Symantec Urges Partners to Narrow Focus

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print


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After dozens of acquisitions, Symantec’s product portfolio now spans security, storage and configuration management. While the portfolio offers partners many opportunities, the vendor says solution providers should only focus on technologies where they have expertise. Symantec is taking this channel segmentation approach to maintain focus and relevancy among partners and end users.

While having leadership positions in multiple technology segments would seem like a good thing, it creates a problem for Symantec in that it’s increasingly difficult to succinctly classify Symantec as a whole. Is it a security company? Is it a storage company? Is an information lifecycle company? Is it a business process management company? The answer is all of the above, and that doesn’t make for a good elevator pitch, and it certainly doesn’t make for creating holistic channels."How do we secure and manage information wherever the device against the number of threats? The common thread is information," Salem says. "Our job is to help customers find information and categorize it."

The latest Symantec earnings report tells a great tale of how the vendor has nearly fully recovered from the operational and product missteps of the last several years. The financials show the security and storage vendor buoyed by partner security sales to the SMB market, a segment that Big Yellow dominates.

As Symantec continues to push new products ranging from its endpoint security to storage management to workflow software, its executives and channel team are urging partners not to lose focus and specialize in products where they can have the most success.

"It’s a lion's share game. Our channel strategy is helping the partners sell what makes sense," says Rick Hoffman, senior director of VAR channel sales. "Are they going to sell the entire portfolio? Some may. But for many folks, it’s about finding that next solution that makes sense."

Segmentation and specialization in channel programs are nothing new. Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco have long advocated specialization in either technology sets or market segments as a means for concentrating partners to earn a higher return on their sales efforts, avoiding intrachannel conflict and penetrating vertical segments.

What’s different about the Symantec approach is that it reflects the fractured nature of the company that has spent more than $15 billion over the last five years acquiring companies that range in technology from storage management to configuration management to advanced security. The acquisitions have also changed the composition of Symantec from one of the largest software security vendors in the world to the fourth largest software vendor in the world.

"My predecessor [John Thompson] built this company from $600 million to $6 billion. Our focus on information is not to get bigger, but be more relevant. Scale is good, but relevance is more important," CEO Enrique Salem told solution providers at the recent Symantec Partner Engage event in Orlando, Fla.

Relevance is something Symantec struggles with in its messaging and market positioning. McAfee and tertiary rivals—Sophos, Kaspersky Lab, AVG—are nipping away at its traditional security software and antivirus base. CA and EMC are challenging Symantec’s lucrative backup software business. And a future battle is brewing over configuration and network management, of which Symantec is a major player through its Altiris acquisition.

Salem and his team do not shy away from this dilemma, but don’t necessarily address it head on. At the Partner Engage event, the Symantec team made several references to their strength of the company’s portfolio in managing and protecting information wherever it resides, and that they have the products that can provide security and protection at every step of information use. But the vast differences in products and the expertise needed for selling and implementing various solutions dictate segmentation and focus.

"Instead of being all things across the portfolio … I would rather you focus on the things that you are experts in. I would rather have folks that are more knowledgeable in fewer things than a little bit of knowledge in a lot of things," Salem said.

One Symantec partner that understands the need for gradual expansion within the portfolio is ITS Partners of Grand Rapids, Mich. Originally an Altiris partner that focused exclusively on security configuration management, ITS is gradually adopting Symantec’s endpoint security products that mesh well with its core competency.

"Don’t bite off more than you can chew," says Chuck Hegarty, ITS’ vice president of business development and alliances. "We want to be a great endpoint security partner, and we’re going to get certified in our sweet sport."

While Steve Morton, the company’s vice president of product market, says an increasing amount of Symantec’s and its partners revenue will come from cross-selling products from the entire Symantec portfolio, Americas channel chief Randy Cochran says a temperate approach to product adoption will ensure partners maintain their relevancy in the eyes of their customers.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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