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CA didn’t find the channel, the channel found CA.

Computer Associates International Inc.’s sales and channel leaders have decided to build an indirect channel business because the market demanded it, and they are embracing the concept full force, according to those same executives.

“We are never going back [to direct-only sales],” said James Hanley, CA’s senior vice president of worldwide partner services.

“New customers are providing the growth we need and they want to do business with partners. Even the largest enterprises work with specialists. If we’re not working with the channel, then we’re not in line to do business with those customers.”

In the past year Hanley said he and his channel team have taken steps toward eliminating conflict between the software maker’s direct sales force and partners and to improve the partner program.

The channel business is already growing at double the rate of CA’s direct sales efforts, said Jeff Clarke, CA’s chief operating officer, and Hanley said the goal is to double the channel to make up about 20 percent of CA’s annual revenue in a “short time.”

Hanley highlighted some of those past achievements and some coming improvements this week at CA’s CA World conference in Las Vegas.

Click here to read more about CA’s business solution sales push.

Among the most important improvements this year, Hanley and partners said, was the reduction of channel conflict. CA’s sales force now has incentive to work through channel partners, said Daniel Schwartz, CA’s vice president of enterprise sales. Salespeople receive 115 percent of their base compensation for including partners in a deal and 130 percent if that deal is for enterprise-class products, Schwartz said.

“This is what our customers are asking for,” he said. “They tell us that at least 50 percent of the time, they prefer to purchase something from a partner, an integrator, a trusted advisor who adds value to the product.”

CA will not abandon direct sales. A named accounts program initiated in November 2004 identifies a list of current customers to whom CA will sell directly, “but acquisition of new customers will involve the channel almost exclusively,” Hanley said. A deal registration program for enterprise partners will also bolster the channels position, he said.

Hanley also announced plans for improved training and certification programs across CA’s product spectrum, a defined Market Development Funds and a more organized map of the partner programs, its members, benefits and obligations.

“We had partner segmentation before, but it was never really related,” he said. The new map clarifies the partner levels, responsibilities and benefits, and the steps of CA’s four-tier partner program—Affiliate, Premier, Enterprise and Alliance.

Coming in January is a firm MDF program, a first for CA. Previously MDF had been distributed ad hoc, Schwartz said. The new program, still being designed, will include some upfront MDF, to pump sales in early stages, Hanley said.

CA is also rolling out a four-point training program enhancement. The segments are “Top Gun Training,” which is more intense, deep knowledge training for enterprise partners; alignment with the strategy and direction of individual business units; an Instruction Improvement Process to ensure that instructors have not only knowledge of the technical aspects of the industry, but insight into the partner business model; and new delivery methods, such as online sessions, in-house laboratories, and the ability of partners to sell training and instruction as a service.

Training enhancements are part of a remodeled execution program, now in place for four months, that involved geographic coverage mapping and a new global operations team to support partner segments.

CA changes its name … and its strategy. Click here to read more.

Hanley said business is already responding to the changes, demonstrated by increased channel revenue and partner feedback.

The valuable improvements are the result of an executive team that “finally gets the channel,” said George Kafkarkou, CA’s senior vice president of SMB (small and midsize business) and consumer sales. Kafkarkou has worked at CA for 24 years, mostly in channel sales.

“For the first time in CA’s history you have a CEO, a COO, a CMO, and others who recognize the value of the channel,” Kafkarkou said. “Before you had great channel people, but they were fighting with management to get whatever they could get. Now it’s in the company’s DNA.”

The improvements have not been missed by channel members.

“They are capping the ‘Ts’ on things they have been heading for a while now,” said Ray Zadjmool, principal consultant at Tevora Business Solutions of Irvine, Calif., a systems integrator and CA partner for more than three years. “It’s been a tremendous marrying of sales and technical resources to leverage improved customer relationships.”

Such statements were common this week at CA World, and heartening, Hanley said, for himself and his team.

“It feels great. I had a smile on my face all day,” he said. “This is a validation, but not a victory. It’s great to hear and to recognize that these are still humble beginnings. The pieces are in place, but we have a long way to go.”