McAfee points channel at midmarket opportunity

Alex Thurber, McAfee channel chief

Thurber: “I think this whole move towards SaaS is something that every one of our partners should be looking at.”

McAfee channel chief Alex Thurber outlined his plans for the company’s partner community Monday, Partner Day at McAfee’s Focus 10 security conference in Las Vegas. And those plans have a lot to do with building channel presence in one of the company’s biggest opportunities – the 6,000-to-20-seat commercial/SMB market.

The company also introduced a major channel partner social networking tool, its security-as-a-service plan for partners, and a new global partnering initiative in what was a jam-packed day for Thurber. It was a busy day full of announcements, and nearly four times the number of partners in attendance (700-plus) compared to last year’s Partner Day at Focus.

As the dust settled on the day’s announcements, Thurber sat down with to discuss the security vendor’s plans for building out midmarket and much more.

“We talk about our business as a barbell, with a strong enterprise and a strong consumer space at the ends, and a light SMB/commercial space in the middle,” Thurber said. “There is huge opportunity here, and I plan to bring that business up to the same level as other segments. I think that’s the place the channel is going to lead and where we will continue to grow our business.”

Thurber has been focused on the space since late May, when McAfee added the company’s global midmarket business to his role. The security vendor has also reorganized its coverage of the space, segmenting into the 6,000-250-seat commercial business and the 250-20-seat SMB space, as opposed to its previous “blurry midmarket pieces” which included both segments.

With a theme of acceleration, the word of the day for McAfee, the company announced a series of programs, including margin programs, information campaigns and tools to attract new partners in the SMB space and to help existing partners build a practice there. Thurber noted that the company will be bringing additional “acceleration” packages for the channel to market in the near future.

McAfee also outlined its plans to support Security-as-a-Service across its channel community, opening cloud-based SaaS and managed services to a broader swath of the community. Slated to launch in early 2011, the program will connect partners with monthly revenue models in the security space.  Previously, Security-as-a-Service was largely only covered off by its MX Logic partner base, but by next year, the company is looking to fully integrate the two programs. In integrating the MX Logic and McAfee partner programs, Thurber said the company has learned from its missteps made in the Secure Computing merger. “MX Logic has and had a great channel program, so rather than trying to change it for ours, we’re going to change ours for theirs,” Thurber said. “This new SaaS Monthly designation almost exactly mimics the MX Logic partner program.”

With the cloud being the word of the year in 2010 and with increased numbers and sophistication of threats in the market, the amount of interest around security as an outsourced managed service is greater than ever, Thurber said. “I think this whole move towards SaaS is something that every one of our partners should be looking at.”

On the social networking front, the company launched the McAfee Channel Community, a series of regional programs that aim to offer partners the opportunity to learn about the company’s wares and competitive selling, as well as to offer their feedback to the vendor and get their questions answered. Perhaps a little social networking with partners will help Thurber stay out of airports a bit more often – he estimated that more than a year into his role as channel chief, he still logs 25,000 to 35,000 miles a month getting out and talking to the company’s partners. “We’re all about listening, learning and modifying as necessary,” he said of the feedback process.

The second major part of the Channel Communities initiative is an effort to foster partner-to-partner collaboration, including making business connections and sharing ideas, thoughts and best practices throughout the community.

The Channel Communities are in a pilot stage right now, and Thurber welcomed all of the company’s partners to try it out.

Thurber also detailed the company’s internal slogan of “Think channel,” an effort by the channel team to get the entire company – from product development and marketing to finance and accounting, thinking about how the company’s partners fit into what they’re doing. “It’s the way we’re going to grow as a company,” Thurber said.

Perhaps the most galvanizing moment for the importance of the channel to McAfee came in the wake of April’s disastrous “5958” update, which caused serious problems for many customers running Windows XP SP3 due to an error in the update. In the weeks after that, Thurber credited the company’s channel for their role in turning things around for the vendor.

“We did not lose a single renewal from a customer impacted by the DAT issue,” Thurber said. “That shows that not only did we have loyalty coming into it, but we helped build loyalty by the way we responded to it. It was very exciting the way our whole company, including the channel, pulled together to solve the problem.”

That said, Thurber insisted that the company had built a series of new policies, procedures and tools to make sure such an occurrence could never happen again. “But we have no interest in ever testing them live,” Thurber quipped.

Finally, the company introduced new worldwide partner levels – Global Solution Provider, Global Services Provider and Global Influencer programs for its largest partners who do business around the globe. Thurber said the bar will be set very high for the global programs, set to launch next year, and that he expects it to remain a small group within the broader McAfee channel community.