Dell keeping commitment to small security partners even as diversification strategy deepens

Dell channel chief Cheryl Cook also provides a broad update on issues of specific interest to the Dell SonicWALL channel.

Cheryl Cook Dell 300

Cheryl Cook, VP, Dell Global Channels & Alliances

LAS VEGAS – Dell has been pursuing a strategy of encouraging its SonicWALL firewall partners, like its other software partners, to also sell its other security software solutions like identity management and systems management. At the same time, it acknowledges that it has a challenging balancing act, in maintaining commitment to many core partners who came from SonicWALL, who are very small companies, and lack the bandwidth or desire to expand their practices. Maintaining that balance is something that channel chief Cheryl Cook maintains is a top priority.

The pluses of cross-selling are clear to many larger partners. Dell’s firewall channel is unique in the company however, in that many of its top partners are small. Dell’s Security Peak Performance conference is an invitation-only event for Dell’s top performing partners. The large majority of those in attendance appear to be from shops of twenty people or less – sometimes a lot less. Many are companies with five or fewer people. Some are one-man shops. While many one-man shops remain in the solution provider space, they aren’t typically found at events for top performing partners. Shops focused on Dell SonicWALL appliances are clearly an exception to the rule.

Last year at the Peak event, Cheryl Cook, VP, Dell Global Channels & Alliances, said that even though Dell encourages partners to expand their practices, they also recognized that many of these focused SonicWALL partners are highly productive, and didn’t want to change their business model. This year, even though the stress on selling other Dell security software solutions has increased to the point where these other business units are represented at the event – which was not the case last year – Cook emphasized that the policy has not changed.

“It’s all about being as relevant as Dell can be to the business model,” she said. “There are companies that want to expand with Dell with the firewall being just a part of the overall datacentre design, and there are also those who are very specialized around firewalls and very vertical, and I want to be relevant to both. Integrating other technologies like identity and access management with firewall technology benefits the partner and the customer. At the same time, if they don’t want to do that, we don’t want them to feel they don’t have a path to maximum benefits. Some only want to be deep domain experts in security and we have created the ability to get to the highest tiers of the reward program with a deep focus on that.” This was behind the addition last year of a new competency which will make it much easier for the firewall-focused partners to advance in Dell’s PartnerDirect program.

“There’s a spectrum,” Cook said. “Some firewall partners see the broader potential and some want to stay as they have been. Many of these are so well positioned in the SMB and midmarket – local and regional and specialized VARs with amazing skills.”

The SonicWALL business remains the most channel-centric part of Dell. The legacy SonicWALL business was entirely channel before acquisition, and Cook said around 85 per cent is channel today, even though the amount of business done has grown massively since Dell acquired the business.

Cook acknowledged there had been some bumps along the way in the SonicWALL transition. At last year’s Peak event, several partners told ChannelBuzz they had issues with Dell internal reps not only taking business direct to the partner’s customer behind their back, but bad mouthing the partner to the customer in the process.

“This year those complaints are materially less,” Cook said. “We learned from trying to take SonicWALL, which was 100 per cent channel, and integrate it into Dell, that we were not consistent in avoiding conflict. So we changed sales leaders in the organization. We changed practices and policy. We believe partners felt Dell’s direct presence much more then than now.”

The changes include terminating direct reps who willfully defy the policy implemented last year of working through partners whenever possible. In one memorable incident at a partner event last fall Bill Rodrigues, Dell’s President, North America & Global 500 Sales, emphasized that policy had changed and that direct reps who ignored that were indicating that they might prefer to work somewhere else than at Dell. Asked to confirm whether that meant reps were being fired for backstabbing partners, Rodrigues replied with a sinister grin and the comment – “what do you think?”

Another major step in winning over channel partners has been the channel-preferred – not just channel neutral – compensation policy for direct reps Dell introduced last year. Numerous partners since then have told ChannelBuzz that made a huge difference in their perception of Dell. That policy however, is renewed on a year-by year basis. Asked whether Dell would consider announcing that the policy is a permanent one in order to cement channel goodwill, Cook replied that change was unlikely.

“We pride ourselves on continuity and consistency now, which means that we try not to be opportunistic in changing policies,” she said. “It’s working for us and working for partners and we will stay the course. Anything we would modify or adjust would be aimed at driving growth, but it’s not anything we intend to opportunistically change.”

At last year’s event, when Cook took questions during her keynote, one partner complained bitterly that pricing on the Dell site was better than anything they could quote their customers – a statement which was greeted by cheers from a sizable portion of the audience. Related complaints from last year involved long wait times for Dell support, and for deal registration approval. Cook said that aggressive implementation of the ‘Dell-normal’ policy, in which channel considerations are fundamentally baked into the design of capabilities, has been combatting these issues.

“We have worked hard to ensure more price coherency whether the quote is coming from ParterDirect, or distribution, or Dell,” she said. “We acknowledged that we weren’t as seamless as we wished, but we have spent a lot of time driving this omnichannel strategy for stable and rationalized pricing. We absolutely have been focused on it.”

Cook said improvement in deal registration times had been another consequence of the policy, to the point where the SLA is now about eight hours. That’s a big change from last year’s Peak event, when Dell was at “less than 48 hours” for approval, down from 3-4 days earlier.