Palo Alto Networks emphasizes new services opportunities in major partner program overhaul

This is the first major ‘tweak’ of Palo Alto Networks’ partner program since its inception, and the changes are extremely significant, and multi-faceted.

Karl Soderlund, Palo Alto Networks’ SVP of Worldwide Channel Sales

Palo Alto Networks has announced a series of significant changes to their NextWave Partner Program, which represent the first major update to the program since it was introduced, back when the company was solely a next-gen firewall vendor. Accordingly, it broadens opportunities in several areas to address the realities of the company’s expanded portfolio, with several significant new initiatives to augment partner services practises.

“We really could have done five different releases here,” acknowledged Karl Soderlund, Palo Alto Networks’ SVP of Worldwide Channel Sales.

“Our NextWave partner program has been out for close to eight years, and had been a fairly static program,” Soderlund indicated. “We had a singular product when it was created  – our next-gen firewall. We had a single strategy focus then, which was just growth. We now have a broader portfolio, and more elegant solutions, and we needed an elegant program to complement it.”

Soderlund emphasized the collaborative nature of the process through which the NextWave program was redesigned.

“As we went through this process – it was over a year – we used the word ‘enhancement’ in a very thoughtful way,” he said. “These changes were based on partner feedback. We wanted to avoid building what we considered to be a best-in-class program, and we roll it out, and find that the partner community doesn’t like it. So asked them what they were looking for in a program, and we worked with partner councils and distributors to get feedback. The partners are the real architects here. We built it with them from the ground up.”

The program is designed to align partner value with end user needs, and Palo Alto Networks’ sales force, to make sure they all move in the same direction. It continues their emphasis on distribution, which Soderlund called critical to the company’s success over the last twelve years.

The baselines of the program remain substantially the same, in order to avoid causing disruption.

“We have added more program flexibility to get long-term growth – not just quarter by quarter,” Soderlund said. “Instead of looking at value just based on volume, which many companies do out of the gate, we looked at it from a services and a portfolio standpoint. So we changed the focus from emphasizing sheer volume to emphasizing higher value, which is a  natural transition for companies our size. We fine-tuned the program to make it a repeatable process of success.”

Soderlund pointed to refinements in deal registration as an example of this fine tuning.

“We have added value boosts based upon alignment and selling the complete product portfolio,” he said. “You get an additional boost for selling net-new logos. You get a boost for selling our endpoint solution, Traps. You get a boost for selling our VM-Series cloud solution. You get a boost for selling additional subscriptions. Many partners are already doing these things. But we want to emphasize that if you just sell a firewall and don’t have additional conversations, you leave money on the table.”

A major focus of the changes is the generation of more partner-led services opportunities.

“We are bringing a lot more assets to the table for partners here,” Soderlund emphasized. “The level of investment we are making is new. It’s something that we have always talked about – that partners should get involved in selling services, but we never really connected it programmatically. Now we are telling them that we will help them monetize their own services to drive profitability. So we are adding an a la carte menu of things that partners with a services practice can offer.”

Accordingly, the company has introduced Transformation Services, a new services offering that includes tools, best practices, and procedures, and will help partners implement a prevention-based architecture quickly and cost-effectively.

“Adding partner services may not sell more firewalls, but they will have more satisfied end users as well as additional revenue opportunities,” Soderlund said.

Palo Alto Networks is also introducing Services Offering Kits, which provide the tools, training, and resources to help partners build or expand their services practice around the company’s offerings. The first Services Offering Kit available to partners is Network Transformation.

“Some of these are net-new, and some are enhancements of ones we have had before, but there are now a lot more resources and tools they can leverage to gain more profitability,” Soderlund stated. “I want to emphasize that these are not just the same service offerings we have had in the past.”

Another major services side addition is a full-fledged Managed Services Program.

“In the past, we had a specialization around managed services but it wasn’t a focus.” Soderlund stated. “Now we have broken it out to an independent program level. It reflects the fact that the appetite for MSSP services has become stronger than ever before.”

Some new rewards have been added, including Palo Alto Networks’ first-ever back-end rebate.

“This is a new rebate for our top-tier Diamond partners, which allows us to invest in our most committed partners,” Soderlund said. “Back end rebates are something partners have asked for for a long time. We never participated in them before. We were solely front-end discount. With these rebates, we will set joint goals with the partner, and when they reach them they get a rebate.”

A new deal referral program has been added to reward partners for bringing SaaS opportunities around Palo Alto Networks’ RedLock solution to the company.

“This is open to all partners, but is aimed specifically around that one technology, our RedLock solution,” Soderlund said. “They can participate through either a 10 per cent deal referral fee, or on the services side of things.”

Soderlund also emphasized that Palo Alto Networks has made a significant investment in system and process automation to make it easier for partners to do business with them.

“We are bringing a new level of automation, invested in our own systems to make it easier to quote the technology and do things faster,” he said. “This involved a very large investment in our IT processes. Being easy to work with is critical for partners in deciding what vendor to work with, and these changes will improve the overall partner experience.”