Q&A: McAfee's new channel boss talks partners

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Q&A: McAfee's new channel boss talks partners

Last week, CRN caught up with McAfee's new APAC channel boss Craig Nielsen, to chat about what's in store for McAfee partners, his strategies in the SMB sector and future predictions for the channel. 

Nielsen joined the McAfee fold two months ago, following predecessor Gavin Struthers' appointment to senior vice president of worldwide channel operations

What's your channel background?

I've been in the industry around 18 years now. I've done a wide variety of roles working for quite a few different companies in that time. So I've worked in front line sales roles, in selling retail software solutions, I was a commercial sales rep for Microsoft and I also managed sales teams, alliance organisations and enterprise sales teams through a variety of roles.

I've got experience working in SMB, commercial enterprise and channels alliances. I think that was an important criteria for McAfee in selecting me for the role. Having the alliance experience on both sides of the fence, if you like, is one of the reasons why there's a good fit.

What attracted you to the job?

One of the reasons I was excited to join McAfee was the security context and the importance of security. If you think about how many more business processes are being digitised and the devices we're using every day to do our work and for our personal life, there's so much more digital information that we need to secure out there.

Joining McAfee is allowing me to enter a really exciting field. It's really good to be able to help people in their lives – so there's a little bit of an altruistic attraction to working in a company like McAfee.

What's first on your agenda?

I think we've got a very well-thought out strategy and set of programs to implement that strategy. I've been with the company two months and we've already launched two programs [Profitability Stack and SMB managed services provider program].

For me, the focus for the next six months is really about the adoption and execution of those programs out in the field. So we've got the programs; it's just about getting our partners more familiar with those programs and turning those programs into revenue, new business and profitability opportunities for partners. 

Tell us about McAfee's Profitability Stack - how does it benefit partners?

Profitability Stack, which launched in July, is the first program we launched since I've been on board. Our Profitability Stack is really all about being predictable with the channel. There are a variety of different transaction types our channel could be doing with us; they could be bringing us new business, they could be working with us on renewals, they could be cross-selling or up-selling. So really what we want to do is bring a really comprehensive portfolio of profitability components that apply to customers in all those different transactions.      

The key to [Profitability Stack] is that partners get to look in and really understand what that profitability is going to be. One of the things you hear from your channel is that they're really interested in protecting and growing margins. Really what that Profitability Stack is all about is helping them to do that.

And there's a rewards component?

That's right. McAfee Rewards has been tightly integrated into the Profitability Stack program. We've had a huge amount of success with McAfee Rewards. We've had a 71 percent increase in the last 18 months of individuals from our reseller ecosystem participating in that program, so it's really popular.

We've also seen strong growth in that program in our SMB business. We've really been promoting SMB rewards and we've really seen some strong adoption of those.     

Tell us about McAfee's SMB program.

The Managed Service Provider [MSP] program also launched in July. It's all about making McAfee technologies available to partners in the Australian market who wish to deliver McAfee as a component of their own offering.

It's about integrating our technologies and capabilities in their own managed services in a very scalable, programmatic way.  

There's been a lot of talk recently about McAfee's strategy in the SMB space. How important is SMB to the future direction of the company?

We wouldn't say SMB is where our future is; we see strong growth across all segments. But we're very focused on the buying attributes of each segment. What's interesting about SMB is if you think of where the market is with security, generally it's enterprises that have actually implemented multi-layer security platforms and have more sophistication around their security environments. 

But there's some fairly decently sized SMB customers out there, and in many cases they have some very similar environments. So the focus on SMB is how do we actually take those [existing] capabilities and offer them to the SMB market. And that's about making sure we have the right SMB channel partners, making sure they're enabled, making sure the rewards and incentive and profitability programs suit that market and making sure we have the right sort offers in that market.

What do you see as being the chief upcoming channel trends?

I'm seeing a number of things from direct talks with the channel. The first thing is about picking their bets. The channel is very interested in working with vendors that are kicking goals in the market; that have a product portfolio that's resonating and cutting through the market as well as having an R&D strategy and an acquisitions strategy that's going to position the company well over the next five to ten years.

I think that's really something we're uniquely positioned for – we have an amazing portfolio of technologies that are recognised in the leadership quadrant by analysts. In addition, we are owned by Intel. So in terms of Intel's influence on the market and us collaborating with Intel on security, we're hearing from a lot of our partners and resellers that they really like that relationship between McAfee and Intel. It gives them a lot of comfort in terms of their future capability and roadmap. 

The second thing I'm hearing is margins. This is just top and centre for most of the channel. And it's not only product margins, it's also services margins. So we're really focused on both of those components, so the first one being the Profitability Stack and how we help our partners be predictable in terms of margins and lock in those margins. But also how do we help them actually deliver services around McAfee technologies that are really going to grow their margin and their market share.  

The third thing is how do vendors help their partners transition from a legacy on premise delivery model to a hybrid cloud and a cloud delivery model.  Again, we've got a broad set of SaaS offerings in the marketplace that we make accessible to our partners. Our partners are telling us they get a really good feeling about the role they're going to play with McAfee and how they're going to participate as the market shifts from on premise to cloud. 

How would you describe McAfee's chief underlying strategy?

The underlying strategy for us is something we call Security Connected. If you look at most customer security infrastructure today, many customers have multiple security products in their environments.  When you have that situation, each of those products has its own management console, comes from a different vendor, has different certifications and so on. 

So what you end up having is multiple security products that are not connected to environments. The costs of managing standalone solutions are quite high and the operational efficiency is really low.

What we're taking to market and our visions for Security Connected is that we provide a suite of McAfee security products with a single dash board connected to our global threat intelligence platform; all tightly integrated. 

When we implement this platform we shift the security posture from a reactive to an active posture and at the same time taking out cost. So that in a nutshell, is where we are going with Security Connected. 

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