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One of the most difficult missions any company can assign itself is to move from a direct to an indirect sales force.

It basically entails re-engineering every process in the company to the point where personnel turnover rates can easily reach 100 percent.

So after doing precisely that, it might be instructive to take a look at how both SurfControl and Websense are faring in the channel.

Both companies initially specialized in the area of Web content filtering software and at about the time they decided to make the move to indirect sales, each brought in new high-profile executives with, oddly enough, a lot of history in direct sales.

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Pat Sueltz once led Sun’s service business at a time when Sun was paying lip service to the channel in favor of direct sales. After leaving Sun, she did a short stint at less-than-channel-friendly before taking over the helm at SurfControl.

Meanwhile, Websense tapped Gene Hodges, the president and chief technology officer of McAfee, to be its CEO. Hodges is well-respected among security technology professionals but only became a convert to the channel late in his career at McAfee.

Both executives then reached out to tap new channel chiefs to help revamp the sales efforts. In the case of SurfControl, Sueltz hired David Harris, who opted to essentially start from scratch. He replaced the entire direct sales force with people trained in channel sales and then completely revamped the channel portal.

All in all, the majority of SurfControl’s sales now flow through the channel and just about all new business emanates through the channel

Harris says he’s proud of the fact that SurfControl will pay any solution provider 105 percent of its margin on any deal that a customer forces SurfControl to take direct. Just this week the company extended its channel program to include alliances with Microsoft, Citrix Systems, Juniper Networks, Celestix Networks, Check Point Software Technologies, and Network Engines, all of which have promised to better integrate their offerings with SurfControl products.

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Websense took a less straightforward route, opting to spend more time retraining its existing direct sales force rather than replacing it wholesale. That meant hiring Dave Roberts as the company’s new sales chief. At McAfee, where Roberts had been channel chief, he was widely credited with helping convert that company back to an indirect sales model.

At Websense, Roberts has opted to rely heavily on distributor Ingram Micro to help manage its new reseller partners and is putting more control over channel marketing resources in the hands of regional sales managers. The vendor also upgraded IT systems so partners will get at least six months of visibility into the license renewal process.

At the same time, the company has also restricted its direct sales force to only quoting list prices.

Both companies are beginning to move upstream to deliver more complicated products designed to monitor outbound e-mail messages for compliance and, in the case of Websense, a raft of new pre-emptive security applications using the company’s ThreatSeeker technology (which Hodges claims will change the way IT organizations respond to security threats).

The most striking thing about the transformations of these two companies is how much both Sueltz and Hodges have morphed into channel zealots over the last few years.

And while acquisition rumors continue to fly around both companies, along with every other company in the security sector, it looks like both are in the channel for the long haul.

As such, they can both be held up as courageous examples to other companies of making the channel work for you in spite of previous commitments to mistaken direct sales models.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Media’s Enterprise Technology group. He can be reached at