Pulse Secure partner program to test competency, abandon certifications

The Juniper spinoff launches its first partner program, to which old Juniper partners have to apply, and says that it has some unique differentiating factors.

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Doug Erickson, VP of Partner Sales at Pulse Secure

San Jose-based Pulse Secure, which was spun out of Juniper Networks last fall, and which makes VPN, network access control (NAC) and mobile security products, has launched its first partner program, Pulse Secure Connect Now. While the vendor is saying things about simplicity and profitability the channel hears a lot, Pulse Secure says that its program is actually structured to deliver these things. In addition, in a vendor universe in which most companies emphasize the importance of certifications around their solutions, Pulse Secure is going in a different direction, and plans to test for competency instead of just giving tests.

“Most programs are built as needed, so you get a hodgepodge of stuff, but we are in an unusual situation,” said Doug Erickson, VP of Partner Sales at Pulse Secure. “We are only eight months old but coming out of Juniper, we are not really a startup in terms of legacy or heritage. This allowed us to step back, and talk to partners, distribution, and industry experts about things they liked, because we didn’t have any baggage. We found partners preferred the idea of testing their competency, instead of certifications. Certifications are not what they love, or feel drives their business.”

Instead of certifications, the Pulse Secure Connect Now partner program reviews partner competency in sales, engineering and marketing.

“Customers do business with partners because of partners’ real world skills, not because they have completed certifications,” Erickson said. “We assess competency in two ways.”

One of them is a requirement that the partner provide customer case studies.

“Nothing speaks louder about competency than a happy customer,” Erickson said.

“The other way to assess is to sit down and talk to partners to understand their capabilities in sales, engineering and marketing,” he added. “It’s a lot of work. We are not starting from scratch, however. The people who have the greatest competency we know because we have been working with them on customer engagements for six months as a standalone company. We haven’t done the checklist on them, but you know who’s competent and who’s not.”

Only the top two tiers in Pulse Secure’s three-tier program – Secure Plus and the top-tier Secure Premier – are required to demonstrate competency, while the Community tier is not.

“I would expect Community will be the entry level for new partners, and will also include partners who are more reactive, old Juniper partners who come over to us because they sell a box here and there, but who aren’t integrating us into their practice,” Erickson said.

Pulse Secure started out with a very large partner base from the Juniper days, with 1800 of them. Many of these partners weren’t that productive however, with considerably fewer than 20 per cent of their partners doing 80 per cent of their sales. Pulse Secure isn’t kicking out unproductive partners, but they are asking all partners to apply for the new program.

“Over the fullness of time, things will become normalized,” Erickson said. “The Juniper program is for a different business model than ours. We are mobile security. That is not what they do. They are a data centre channel. Those partners who aren’t mobile security focused may not want to be part of our business and our program. There are also a lot of partners within the Juniper base who also work with other vendors, who may not join us. We are arms wide open to have them all come in, however.”

Tier status will be determined by a combination of sales and competency ratings.

“There will be a minimum sales requirement, but what’s more important is not the amount but the rate of growth,” Erickson said. “Are you growing in line with us or faster than us? That’s important.”

In addition to competency, Erickson said they are emphasizing that the program is simple.

“Everyone today says they are easy to do business with, and some of the people who say it the loudest aren’t easy to do business with at all,” he said. “We emphasize that our program is simple, and that it has differentiations that I think are unique. Being simple is hard to achieve, but it pays off.”

One example Erickson cited was simplicity of engagement.

“One of the features we will roll out in the second half of the year is a tool to connect partner engineers with our engineers directly, to simplify the chain so it doesn’t have me and half a dozen other people in it,” he said. “We will let the partner engineer communicate directly with the relevant Pulse Secure engineer or other pertinent support person.”

Profitability is the third foundation of the program, along with competency and simplicity.

Pulse Secure’s deal registration reflects the modern trend to give partners more protection by moving margin from the base discount to the registered deal.

“For our top tier partners, their margin will go from a regular 15 per cent to 50 per cent through deal registration,” Erickson said. “That’s 35 per cent, a nice healthy opportunity.”

The new deal registration program will go live in August, following the expiration of the Juniper transition services agreement at the end of July.

The other major component of the profitability program is services. The program will provide partners offering either support services or professional services the enablement and tools to embed Pulse Secure into those practices.

“This is something we will be working aggressively on in the second half of the year,” Erickson said. “Deal registration and services help deliver a good profitability message.”