At last year’s Avaya partner shindig the vendor compared itself to its host city - Barcelona - claiming that both are “fun and dynamic, with a great history”.
No such comparison was made with Berlin, the location for this year’s channel conference, but Avaya surely has far more in common with the German capital. The vendor, in more ways than one, is trying to move past old schisms to build a new, modern identity for itself. But during this rebirth, Avaya has still found itself caught between playing the sober, reflective apologist and the bullish upstart with a new lease of life.
The fall of Avaya’s own wall came three years ago, during its partner conference in Madrid, where the vendor outlined its plans to put the kybosh on much of its big base of direct business and migrate revenue to the channel. Since then it has, largely, made significant progress on this front, claiming 90 per cent of EMEA sales now come indirectly.
But subsequent partner summits in Prague in 2009 and Barcelona last year have been characterised by Avaya continuing to chastise itself, as it seeks to atone for the sins of its channel past.
An attendee at one of the events admitted that the sombre, puritanical mood and frequent self-flagellation reminded him of a 1980s Communist party get-together. Which probably should not be taken as a good thing.
But this year Avaya seemed to carry itself with a little more swagger. There were shows of bald aggression towards rivals Cisco, ShoreTel, Microsoft and Genesys. There was also a harder edge to its partner-centric schemes, with committed partners being rewarded for their loyalty, and under-achievers facing the elbow. There was even a man rapping about voice over IP, although perhaps the less said about this, the better.
Joel Hackney, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at the vendor, told conference attendees that Avaya needs to cultivate an image as a new type of company.
“We all need to be crystal clear what the destination of the company is. The partner base will need to have a consistent definition and answer to that question,” he said.
“We have made a change in this company from being a technology communications company to having the opportunity to solve business issues.”
Alan Baratz, president of global communications solutions, was another Avaya exec in bullish mood in Berlin (pictured, right). He outlined how the vendor’s focus on interoperability would help it “stop Microsoft and Cisco’s enterprise growth”. While, in the SMB market, “all the work we have done has brought us to competitive parity with ShoreTel”.
“We can crush Cisco in the mid-market,” roared Baratz. “We have a very compelling feature set; we are pricing it to be very competitive against Cisco.”
He went on to explain that Avaya now has the breadth of solution to compete in the upper echelons of the contact centre arena with long-time ally Genesys.
“We now have a full stack solution,” said the Avaya man. “It is a winner-takes-all battle between us and Genesys and we will win, whatever it takes.”
Stuart Legg, sales and marketing director at partner Proximity Communications, welcomed Avaya’s new-found self-confidence, and praised the upbeat, occasionally light-hearted tone of the conference.
“It came across that Avaya has now got to the point where the [Avaya and Nortel] businesses are integrated. It has left that behind and now has a clear focus moving forward,” said Legg. “It is the first time I have come out of the event feeling it was really positive and quite driven.”
The division between its own comms background and its new-found data business has been the other great divide to have marked Avaya’s recent history. The vendor acquired its fallen rival two years ago, and staff and product integration is now complete.
But the channel is something of a different matter, with a separation between the red (Avaya) and blue (Nortel) sides of the channel still somewhat in evidence.
The pricing structure for partners also needs to be addressed, with disparate processes and rebate structures in place for the two sides of the house, say channel sources. Partners have reported some frustration with quote and lead times, but Avaya worldwide vice president of channel Jeremy Butt (pictured, left) told attendees that fixing pricing idiosyncrasies will be a key focus this year.
He also revealed several changes to the channel programme designed to reward committed partners, and cast adrift those that lack the desired dedication. Partner scorecards are to be introduced, which will rate resellers on various criteria, such as sales of data and services, and compare them with the average levels of their peers.
Meanwhile, VARs’ entitlement to a certain portion of marketing development funding (MDF) is to be axed. Instead, all cash will be handed out on a discretionary basis to those that develop sound business plans.
Butt implored partners that are not doing so already to investigate Avaya’s data portfolio and high-end collaboration wares.
“This space we are in will commoditise,” he said. “That will mean increased competition and reduced margins. There is nothing any of us can do about that at the bottom end of the market. The only way through this is to take on new offers, new consulting, new solutions that move us back up the technology curve.”
Proximity’s Legg welcomed moves to reward the most loyal partners, hailing the MDF shake-up as “one of the most positive changes Avaya has made”.
“For partners such as us who are proactive with our marketing, it will benefit us greatly. We put a lot of effort into our marketing strategy,” he said. “[Previously] a lot of money was not getting used. We have applied for discretionary funding and are pleasantly surprised with the results.”
Peter Hannah, business unit director at Avnet Technology Solutions, was another to welcome the channel initiatives unveiled in Berlin. He added that the distributor would work to ensure partners from the red and blue sides diversified into new areas.
“We support Avaya’s latest partner programme announcements,” he said. “Over the past year we have built on our extensive experience to give business partners practical, hands-on experience of Avaya’s latest products across its collaboration portfolio and to enable them to deliver marketing programmes to develop the market. Avnet is perfectly positioned to help partners extend their skills from voice into data, and vice versa.”
Avaya’s senior director of EMEA channels, Jan Lawford, closed the conference in typically upbeat style, by reminding the channel of the vendor’s progress, and assuring them they have backed the right horse.
“You want to know that Avaya as a vendor has absolutely committed to the channel, and that is exactly what we have done,” she said. “I would like you to help us become even more relevant to you, even more relevant to your business. We want to help you become more relevant to the CIO. Please take the capability of our entire portfolio - engage with our applications capability, look at our data networking capability.”
For now, at least, the message appears to be resonating. One attendee, who - perhaps understandably - wished to remain anonymous, gave the conference a resounding thumbs-up.
“I even liked the Avaya rap,” he added.
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