Security vendor Websense is stepping away from its direct sales operation in favor of a channel-focused and possibly all-channel operation.

The San Diego-based Web security and Web filtering vendor is preparing to initiate a new sales strategy in the third quarter of 2006 that places the channel at the center of go-to-market plans, and the direct sales team in support, executives announced the week of April 24.

The new strategy will create news sales positions and the right compensation and margin incentives to drive channel sales first and foremost, said David Roberts, Websense’s vice president of sales, who joined the company May 2 after nearly two years as channel chief at security giant McAfee.

The company is moving toward a 100 percent channel play, the company announced May 2 in a statement.

A channel-focused market strategy would position the company for growth against the competition, namely McAfee and Symantec.

“There is plenty of white space out there to grow,” Roberts said. “And if you look at our competitors, no one has been successful without growing a real channel program.”

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He added that Websense has had “a fuzzy relationship with the channel,” with “no clear channel play in place and a field operation that wasn’t focused on the channel.”

The company operates a two-tier channel in Asia, Europe and South America. The new channel effort will include a significant VAR recruitment drive and distribution deals, Roberts said.

The program will include deal registration, co-branded marketing campaigns, channel advertising, margin enhancement programs, and public relations efforts aimed at driving business to the resellers.

Websense also recently launched a Certified Web Security Engineer program, offering deeper training for partners related to Web security market demands, to drive higher revenues.

Roberts comes to Websense on the heels of Gene Hodges, his former boss at McAfee, who left that company in January to take the top spot at Websense as president and CEO.

“In my experience, the reseller channel is a necessary and powerful partner in building a great technology company,” Hodges said.

Websense executives are already meeting with VARs nationwide, as the company moves toward the channel.