CRN Interview: David Roberts, McAfee

When David Roberts, McAfee's newly recruited senior vice president of North America channel sales, arrived at the Santa Clara, Calif.-based security vendor earlier this month, McAfee was brushing itself off from layoffs triggered by the sale of its Sniffer product line, and shouldering commitments made by former executive vice president of worldwide channel sales Donna Troy aimed at significantly increasing indirect sales. In a recent interview with CRN Senior Editor Dan Neel, Roberts said he would fulfill those commitments.

CRN: So what's the first order of business for you?

ROBERTS: [There are] two basic points to think about. One is execution of the partner strategy in North America. We've announced the program and we've got to go meet the promises that have been made to the channel. I aspire to be the best vendor partner possible and create the best partner experience that can be created for the channel. And you've got to think about everything. There's the go-to-market engagement model for the big, big accounts. But you've also got to maintain visibility on the little things, like the partner renewal contracts. Because if you don't, somebody could just fall to the competition.

Think about it. We're renewing partner contracts now with something like 1,500 accounts, and a lot of those accounts will never talk to a McAfee person direct. They're small VARs. They may be in Lubbock, Texas, or Saint Angelo, Texas--places like that. I've said we've got to think excellence from an execution standpoint. Because at the time that partner calls in on that contract renewal, the process has got to work. It's got to be easy, it's got to be meaningful, the deliverables within the partner program have got to work, and the training has got to be there. People have got to understand the billable return that they get from certifying somebody on McAfee's technology.

So again, I've asked people to think about two things: How we can create the best partner experience possible, and what does the partner consider a win? Don't go in and talk about a win-win situation or that kind of stuff. Let's think about it from a partner's perspective of what do they consider a win. Where are we today on their overall revenue targets for software vendors? Are we profitable? Those were the kinds of things.

Sponsored post

CRN: What is a win for a McAfee partner?

ROBERTS: It's revenue and profitability. It's dependability. It's consistency. When Microsoft moved to this agent model--or their EA model--there was a lot of rumbling in the channel and I understand that. But at the end of the day, Microsoft was creating consistency. Any rumbling is like the feeling I'd have going through one of those detailed background checks for the FBI so I can go to the airport and get through that new super-security check where you don't have to wait in line. The first part's a pain, but at least it's going to create consistency in my day so I don't have to get to the airport two hours early vs. 30 minutes early.

CRN: For McAfee's smallest partners, is a win still profitability, dependability, consistency?

ROBERTS: If you're a small partner, essentially you'll tie into VARs that have a high level of technical expertise. For us to go out and create a partner program that requires us to certify people, that's a lot for a small partner. Why? Because not only are there training costs, there's time off the job. So through the VARs we'll be able to articulate the ecosystem around how our product delivers so they can understand what it means for them to go invest in training and certification for McAfee technology, in addition to what the revenue opportunities are and the profitability targets are for our software.

I think that there needs to be a lot of emphasis around here put on ease of doing business. Why? If it's hard to do business, there's another company that's got a larger market share than we've got in a security space and people will just default to them. But we've got to make sure that when we look at this channel ecosystem, we think about how we're doing business. So we look at it from the partners' perspective. They can engage with us if we make it easy for them to do business with us.

CRN: Would it make sense to lower the price of certification for certain smaller partners?

ROBERTS: I haven't even thought about lowering the price. And that's not a negative; I just haven't looked at that. What we are doing already is looking at the cost issue. Like how do we get our training online, and those types of things. And so we'll look at different delivery models for training, access to certification to make sure that we're not creating an undue burden on the channel. At the end of the day, I view my job as kind of like creating partner capacity.

We've done some things already. We made some reorganizational changes within the group. I've moved a whole bunch of people from our direct-sales team to under me, so we have more hands to go out and do support for the VAR channel, particularly within the SMB space. We're looking at alignments of existing resources within the company and how we get more resources into the channel group. So my group is 40-something percent bigger today than it was when I started back on July 1. And a goal is how to better optimize what we're doing to make it work without increasing fixed costs in our business.

CRN: Who do you report to directly?

ROBERTS: I report to Jim Lewandowski, executive vice president over the Americas, and we are working very, very hard to look at all of the aspects--from operations to contracts to inside sales to field-based salespeople to channel account managers. We've got to not only implement the partner strategy in North America, but we've also tried to deliver the global partner strategy. And so there will be people working with me to develop McAfee's global partner strategy. We'll have implementation responsibility in North America, and then we'll flow those programs to our global colleagues for them to implement so we have a homogenous program to partners worldwide.

CRN: Where is McAfee right now as far as where you want the company to be in the channel? Are they halfway there?

ROBERTS: No, I think we're more than halfway there. I'd probably say we're 85 percent there. In six months we'd like to be 100 percent there, but then I'd be misleading if I said there weren't some bumps. I just got out of a meeting where we had a bump last week. We were in a situation; the deal ended up going direct. Now I'm in a situation where I've got to make that right with the partner and all that. How that happened is a long story. But I'd be misleading you if I said we're clicking on all cylinders. We're going to be working super, super hard to make the partner programs happen. Six months from now my objective would be for this to be clicking on all cylinders.

At the end of the day, McAfee desperately needs a successful channel. We've got to be able to get the value-added skills the channel brings to us. We've got to be able to get that breadth of coverage, and we've got to be able to meet, quite frankly, our customer needs.

When you look at CDW, if you look at Software Spectrum, and you look at the 5,000 VARs Tech Data does business with, if we're not clicking on all cylinders, then we are going to be in a bad way. I've got to get my guys to think about the value of the channel in terms of dollars.