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Symantec: Ready To Win Back The Channel's Support As A Security-Only Company

In an exclusive interview with CRN, CEO Michael Brown says he is squarely committed to doubling down on channel investments and building a top-notch security strategy.

When Michael Brown took on the CEO role at Symantec 18 months ago, it quickly became clear to him that the company had to shed its Veritas storage business and focus on its security roots.

"You have to be nimble enough to keep up with [market] changes if you want to lead. It became clear to us that we would not be able to do that by continuing to try to do both [security and storage management software], and it was better to try to achieve some focus," Brown said in an exclusive interview with CRN.

The company is now well on its way toward essentially undoing Symantec's 2005 $10.2 billion acquisition of Veritas as it prepares to sell the business to private equity investor The Carlyle Group for $8 billion in a deal unveiled in August.

In doing so, Symantec will, as of January, operate as a stand-alone security business with a focused approach that Brown said will benefit both itself and its channel partners.

"We believe that we're on the right path to get Symantec growing again," Brown said. "We're excited about a lot of the change that we're driving at Symantec. Symantec is the world's largest cybersecurity company. That was a bit obscured with the Veritas business, but now we're refocused on that, and it's time to reassert our leadership in cybersecurity."

Jason Eberhardt, vice president of strategic alliances at Chicago-based Conventus, a longtime Symantec partner, said Conventus has bet its portfolio on the vendor for more than a decade. Eberhardt could hardly contain his excitement about the split, saying it shows the company is listening to partner feedback and allowing partners to do business more successfully with a security-focused vendor.

"With this split it gives them focus, development to strategically build their products, and the ability to focus on their products and partners," Eberhardt said.

Brown, meanwhile, will take Symantec’s message of optimism with him on stage this week as he addresses Symantec solution providers at the vendor's Symantec Partner Engage conference, kicking off Oct. 14 in Orlando, Fla. What's less clear is how many of the channel partners in the audience will share his confidence.

Solution providers said the "new" Symantec faces an uphill battle when it comes to re-engaging with and re-invigorating its channel. Several solution providers interviewed by CRN said they have de-emphasized their Symantec partnerships in recent years in favor of relationships with rivals such as Sophos, Palo Alto Networks, HP Security and a number of smaller niche players in the security space.

One executive from a Symantec Platinum partner, who did not want to be named, said that while his company still brings in a significant percentage of its revenue with Symantec, it has started investing in diversifying its portfolio over the past couple of years to include other security vendors at a hefty cost. While he said his company is rooting for Symantec to succeed with a new security-only focus and will continue to invest in the vendor, he said he doesn't feel the channel support has been there in recent years, even for top-tier partners.

"One would think that a solution provider -- a Symantec partner -- that is so Symantec-focused would be at the top of the list of every dialogue Symantec would have in the regions where we have local support. [That is not the case]," the executive said.

When asked to provide details on how many partners are actively doing business with Symantec vs. a year ago, Symantec only told CRN that it has "thousands of partners," some working with Veritas, some with Symantec and some with both.

While interviewing solution providers for this story, CRN encountered at least 10 companies previously identified as Symantec solution providers that said they have either stopped doing business with the vendor or significantly reduced their focus on Symantec in recent years.

Brown said Symantec is ready to fight to win back the support of the channel. He admitted that the company has been "absent" and created "uncertainty" with the channel in recent years, but said he is squarely committed to doubling down on channel investments and building a top-notch security strategy around its Unified Security platform.

"I think there's an opportunity to reassert what we stand for and where we are going," Brown said. "I think that's going to give naturally the partners the confidence to invest in us and in our products and take that out to customers."

With that strategy, Brown said there is "no question" that Symantec will be able to convert partner mind share away from its competitors.

The "real focus" for that security growth is the company's enterprise security business, Brown said, of which more than 80 percent comes from partners. The company is pursuing a strategy it calls Unified Security, which works to unite the extensive threat intelligence information from its Symantec and Norton endpoints with analytics, cybersecurity services and additional security solutions such as DLP and ATP into a single platform-based approach.

That enterprise security push is already well under way, with Brown bringing in top-notch channel executives to the Symantec lineup. In the past few months, Symantec has brought on board Adrian Jones as executive vice president of worldwide sales, Dan Rogers as chief marketing officer, John Thompson as senior vice president of global partner sales and Tom LaRocca as vice president of global channel programs and sales.

"[Partners] can definitely expect to see a lot of change and they've already seen a lot of change in the last year," Brown said.

"Our hope is that we're going to be building a stronger partner community that is more aligned with us, they'll know more about our strategy, they'll invest with us to learn more about the product to be more effective with their customers and they will be growing and achieve more profit dollars with us. As we continue to grow and execute on that strategy ... then we give them an even bigger platform to grow," he continued.

The new leadership team already has planted its stake in the channel, unveiling a new, simpler partner program that aims to drive security focus, raise margins for partners and make it easier for them to climb the ranks to the Platinum tier. Jones said the new program, coupled with a dedicated security focus and Unified Security strategy, will drive growth for partners and provide a consistent strategy and messaging that will hold true for years to come.

"This isn't something new for us ... we are a channel company. I think that's the difference with us. We're the largest [security] channel company on the planet today. We want to just continue to drive more focus with [partners], particularly with the change we have in the company and the strategy to get the right focus and attention we need," Jones said.

Jones said that Symantec will be recruiting new partners to its mix, but it will not be looking to overhaul its entire partner landscape. He said the focus would be on enabling its current partners with training and tools to sell and profit from the "new" Symantec.

Solution providers who told CRN that they used to partner with Symantec, but have either de-emphasized or completely ended their partnership in recent months, said that in order to win back their business, the vendor would have to offer a competitive pricing model for both resellers and MSPs and focus on consistently communicating better with its partners.

"They would need to have a compelling product that outperforms an existing product we use or solves a problem no other product does. They then need to introduce it at a price point and with a channel program that actually makes sense for us to support. I know it sounds simple, and probably isn't. But, that is what the companies that lured us away from Symantec did," one partner president, who had switched to a competitive vendor and did not want to be named, wrote in an email to CRN.

Another partner executive, who did not want to be named, said Symantec has been particularly absent in its communication to partners. While he is a smaller-size partner, the executive said that his company went two years as a partner without being contacted by any of the vendor's representatives to discuss pricing options or additional services. He said his business now only sells Symantec's antivirus offerings, stopping selling other solutions years ago. A second executive from another partner said that he saw the same challenges, especially around partner support.

"It went downhill [fast] a few years ago," the second executive said in an email. That company now partners with Sophos.

However, even some partners that seemed skeptical about the company in the past seemed extremely optimistic about what might come from a security-only Symantec. While he might not work exclusively with the vendor anymore, one Platinum partner executive said that he hopes these changes will maximize the significant investment his company has made in the vendor going forward and create a more reciprocal relationship.

"We have to be vested in Symantec. Symantec's success equals our success. ... We're excited and overly optimistic for the potential that awaits us as we start working together better and stronger as a security entity," the executive said.

PUBLISHED OCT. 12, 2015

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