New Pulse Secure partner program reworks philosophy to emphasize mutual commitment

The new channel program is much deeper and more fully built out than the original one designed when the company spun out of Juniper, as Pulse Secure wants its program to enable more committed and better trained partners – as well as reduced numbers of them.

Today, secure access vendor Pulse Secure is announcing their new Access Now partner program. The changes from the old program are significant, and are designed to remake the channel from an extremely large conglomeration of both strongly committed and marginally committed partners, to a leaner and much more focused group with a deeper emphasis on security than in the past.

“When we spun out of Juniper Networks, we established a simplified partner program,” said Aaron Moroson, Pulse Secure’s director of global channels. “Partners like simple. But it had a number of limitations.”

Some of these were significant, and not in line with what many channel partners expect today from a Grade A partner program.

Aaron Moroson, Pulse Secure’s director of global channels

“The original partner tiers were based on the Juniper legacy business, where switching and routing background was emphasized,” Moroson said. “Security wasn’t emphasized. We had deal registration, and some marketing funds, but the MDF was all proposal-based and there was no accrual. We were missing rebates and incentives. We were missing certifications – we didn’t have any at all, and certifications are important to set specialized partners apart from transactional partners. We had a partner portal that didn’t have a search function.”

Moroson was part of that spinoff in 2014, coming out of Juniper, but at that time his role was more limited, which meant that he lacked authority over the channel program.

“I originally was responsible for worldwide distribution, and since last year, I now own all of channels,” he said. “I looked closely at the partner base with a view on the enablement items they needed to successfully sell Pulse Secure, and determined what we were missing. The idea was not to reinvent the wheel, but to put a solid base in place to separate partners who want to invest in us from the more transactional partners.

“I’ve been around the channel for a long time, but this is my first time as a channel chief,” Moroson continued. “I’ve been the behind-the-scenes guy. I was at Ingram Micro for 15 years and I understand distribution, and how distribution can help us develop quality partners. That’s what I want – quality, committed partners. I don’t want to get rid of transactional opportunities, but our type of business works better with those who understand the nuances of secure access.”

This all involves significant changes to the program and how it operates. It starts with a rebadging of the program tiers. That might seem trivial but it’s not. Its intent is to show that this is a very different program, even though the structure is the same as the last one.

“What used to be Premier, Plus and Community levels are now Elite, Preferred and Authorized,” Moroson said. “We changed the names to make it clear that it’s a new program with new requirements. The old one was highly focused on switching and routing. The new one is focused on security.”

There will also be an emphasis on identifying the committed partners, and severing ties with those who don’t really fit the secure access profile.

“We have folks in the program who may not even know what level in the program they are at,” Moroson said. “We want partners to understand what level they want to invest at, and this will require some extra effort on their part. For a vendor our size, it is critical to have quality. We inherited the quantity from Juniper. Now we want to make sure we have quality. Many of our current partners don’t transact with us much anyway. Let’s not create extra competition for those partners who will invest in us.

“Today we have 4600 partners,” Moroson stated. “I’d like us to be somewhere between 1500 and 1600 partners in a year.”

Certification, which wasn’t there at all before, will be a critical part of the new program as a measure of a partner’s investment in Pulse Secure.

“Certification is the biggest element of partner investment,” Moroson said. “There will be an expectation of certification – two people certified for each of our three product sets for the top tier, and one person in at least two product sets for the next tier. There is some flexibility. The regional manager’s job is to determine the criteria. Partners who are already focused on security will also be allowed to test out for this.”

There are other components of expected investment as well.

“We want certain levels of engagement and investment in partners driving their own marketing, even though we provide MDF,” Moroson stated. We want joint business planning and forecasting. We want basic things, like making sure we are listed on their website. We want them to provide customer case studies – at least one.”

In return, Pulse Secure is now investing much more in partners who are investing in them. This includes the new certifications and training, which is available both online and onsite. A new interactive partner resource portal is now available, with greatly enhanced tools.

“We are now making discounted demo equipment available that their SEs can leverage,” Moroson said. “There is a growth rebate as they grow their business. There is now MDF accrual for the top tier, and while marketing funds and sales promotions remain a joint decision between us and the partner, it is not ‘hit and miss’ like it was in the past. We also now have an official lead registration process. In the past it was all unofficial. Leads will go to Elite partners first, but that also depends on the region. Some regions don’t have many Elite partners.”

The one element which is pretty much unchanged is deal registration.

Moroson indicated that Pulse Secure has also invested in building out dedicated management and support teams.

“In some regions, we were more selling through the channel,” he said. “We have increased resources so that we can sell with them, by building out a channel management organization with more feet on the street than we have had in the past.”