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McAfee channel leaders Alex Thurber and Fernando Quintero spent much of this
week rolling out strategic initiatives designed to increase partner sales and
profitability. It’s been a week of communicating to partners what McAfee is
putting behind what has been deemed “2010: The Year of the Channel.”

None of these changes—incumbency protection, team sales, easier access to
market development funds and improved deal registration—should come as a
surprise to anyone in or around the McAfee channel. Thurber and Quintero have
been telegraphing these changes for months, and piloted many initiatives over
the past two quarters.

The real story here is McAfee’s channel finally emerging from under the
cloud of disorganization and inattention. Much of the initiatives launched by
team Thurber/Quintero are works in progress. Nevertheless, the mere leadership
they’re pouring into what’s been a void for much of the past three years is
paying dividends with partners.

“The field engagement was the first thing that needed to change, and they
did a very good job on that, particularly in the Western region. We hope to
mirror that as we move to the other geographies in the U.S.,”
says Andy Welch, director of partner alliances at security integrator Accuvant.

Transparency, support and profitability are at the heart of nearly
everything that Thurber and Quintero speak of these days. As Thurber told me
last week, “We were making it so tough to do business with us. What partners
are going to get from us is a cleaner experience and easier ability to do
business with McAfee.”

Among the initiatives being presented to partners in a series of live and
virtual events are:

  • Margin Advantage: A
    collection of sales initiatives designed to make partner profitability
    more predictable and consistent.
  • Enablement Advantage: A series of online training resources for partners to become more
    technically proficient in McAfee products and earn certifications.
  • Solution Competencies and
    Partner Training Investments:
    Support for “Elite” partners to help
    make them more differentiated in the market based on technology
  • Migrating Secure Computing
    As of May 1, resellers of Secure Computing products will
    become part of the McAfee Security Alliance Partner Program, making it
    easier for them to acquire and bundle products across McAfee’s full
  • Interlock Advantage: A
    program designed to help solution providers expand deals through attached
    sales. Interlock hinges on the ePolicy Orchestrator, the management
    console that can administer multiple McAfee and third-party security
    applications and appliances.

“The margins are already being dealt with in some of the changes being
proposed and implemented. If these come to fruition as I expect, I think we
will see a significant increase in the transactional margins in 2010, which
will in turn drive more salespeople to make sure that McAfee is a key component
to their success,” Welch says.

Some McAfee resellers have expressed reservations about some of these
initiatives, saying that they’re good only for Elite partners. For rank and
file resellers, some VARs say, these programs amount to little progress.

Quintero is particularly fervent on McAfee’s commitment to partnership. He
often points to the incumbency program he initiated last year as a prime
example of how McAfee is helping partners retain customers and ensure
continuity. Through incumbency protection, McAfee will penalize a reseller with
lower margins if they sell into an account already serviced by another
reseller. Likewise, McAfee’s co-teaming program is designed to aid partners
with technical and sales assistance in capturing complex deals.

“The more you sell, the more we’ll ensure that you remain profitable,”
Quintero said in a conversation with Channel Insider. “We’ll continue to find
new ways of ensuring and enhancing profitability and make more investments.”

Deal registration and profitability protection are terms often bandied about
by channel executives like being in favor of fresh air and potable water. While
McAfee still has work to do on the mechanisms for selling across the portfolio
and controlling margin erosion of commodity products, partners say the
initiatives for cooperative selling and incumbency protection are working.

“We’re getting more involved with them on deals, and we’re being protected,”
says Mark Sollazo, president and CEO of
security reseller SynerComm. “It’s not vapor. It’s real and it’s working.”

McAfee’s channel program is far from perfect, and some partners say that
communications could still use improvement. But the one thing that is clear is
that Thurber and Quintero are putting words into action, breathing new life
into a program that has fallen dormant. What the McAfee channel community is
looking for next is sustained consistency. And that’s the underlying goal of
Thurber and Quintero’s plan for 2010.