If PC slump undid Symantec CEO, single-trick VARs should worry

Former Symantec CEO Steve Bennett

Former Symantec CEO Steve Bennett

Symantec Corp.’s board of directors shocked the tech world yesterday by suddenly firing CEO Steve Bennett after less than two years on the job. The main reason: He failed to turn around the struggling security and storage software vendor, primarily because of an overreliance on antivirus product sales attached to PCs.

A few other reasons are behind Bennett’s ouster, and those will come later. For now, let’s focus on the notion of antivirus sales being the main culprit in Bennett’s decapitation.

Symantec may be the world’s largest security software company — and one of the largest storage software companies — but the bulk of its revenue is a tug-of-war between consumer and enterprise channels. Much of Symantec’s security product sales come from antivirus products sold to consumers, and with PC sales sliding, the opportunity for net-new antivirus sales have followed.

 This is probably not the only reason Bennett got the hook, but there’s a warning here for solution providers and technology vendors who are too attached to one particular product or technology.

Symantec and antivirus vendors have been trying to diversify over the last five years as cloud computing and mobile technology decrease the addressable market for their legacy products. In the case of Symantec, it’s been about storage (backup, deduplication and data management) and data security (data loss prevention, virtualization security, encryption and identity management).

One of the biggest challenges Symantec has had over the years is it didn’t have an overarching story for its products. Solution providers could sell a number of different technologies, but describing a whole Symantec security system that provides data and infrastructure protection from the cloud to the endpoint is never easy. As a result, Symantec and its partners sell products, not solutions.

While Symantec has been steering away from declining antivirus sales, it wasn’t doing so fast enough.

Last year, Bennett introduced sweeping restructuring of the company under a program called Symantec 4.0. Bennett had a vision of streamlined processes, reduced overhead, simplified sales and support, and integrated products.

Nearly 14 months into the Symantec 4.0 era and much of the change remained undefined or unexecuted. If anything, the changes undid many of the processes and hindered progress on developing products and services that solution providers could leverage in fulfilling their customers’ needs.

Other factors played into Bennett’s removal, but the idea that antivirus sales was a prime mover is telling. It shows that tech companies need more than just one trick in their bag to remain viable and healthy. It also shows that even when a company recognizes a weakness, it needs speed in execution to make changes or else risk stagnation or, worse, regression.

Bennett replaced previous CEO Enrique Salem, also fired, in July 2012, after the board tired of low growth and slow progress on change over the previous 18 months. All told, Symantec has been treading water for the last four years, and it will be another year or two after the new CEO comes on before real change – assuming it happens – starts to bear fruit.

The ultimate lesson is failure to change and adapt to new market conditions is more than just declining performance; it’s the surrendering of precious time that is always hard to make up.

Thie article originally appeared on Channelnomics.com.