Symantec Redesigns Channel Program To Evaluate Partner Competency

Symantec executives are rolling out a completely redesigned North American channel program that aims to make its sales efforts increasingly dependent on a core set of systems integrators and regional resellers for growth, gambling on their technical expertise and ability to handle the entire sales process.

Under the new program, partners can gain added benefits by proving their sales and marketing acumen, and presales and technical consulting proficiency to achieve an "expert competency’ in a technology area from Symantec. The distinction will be awarded to companies that can prove their specialization in a dozen competency areas focused on Symantec's portfolio, said John Emard, senior director of North American channel operations and programs at Symantec. Partners that make the investment to become sales and technically confident will see the greatest rewards under the new program, Emard said.

"This is the most significant change to our program that we have made in almost a decade," Emard said. "We are going to invest in partners that are committed to Symantec and help them solve bigger customer jobs. It's going to be done with a group of partners that demonstrate they are going to invest and achieve the technical competence they need for growth.’

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The new program was unveiled at the Partner Executive Summit being held at the Symantec Vision 2014 Conference this week in Las Vegas. It formally launches in October with Registered, Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers for partners, based on their achievement of a skills competency, Emard said, with the highest tiers being reserved for partners that invest in achieving one or more expert competencies.

Under each tier, participating partners can obtain the principal or expert designation from Symantec. Partners are not limited in the number of expert competencies for which they can apply, but they must first obtain "principal competency" within a particular solution area before doing so. Partners with the principal designation get a 10 percent margin benefit on opportunity registration.

The bulk of the program's benefits are aimed at partners that obtain advanced accreditation, Emard said. Partners that are awarded an expert validation in one or two competency areas will obtain Gold-level status and can get 20 percent margin for registering opportunities; renewal incentives up to 2 percent of the rebate on total renewals performance; a growth acceleration rebate of 4 percent on products sold within the expert competency; and an opportunity to apply for development funds of up to 5 percent of sales on products.

NEXT: Partners To Face Symantec Technical Review Panel

Platinum status partners must receive an expert validation in three or more technology areas. Companies can get an 8 percent rebate on products sold in their expert competencies and are guaranteed development funds for education, training, outbound call campaigns, sales incentives and bonuses, Emard said.

Partners that achieve validation in an expert competency must meet a $300,000 annual revenue requirement, pass an evaluation, provide evidence of customer satisfaction, and demonstrate confidence in delivering products to a technical evaluation review board. Expert-level partners will be measured quarterly to maintain their status, Emard said. Partners will need to revalidate if they become deficient in quarterly measures for more than two quarters.

The technical panel review is an objective assessment of the technical skills of the partner staff to confirm the partner's industry knowledge and ability to support a variety of customer challenges, Emard said. The technical review board, comprised of Symantec subject matter experts, "assesses the partner’s capability to design a comprehensive customer-oriented solution with the competency."

Partners that can immediately prove their technical specialization will receive validated expert status and have an opportunity to start accruing benefits through the transition period, Emard said. Rewards will be paid out in October, he said.

Emard said the low barrier to entry into the program enables all partners to participate and build specialty skills over time. Partners obtaining principal status have a minimal revenue threshold of $10,000 annually and a minimal customer reference requirement.

Emard said partners had been advocating for significant changes over the last several years, frustrated with navigating the complexity caused by Symantec maintaining nearly 20 different programs. The program didn’t incentivize the right kind of behavior, Emard said. Program investments weren’t aligned with what the company was trying to get from different partners, and there was no global consistency, he said.

"We recognized that our program wasn't aligned with how they went to market," Emard said. "Our program hadn't evolved at the pace the market was changing."

Partners are genuinely enthusiastic about the new program and say they have been asking for changes many years to reward partners that perform best. Symantec has had a track record of poor sales practices that have resulted in less-than-stellar margins, said Kurt Klein, CEO of Computer Media Technologies. Klein called the changes a significant improvement by aligning Symantec's priorities with those of the most skilled partners and their customer requirements.

"They're rewarding partners that are consistently performing and providing a mechanism for them to reap the biggest rewards," Klein said.

The value from selling more Symantec product increases dramatically under the new program, said Jason Livingston, managing partner at Bloomington, Minn.-based Intuitive Technology Group. It will be interesting to see how well the program will be maintained over time, Livingston said.

"This is something that has been a long time coming," Livingston said. "This puts most of the investment in the partners that have established a strong practice around Symantec."