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Changing Times, Changing WatchGuard

Changing Times, Changing WatchGuard

The vendor best known for firewalls has entered new product categories and revised its partner program to accommodate them.

LIKE THE CLICHÉ SAYS, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Had WatchGuard Technologies embraced that thinking, its portfolio would still consist exclusively of the firewalls it’s been selling since 1996, and its partner program would still focus exclusively on firewall resellers.

Much has changed in the security market in the last 23 years, though, including a threat landscape that’s grown more treacherous and a channel that’s grown more diverse. In response, WatchGuard has augmented its iconic line of fire-engine-red firewalls with Wi-Fi security and multifactor authentication solutions in recent years, and revised its WatchGuardONE partner program this spring.

“By virtue of the fact that WatchGuard was expanding as an organization, our program needed to change as well,” says Michelle Welch, the company’s senior vice president of marketing.

As before, WatchGuardONE contains silver, gold, and platinum tiers that members qualify for based solely on certifications rather than revenue thresholds. Also as before, silver members must have one sales-trained employee and one technical-trained employee; those figures rise to two each at the gold level and three each at platinum. Now, however, the courses that partners complete to earn certifications cover a wider range of technologies.

“The sales and technical trainings that were available up until the last seven or eight months were all very focused on network security,” Welch observes. “Now we have training tracks, both sales and technical, for all three of our disciplines.”

There are also incentives in place now that reward members for specializing in more than one of those disciplines. All WatchGuard partners collect a front-end discount on the company’s products, and gold and platinum partners have long qualified for back-end rebates as well. In the new WatchGuardONE, however, partners with expertise in more than one solution segment get bigger rebates—much bigger.

“You can almost double that back-end rebate just by getting a second specialization,” Welch says.

WatchGuardONE has evolved to support not just a wider range of products but a wider range of partners as well. Once composed overwhelmingly of hardware resellers, the program now also includes a rapidly growing cohort of freshly hatched managed service providers looking to capitalize on growing need for security assistance and growing demand for as-a-service technology offerings.

“Most of these MSPs are migrating from a break/fix or a VAR model, where typically they just marketed product brands and were selling product,” Welch observes. To help them master the art of selling subscriptions instead, WatchGuard has added an entirely new training track just for MSPs. It also offers pay-as-you-go pricing on its solutions to partners who complete that training, to help them manage cash flow.

According to Welch, WatchGuard products are a good fit for a security market experiencing tight labor conditions. “People can’t find the talent even if they want to grow security expertise,” she says, “so at the product level, our focus is on making the product as simple to use, deploy, and manage as possible.”

They’re also heavily automated. For example, WatchGuard firewalls allow technicians to create a configuration once and apply it to new devices automatically, and they automatically open and close tickets in PSA products from ConnectWise, Datto’s Autotask unit, Tigerpaw, and SolarWinds, among others. Welch doesn’t emphasize it, but WatchGuard solutions are priced to suit SMB budgets as well.

“I hate talking about price-performance, but I think that it’s a huge factor for partners, because they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make money,” she says.

Welch has more MSP-oriented changes coming to WatchGuardONE in the future, especially to its benefit structure. MSPs, she notes, worry about meeting requirements for things like market development funds and margins after they switch from generating revenue in big, immediate lump sums to smaller, recurring increments. “We’re looking at anywhere in our program where we can make any changes necessary to accommodate for that,” she says.

And that’s just the beginning, she continues. Change is now a never-ending process for WatchGuard. “The partner community is always evolving,” she says.

[By Rich Freeman]

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