Palo Alto Networks Updates Partner Program, Adds New Tier, Certifications And Incentives

Palo Alto Networks is rolling out additional incentives and tools in its partner program designed for solution providers that have invested big in the security vendor.

The NextWave Channel Partner Program changes were unveiled Monday at the company's Ignite 2016 event in Las Vegas.

Coming new to the Americas region is a fourth, highest partner program tier, called the Diamond tier, which has both booking and certification requirements.

[Related: Q&A: Palo Alto Networks CEO On High Growth, Partner Investment And Edging Out The Competition]

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The company is also adding both booking and certification requirements to the lowest level of the program, the Silver level, which previously did not have any requirements.

These changes are significant for the Palo Alto Networks partner ecosystem, Todd Palmer, vice president of Americas Channel Sales, told CRN, because they show how the Santa Clara, Calif.-based security vendor is focused on reciprocating relationships with partners who have invested big in the company's technology and ecosystem.

"We wanted to reward the partners that were making the biggest investment in Palo Alto Networks," Palmer said. "We want to make sure we're putting the dollars we have to invest and resources in the partners that invest in us."

To that end, Palo Alto Networks is also making updates to enhance profitability for partners, Palmer said. Those updates include improved margins for Diamond and Platinum level partners that exceed quarterly growth targets.

The company is adding back-end rebates for its top-tier partners in a program that has been in beta for about nine months and has been successful, Palmer said. What sets this back-end rebate program apart, he said, is that partners can choose to take half of the rebate to the bottom line and put half toward activities to fuel growth, such as head count and enablement.

Amy Rao, founder and CEO of Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palo Alto Networks partner, said her business is a Platinum partner that will likely rank as a Diamond regional partner under the new tiers. She said she is "thrilled" about the changes, especially the recognition of key regional partners under the program, as it will allow her business to get better discounts, receive better opportunities on rebates and overall, make more money.

"They're going to ask you to make investments and in turn, they will reward you for that," Rao said. "It will be great for business. Anything that it makes it easier for my sales reps to get up in the morning and makes it easier to sell this line -- my reps will win, my company will win and Palo Alto Networks will win."

Palo Alto Networks is also launching a new presales certification requirement. The certification derives from the same presales training inside sales reps get, Palmer said, and will now be offered to partners as a requirement in the partner program.

"We want partners to not only articulate the value proposition and win a larger share of their opportunities, but we also want to have partners be able to articulate how the customers can maximize the use of their technology in the environment," Palmer said.

Finally, the security vendor revealed that it would be rolling out a series of specializations, starting with a specialization for its endpoint security solution, Traps. The limited-recruitment specializations will have an additional set of booking and certification requirements, Palmer said, and partners who achieve the specialization will be rewarded with a bigger discount delta, a differentiated go-to-market and more sales leads from internal sales teams. Partners do not need to have the specialization in order to sell Traps.

"The opportunity to partners is they will be recognized internally as having that specialization in Traps and having that skill set, so when we uncover and find these opportunities, we will pass it on to them," Palmer said. "There's a direct correlation between the investment you make in technology capabilities and the growth rate of our Palo Alto Networks business. We want to reward partners that invest in us."

Integrated Archive Systems has also already been certified under the Traps specialization, and CEO Rao said the technology fills a "huge need" for her company's clients.

"We got Traps-certified right away," Rao said. "It's really a huge differentiator for Palo Alto Networks."

Other improvements Palo Alto Networks is adding: making deal registration easier to use, with quicker return times under a new interface; a new renewals platform to automate the renewal process for partners; and a tool to configure, price and quote customers without needing to involve an inside sales representative.

Palmer said Palo Alto Networks will continue to make changes throughout the year to its partner program based on partner feedback.

"We're very proud of the program we've had, and feedback from the partner community is very strong about the program and its benefits," Palmer said.