Partners, Incentives For Smaller VARs

Symantec wants partners to play to their strengths and says it will depend heavily on top partners going forward, but it also needs solution providers that can sell up and down the product portfolio.

Symantec this week is meeting face-to-face with top partners at its North American Partner Summit, telling them that two-thirds of its named accounts are being moved to the channel and it will rely heavily on these elite partners to close deals.

To help all levels of solution providers become more engaged, Symantec also is addressing the complexity of its partner program head on, aiming to make it easier for partners to understand the rewards and incentives offered across the product line. While the company will depend more on its top partners going forward, it also needs partners that play up and down the Symantec portfolio, said John Eldh, vice president of North America channel sales at the Mountain View, Calif., company.

"The strategy that we have created is really focused on driving a great customer experience, delivering on growth and doing all of this with a more efficient cost structure," Eldh told CRN. "That all has us very focused on the need to better leverage all of our resources, including our channel partners. This strategy is putting our partners in what I'm calling an ever-increasing role of really strategic importance."

[Related: Symantec's New Strategy Includes Layoffs, Partner Programs ]

Shifting more than 70 percent of named accounts to the commercial space is an attempt to get partners to take a greater role in account management, Eldh said. The shift, which turned named accounts over to the commercial segment in North America, started in July, he said.

The move comes after Symantec earlier this year laid off 1,700 employees, or about 8 percent of its workforce and reported a 4 percent decline in sales year-over-year in its most recent quarter "We are putting forth a more thoughtful process around our resources and are looking to our partners to drive more of the account management with and for us across our customer base," Eldh told CRN. "This shift demonstrates our commitment and belief in our partners and their capabilities to manage and grow customer relationships."

The channel revamp is part of Symantec's two-year strategy to streamline its product line and overhaul its internal processes. Eldh has been overseeing a retraining of the company's sales force and making sure field sales reps are incented to sell through channel partners. The company introduced the incentives in July, providing quota acceleration on sales force compensation for deals that go through partners.

Symantec is not looking to shed partners, but instead establish more of a direct connection with them to better understand their competency levels and fuel growth in the area of their expertise, he said.

In the past, Symantec's incentives were geared at having partners sell a broader range of products, pushing them outside their area of expertise and eroding the customer experience in the process, Eldh said.

"We need transactional partners helping us with our transactional business just as much as we need solution providers at the high end supporting us with our most complex solutions," Eldh said. "The power of the channel strategy is helping us to help our partners understand where they're strongest based on their capabilities and then incenting them and rewarding them to play where they're the strongest."

For example, partners that sell Symantec Endpoint Protection and Backup Exec software in the commercial and SMB markets will be counseled, coached and given rewards and incentives for net new sales, Eldh said. Those that are strong at implementation of post-sales support of the company's most technical products will be encouraged to take a larger role in account management and be rewarded for bringing in new sales, Eldh said.

NEXT: Channel Partners Welcome The Changes


Streamlining the company's complex channel program is a large part of the channel strategy, Eldh said. There was always one place to do opportunity registration, he said, but partners that dealt with different product lines often had to reach out to myriad sales and support engineers, lengthening the entire sales process and sometimes resulting in lost opportunities. The consolidated program will provide one framework for partners to understand incentives and rewards for certain sales goals in order to maximize profitability, he said.

"What was more complex was multiple programs that partners needed to keep track of in terms of understanding how to capitalize on incentives," Eldh said. "Those programs might have been driven by different business units, different products and different goals and initiatives at different times."

Many Symantec partners welcomed the news. An executive at one of Symantec's largest partners, who did not want to be named, said the company has been fairly disengaged over the past several years. Business with the company should improve under a streamlined partner program because it should be easier to see a deal through, he said.

"We've been meeting our goals, but there has been relatively no outreach on their behalf other than what we've seen in the news," the executive said.

There was more skepticism about the plan among partners that don't fall at the top in terms of sales revenue.

Symantec was once seen as the security industry darling, but partners increasingly turned their clients to competing products that worked just as well, had solid margins and often undercut the company on price, said George Bardissi, president of Bardissi Enterprises, a Philadelphia-based solution provider. Any changes the company makes to better embrace the channel and reduce complexity will be welcomed, Bardissi said.

"Symantec became the 800-pound gorilla in the room with the powerful name, but they got too diverse too quickly and they lost potency," Bardissi told CRN. "To me and a lot of other people doing what we do, we veered off away from Symantec because its backup solution wasn't keeping up with the industry and there were also some better integration points there with alternative security vendors."

Other partners praised Symantec's still-strong brand name. Customers turn to vendors that they know and trust and "that has been Symantec's sweet spot," said Jim Rock, an IT engineer at Rochester, N.Y.-based website development and computer services firm OS-Cubed.

David Lillis, director of architecture and implementation at Stamford, Conn.-based solution provider Axiom Technology Group, called the partner outreach a positive sign that Symantec will continue to use the channel to drive growth. A partner program that every partner can easily embrace will help get sales deals done, Lillis said.

PUBLISHED NOV. 13, 2013

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