Mitel's channel team has had a pretty good year. Not only has it managed to recruit a number of resellers, but those resellers are raving about what one of them called Mitel's "renewed vigour".
Some executives claimed that at least part of this regained optimism comes from Terry Matthews's return to Mitel. Matthews co-founded the company in 1972, sold it and then bought it back last year. His focus on the channel goes a long way towards restoring partner faith in the company, according to executives.
Recently appointed Mitel dealers had specific praise for the vendor's channel director, Enda Kenneally. Not only has she and her team pulled together a solid reseller programme, but they have the necessary experience.
Resellers know and trust them. But in the race to grab market share in the IP telephony market, Mitel seems to have forgotten an important factor: the data resellers. All of its new partners are established telecoms dealers.
Iain Stevenson, a director at research company Ovum, said: "Telecoms resellers are a good fit for this sort of business. They're in the perfect position to go after the old PBX market. But Mitel has to realise the value of data resellers."
Andy Elliot, channel marketing manager at Mitel, agreed that focusing on a single voice or data channel would be short sighted. But he did not explain why no data reseller has yet been appointed.
Telecoms resellers will tell you that the way data resellers complete deals is very different to the way telecoms firms are used to.
David Hamer, managing director of reseller Mitech, said: "The people who understand voice needs have been doing voice for a long time. Data resellers have the clients and the business need, but long term they will create problems because their way of generating revenue is out of sync with the voice market."
Industry observers insist that the data channel will be indispensable to the voice over IP (VoIP) market. Some enterprising data companies are already selling voice products.
Data networking integrator Starwand, for example, is offering VoIP products from 3Com and Mitel. It sells the Mitel products with help from telephony reseller AT Communications.
"It's a great deal for us," said Mark Davenport, sales director at Starwand. "AT helps us out with telecoms business, and we help it with data networking."
Vendors have been proposing this type of relationship for years. Lucent's channel manager argued for joint reseller relationships between his voice and data channel to sell products acquired through the vendor's ill-starred purchase of Ascend Communications as far back as 2000.
IP telephony vendors cannot afford to ignore the data channel. It's a question of when, not if, data resellers will enter the lucrative voice communications market. Converged dealers are already beginning to appear.
Mitech, for example, recently sold £450,000 worth of Cisco data networking and Mitel IP telephony products to software company SAS.
"We have no particular axe to grind. We're quite happy in both camps," said Craig McCalley, Mitech's sales director. "We can sell Cisco, Avaya, Mitel and Nortel."
Mitel has done well in building channel confidence, and resellers have given it the thumbs-up. Encouraging data resellers to get involved will be the next - and most important - phase for the firm.
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