E-mail security vendor MailFrontier Inc. plans to shift 100 percent of its sales to the channel within a year.

The company is well on its way, having already moved three quarters of sales to channel partners as of its last quarter, said MailFrontier CEO Anne Bonaparte.

The channel-only approach is the most cost-effective way to reach the customer segment MailFrontier is targeting, Bonaparte said.

“We made a conscious decision to focus on the mid-enterprise-market,” she said. “We knew that was a market our architecture and our solution would be well suited for.”

Midsize enterprises, she said, value innovation–not for its own sake, but for the purpose of solving real business problems.

With that in mind, no one is better equipped to address those business problems than the regional VARs and integrators that service these customers, she said.

MailFrontier doesn’t have a professional services organization and has to rely on the channel to provide services.

The company has picked up on a trend that an increasing number of small to midsize vendors have been noticing for years.

Customers generally prefer to do business with IT service providers that are local or have a local presence so that when they need service, the provider can respond promptly.

“We’re 100 percent channel default today,” Bonaparte said, meaning the company refers all new business to a partner unless a customer is adamantly against it.

“If someone insists on buying direct, we’ll take that order.”

Shifting sales to the channel allows the company to focus its limited resources to develop and refine its technology, she noted.

MailFrontier’s technology protects e-mail systems from spam, viruses, phishing and other forms of inbound and outbound threats.

Click here to read more about the managed e-mail security market.

The company’s software is designed to recognize differences between unwanted e-mail, known as spam, and phishing attacks, which are attempts to steal information.

Bonaparte said MailFrontier was the first to classify phishing as fraudulent e-mails, as opposed to lumping it in with spam.

The company’s products include e-mail gateway servers and appliances, which have won high marks from partners for easy deployment and effectiveness. In addition, the vendor’s desktop software has gotten a lot of praise, including a “Best of the Year” nod from PC Magazine last year.

Irvine, Calif.-based integrator VL Systems Inc. encountered MailFrontier two years ago when it went looking for e-mail security solutions for its customers.

“MailFrontier came out ahead of the other solutions,” said Lee Green, director of marketing and customer relations at VL Systems.

“It’s an extremely good product. We’ve not had any customer started on this product that has not been extremely happy with it, which is pretty rare.”

Green said MailFrontier had a direct-sales model when it first enlisted VL Systems as a partner, but the company has been steadily moving toward its 100 percent channel sales goal and solicits feedback from partners to help with the transition.

“They’re trying to push 100 percent of their sales through the channel,” he said. “From a business standpoint, it allows them to scale better. They’re going to get better market penetration.”

John DiDonato, national account executive at Wolcott Group, a MailFrontier partner in Cleveland, said the vendor offers a good combination of solid technology and partner support.

“They’re very good at supporting you through the sales cycle,” DiDonato said. “If we didn’t have the engineers to facilitate a detailed demo at a customer site, let’s say, MailFrontier has the resources to help us do that.”

Bonaparte said her understanding of partner needs comes from her background working with the channel.

“For me, it’s kind of in my blood,” she said.

Before joining MailFrontier, she did a stint at Verisign Inc. and also founded Buzzsaw Inc., which was sold to Autodesk Inc.

Carrie Roberts, MailFrontier’s director of channel for North America, said willingness to work with the channel is one of the top criteria when hiring people for her team.

Roberts and Bonaparte say they want to leave no doubts with anyone about the company’s channel commitment.

“We’ve seen the mistakes competitors have made in this space,” Roberts said.

Going back and forth between embracing the channel and then going direct, as some vendors have done, creates confusion and ultimately hurts the vendor, Roberts said.

MailFrontier, in business for about three years, has about 75 partners.

The company is recruiting more partners, and Roberts said it will probably settle on about 150 or so, unless it decides that number is not sufficient.

Because of the subscription component of e-mail security, MailFrontier gives partners a chance at recurring revenue.

Roberts said the company boasts a 98 percent subscription renewal rate.