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As far as Symantec is concerned, product training is the vendor’s responsibility, but solution selling is up to the partners.

That is the message implicit in the vendor’s decision to focus its channel partner training on products rather than solutions.

As the vendor sees it, making partners experts on specific products will produce better results than goading them to become solution-selling machines that can handle anything.

Beginning this week, Cupertino, Calif.-based vendor is rolling out Sales Expert training programs to train and certify partners on individual product sets, such as Client Security or Storage Foundation.

The vendor’s direction appears to contradict the current conventional wisdom, which holds that VARs and integrators should focus on the solution if they have any chance of running profitable businesses.

Over and over, channel companies have been castigated for, and been urged to move on from, product-focused selling. Product sales carries little profit margin, and wrapping a business strategy around product sales is risky at best, if not doomed to fail.

But Symantec, a company that works with 60,000 partners, is not wrong. The security and storage vendor has grasped something that other companies may still be trying to figure out: To successfully sell a solution, partners must truly understand the components of that solution. If a solution includes Symantec’s Control Compliance Suite, for instance, the partner had better be an expert on the suite.

Symantec has determined, rightly, that solutions are malleable. What one partner sells as a solution may differ slightly, or even radically, from what another partner is selling, even if both solutions contain some of the same Symantec products.

“Customers buy solutions, but vendors and partners sell products,” Parrish said. “To sell it, you need to be an expert in what does it do, what are its competitive features, how is it wrapped into solutions,” Julie Parrish, Symantec’s vice president of global channel sales and strategy, told The Channel Insider.

If a partner is using the correct approach to solution selling, the partner is foremost taking into consideration the needs of its customer. And since customers tend to have specific, even unique, needs, the solution should have a fair amount of customization. And you can’t sell customization by reselling solutions pre-packaged by the vendor.

Sure, a vendor can put together a solution that fits a customer’s specific needs, but how often can the vendor recycle that solution for other customers without having to change a thing? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you.

Solutions evolve. Today’s robust security solution may fall short of a customer’s needs six months from now.

Prepackaging sets of products based on today’s needs and trying to force-fit them into environments six months from now when requirements already may have changed makes little sense.

Symantec, of course, is not abandoning the solutions approach. Obviously, individual products do not in a vacuum exist, and the vendor recognizes the need to market solutions.

But solution talk from Symantec will come in the form of marketing initiatives or in specific situations in which the partner requires the vendor’s involvement in meeting a customer’s need.

The Symantec approach accommodates the flexibility that partners need as they work to fulfill the specific requirements of their customers.

It is the responsibility of the vendor to make the necessary training on its technology available to partners, but the partners had better be the ones who become intimate with their customers’ needs, and who develop and implement effective plans to meet those needs.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner, contributing editor to The Channel Insider and a veteran channel reporter. He can be reached at