McAfee's Mea Culpa

McAfee's broad makeover includes the new McAfee SecurityAlliance partner program, key in the company's plan to quadruple the number of partners to represent 65 percent of its revenue by the end of 2005, said David Roberts, recently appointed senior vice president of North American channels at McAfee.

Within the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, McAfee is offering spiffs to incent its direct-sales team to sell through partners, shifting 100 inside sales people to partner recruiting, simplifying its product line and considering new distribution models, Roberts said.

The extent of the changes reflect an awareness by McAfee that the vendor has been a less-than-stellar partner in the past, Roberts said.

"You know, one big problem that McAfee has had is just poor operations," he said. "Other things we've done that have not been channel-friendly [are] our pricing schemes, where we price separately for software and we price separately for hardware. Then there's inconsistency, the executive turnover, lack of credibility."

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That lack of credibility had several partners unwilling to comment on the vendor's plans, fearing their negative opinion of McAfee would lead to reprisal.

One McAfee partner in the Midwest who requested anonymity said of the vendor's plans, "I don't know if I should go on the record with this, but it sounds like the same old tune" from a vendor that only turned to the channel when it thought it could benefit most. The partner said he is working with a new McAfee channel representative but remains skeptical.

But another McAfee partner said he is beginning to see real changes in McAfee's culture under Roberts' direction. "It's all about action, and we are seeing action out in the field," said Dan Burns, vice president of sales at Accuvant, a security solution provider in Denver.

Dealing with McAfee in the past has often been a "nightmare," Burns said. But with Roberts' arrival, "I'm seeing their reps calling on a daily basis. And they've done a pretty good job of getting rid of those resisting the new plan."

A big challenge for the company will be getting its direct-sales organization in line with the vendor's aspirations in the channel, Roberts said. "We need the entire direct-sales force thinking about the partner as they go into the process. So we're just paying them a big spiff to go through a partner," Roberts said.

The alliance program boasts three tiers--ElitePartner, PremierPartner and AssociatePartner. Partners qualify for a particular level based on their commitment to McAfee products, on-staff certifications and sales numbers. In return, McAfee promises partners substantial MDF, marketing support, discounted demo units and in-depth planning opportunities. McAfee also plans to increase MSP opportunities for VARs, Roberts said.

The new program also includes a Web-based partner portal, which promises to simplify the process of keeping up with changing product information, Roberts said.

"With the portal, partners can be proactive about the renewal base. They can see those renewals before the customer sees them and be proactive with the customer," Roberts said. "You know, a lot of times we were contacting the customer before the partner did. And if you're running a business, you know you can't be any more offensive to a guy you're trying to do business with than to talk to his customer before he has the opportunity."