WatchGuard Enforcing Training, Certs In Partner Program Overhaul

WatchGuard Technologies is completely overhauling its partner program in a move executives say will better enforce reseller training and certifications and bolster sales of its next-generation firewalls and other networking gear to larger businesses.

The WatchGuardONE partner program shifts the company's traditional program that provided volume-based discounts to one that incentivizes a partner's skill level, said Alex Thurber, vice president of sales at WatchGuard Technologies.

"The whole idea that the pure volume of what a partner does is a true reflection of the value that they bring to a customer is simply not true," Thurber said. "At the end of day we need happy customers and safe customers that are guided by committed partners."

[Related: WatchGuard's Thurber Touts APT Detection Service To Channel]

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WatchGuard is moving to a Web-based, proctored testing model, eliminating the open-book testing done in the past. Training is free. The single certification test costs $200 under the new program. Partners will have time to get the appropriate accreditation under the program. The changes don't take full effect until Jan. 1, 2015, Thurber said.

"I think it is critically important that our mutual customers are working with partners that are well trained and so we're driving a true certification model that ties our investment back to the level of training our partner's receive," Thurber said.

Under the previous WatchGuard program, partners identified themselves as an Associate, Expert or Professional tier partners. The company, Thurber said, wasn't rigorous about enforcing the tier levels and over time, partners retained their Professional level status despite not retaining the appropriate training and certified staff.

The new, three-tiered model has a silver, gold and platinum tier. Silver-level partners must commit to one certified sales engineer and one sales rep to receive a standard upfront discount. Gold-level partners must have two sales engineers and two sales reps under the program to get an additional upfront discount as well as a back-end discount paid every month and eligibility for staff to receive special co-op reward dollars. Platinum partners must maintain at least three trained sales engineers and three sales reps and agree to a $100,000 quarterly volume commitment under the program.

The company also added support for multi-channel selling, providing partners with the flexibility to sell online, in-store or in-person to support customer requirements.

Industry analysts say WatchGuard is under increased pressure from Sophos and Fortinet in the small and midsize market for unified threat management appliances and wants to compete in the upper midmarket and enterprise level with its line of next-generation firewalls and subscription-based intrusion prevention service. The company also has a data loss prevention component and recently introduced a cloud-based virtual sandbox subscription service through a partnership with LastLine to analyze suspicious files and detect advanced threats.

The changes could help WatchGuard capture a larger portion of the upper midmarket and differentiate itself against Dell Sonicwall, Sophos and other network security vendors that are typically considered by small business owners, said John M. Stengel, owner of Charlotte, N.C.-based Stengel Consulting, a WatchGuard partner and specialist in network security consulting, management and training. Sophos CEO Kris Hagerman told company partners in May that the company was poised to disrupt the endpoint security market by combining its unified threat management appliances with its cloud-based endpoint security suite. The company is fully focused on the SMB market.

"Getting something to work faithfully and securely requires a much higher skill level than just getting something to work," Stengel said. "By holding partners accountable for training, WatchGuard is differentiating itself and can get the attention of people who do understand the differences between security products and don't buy on value alone; that moves it up the market to educated buyers."