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The video and unified communications spaces are more competitive than ever, but that hardly scares LifeSize Communications, which has stepped up its efforts to entice solution providers questioning how best to up their video practices in response to a growing market.
Ongoing concerns with Cisco's integration of Tandberg and Polycom's channel prowess have, according to LifeSize executives, created an opening for its lower-cost HD video endpoints and infrastructure offerings. And with a comparatively small channel, the company believes it can offer the most flexible products with the tastiest VAR margins, and not saturate its solution provider community, either.
Back in April, LifeSize quietly rolled out enhancements to its channel partner program that offered VARs greater incentives for selling LifeSize-led solutions. The company now boasts more than 1,500 channel partners in 80 countries, 370 of which were added in the last six months. It's continued to grow following last year's acquisition by Logitech. The company is increasingly seen as a strategic partner and, in some cases, an OEM product for vendors such as Avaya, and it's picked up accolades throughout 2010 including a "Growth Vendor Partner of the Year" award from distributor Tech Data.
Before, LifeSize had informal training for partners and basic certifications and partner rewards. As presently constituted, however, the LifeSize partner program offers three tiers: Expert, Professional and Registered. The higher up a partner goes, the more that partner receives in qualified lead distribution, inside sales support, MDF and co-marketing and lead generation programs, as well as incremental discounts for deal registration, larger discounts overall, and on-demand marketing and sales training via a partner portal.
All are of prime importance to partners, according to LifeSize, especially when partners can sell video systems priced well below many comparable products from Cisco and Polycom, and LifeSize can offer partners typically between 20 and 25 percent gross margin on video endpoints. While Cisco and Polycom have both begun to move downmarket with lower-priced endpoints, LifeSize maintains that it's far more affordable, with systems running between $5,000 and $40,000 for various levels of endpoint and telepresence equipment.
The channel program, according to the vendor, is part of what will push it to the next level.
"It's value-based, not revenue based," said Dan Sibille, director of Americas channels for the vendor, in a recent interview with CRN. "We're looking for partners willing to make the commitment in demo gear. In video, unlike in other IT segments, seeing is believing. We do look at revenue thresholds for each of the partner levels, but it is a multitiered program, and demo equipment and certifications are things that resonate very loudly with us. If the partners are doing the right things -- buying demo gear and engaging with us -- the revenues will come."
Video is past its tipping point in the channel, and no longer solely the province of audio/visual integrators or market specialists, he explained.
"Three years ago it would have been primarily A/V integrators of some flavor coming to us," Sibille said. "Now it's a nice blend of UC players, A/V integrators and more generic IT resellers. Maybe it's someone who has an established wireless or other networking practice, and saying, now I need to establish a video practice."