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Security firm Webroot Software cut 85 percent of its 2,000 VARs and fit the remainder into a formal partner program as the company sets out to dominate the corporate spyware market, which it calls a wide-open opportunity.

The Channel Edge Partner Program fortifies Webroot’s VAR relationships and allows the company to deliver more support to each VAR as it leverages their reach and customer inroads into the enterprise, where no solution has built a significant beachhead, executives said.

“The spyware market is where the spam market was a few years ago,” said Vinay Goel, Webroot’s vice president of worldwide marketing. “It’s not managed, there are no policies, there’s no central management, it’s not effective. It is basically left to individual employees downloading two or three consumer-grade and freeware solutions onto desktops. You need a professional, sophisticated response like we now have for spam.”

Much as professional spam solutions eventually caught the attention of CIOs and IT professionals, enterprise spyware solutions are gaining traction. The market grew 46 percent last year, and Webroot saw its business expand almost 500 percent. Webroot now boasts some 10,000 corporate customers (3 million endpoints), Goel said.

Webroot’s expansion strategy relies heavily on a face-to-face sales pitch that includes the company’s spyware audit and SpyFree Guarantee, which require more feet on the street than Webroot could muster alone, said Lauren Hawkins Kimmel, the vendor’s channel marketing manager. The company is recruiting new VARs to extend the geographic reach of that face time approach.

The Webroot solution relies on a threat resource that examines 60 million URLs daily using an algorithm to identify spyware and push spyware definitions out to the nodes for blocking and zapping, Goel said.

The vendor maintains a direct sales force, which accounts for 50 percent of revenue, but runs a channel-neutral compensation program and aims to be 100 percent channel (up from 15 percent in 2004) in 12 months, Kimmel said.

Partners will have access to a Web-based spyware audit program, designed to determine the spyware threat within a corporate environment to justify return on investment and shorten the sales cycle. VARs may provide the audit as part of a service package, maintaining Webroot and competitive offerings on a corporate network, Kimmel said.

The SpyFree guarantee message is a money-back promise that all spyware will be removed and blocked within 30 days of deployment.

The Channel Edge program also includes new channel management teams, marketing programs, sales and technical support, and a partner portal to support VARs in the field.

Resellers will be classified as Premium or Standard Resellers, with the former required to meet annual sales minimums but receiving steeper margins.