Avaya’s road to channel centricity is longer in Canada

NASHVILLE, TENN. – If there’s one phrase that has been oft-repeated by Avaya executives during their first Americas sales and partner conference here this week, it has been re-wiring. The networking vendor is re-wiring to become a channel-centric player, and be seen as a serious channel player. And in Canada, the challenge may be largest.

Long seen as more of a direct player that hasn’t done the best job of working with the channel, just over a year ago the Avaya leadership came to the realization that it had to get serious about the channel to grow and compete in the market. Avaya’s president and CEO, Kevin Kennedy, set the tone in his keynote address.“This new channel go-to-market is a company strategy; it’s not a sales strategy. I believe any (direct/indirect friction) is largely in the past. The leadership of the company is working hard to make this a success,” said Kennedy.

Avaya’s goal is ambitious: invert its channel centricity numbers to get to an 85 per cent channel/15 per cent direct mix. And that’s from a starting-point of about 55 per cent channel.

One of the problems, said Todd Abbott, senior vice-president of worldwide sales and president, field operations for Avaya, was that the vendor had become too focused on maintaining existing customers and not on growth. Avaya needed to learn how to grow again, and that meant a channel-centric model.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying. It may be a slow death, but you will die,” said Abbott. “The company didn’t have enough understanding of what it would take cross-functionally to grow. But we knew the channel was the route, and we knew that if we didn’t get a common framework we’d never truly maximize our relationships with you.”

The result of that fundamental re-think of Avaya’s go-to-market strategy is Avaya Connect, the new global umbrella partner program launched this week that will go live in February. A new single global pricing list will also debut in February, with the goal of reducing the number of special bids and easing quoting.

Jeremy Butt, vice-president of worldwide channels for Avaya, said they knew Avaya has really not been an easy company for partners to do business with. His team has spent the last 10 months building a new program to change that, by bringing a myriad of different programs together as one.

“Partners have been broadening their businesses for some time, and quite frankly we’ve been behind the ball,” said Butt. “It’s stuff we should have done some time ago. We’ve had to re-wire the company to get the growth and success we’re looking for.”

As Avaya gets easier to do business with, Butt sees their channel centricity numbers trending upward. It exited fiscal 2009 with 65 per cent channel centricity, the goal for next year is 72 per cent, and the overall goal is 85 per cent.

“It’s not just by throwing direct business over the wall to partners,” said Butt. “There will be some of that, but we’re looking for new growth.”

In Canada, the road to channel centricity is even longer. While conventional wisdom tends to suggest channel penetration would be higher in Canada for most vendors due to the SMB-centric nature of the market, in Canada, Avaya has confounded that wisdom.

Avaya Canada brought veteran channel executive Mary Whittle onboard nine months ago as Canadian channel director, and Whittle said when she joined Avaya she was surprised at the scope of the channel challenge in the market.

“Absolutely there was a distrust (of Avaya in the channel), especially in Canada, and rightly so,” said Whittle.

Indeed, Avaya’s Canadian channel centricity number lags sharply behind the global figure. Avaya Canada will come out of the year at about 38 per cent, and is aiming for 47 per cent next year.

“We need to get faster and do deeper,” said Whittle.

Avaya has lagged in the Canadian channel, said Whittle, because it hasn’t historically been focused on the SMB, the primary channel market. It has had the products but not the resources to tie it all together and go after anything but the enterprise space. That’s changing with the new Connect partner program and channel-focused products such as the Aura mid-size solution for enterprises.

“Partners are getting the message that we’re serious, and they believe us. Once they see Connect there can be no doubt in their minds this is a channel organization,” said Whittle. “We’ve completely rewired Avaya for a channel success model. Process wise it’s a completely different company, and it needed to be.”

Dave Sherry, president of Newmarket, Ont.-based IP communications solutions provider and Avaya partner Unity Telecom, said with Connect and the other changes, Avaya is doing a good job of “channelizing” its business which will benefits partners such as him.

“Avaya used to be half pregnant, direct and indirect, and that caused some friction,” said Sherry. “I think that’s getting much clearer now. We’re excited about it.”

Sherry said products such as Aura mid-size solution for enterprises, designed for a channel go-to-market strategy, will help Avaya partners gain traction in Canada, and differentiate in the market. He added Whittle’s addition as Avaya’s Canadian channel chief is also making a difference.

“Mary comes from a channel company in Motorola, so she’s very channel-centric which has been a breath of fresh air,” said Sherry. “She’s a wonderful gal who reaches out to all of us on a regular basis for input. She’s always been in the channel so she understands the channel, which is quite a change from what we’ve seen in the past.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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