Avaya Updates Avaya Connect


Emphasis at partner conference is on competency vs. volume sales


Avaya has a good thing going with its year-old Avaya Connect channel program, and at the recent Avaya Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas, it confirmed several new certifications and other additions to the program that executives say will help them fine-tune the vendor's channel strategy as a collaboration company.

Specifically, Avaya will offer video or data expert designations to partners that can demonstrate advanced abilities in sales or support for those areas. The certifications, Video Expert and Data Expert, join Avaya's existing SME Expert and Service Expert certifications, which are open to Avaya channel partners in the Platinum, Gold and Silver levels.

There's also a new certification called Avaya Certified Solutions Architect (ACSA), offered in both Unified Communications solutions or Contact Center solutions, which is for individual employees achieving top levels of training and competency in UC and CC. Individual employees also can receive Avaya Connect Video Solutions certifications, which are an add-on to their UC credentials.

The new certifications will be made available starting in the first quarter of 2011 and, according to Avaya, reflect a move toward competency from partners instead of volume sales.

"This is the third year in a row I've said competency drives volume, volume doesn't drive competency," said Jeremy Butt, vice president, worldwide channels, during a keynote presentation at the conference.

In his presentation, Butt touted a number of additional improvements to the partner program and explained that Avaya had cut a number of existing partners in the past year, including some 400 of the 600 previously authorized UC partners in the U.S.

"We must evolve together and we must get more selective together," Butt told the assembled crowd.

Among the new offerings is Avaya Connect Partner HelpDesk, available in 10 languages as a resource for partners who have questions about Avaya's channel program, services, marketing and training.

Avaya is also providing partners a slate of courses for obtaining a Market Business Services and Solutions diploma, provided by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. The courses are intended for partners interested in building their business skills and acumen.

Partners should expect more Avaya Connect changes over the next few years, Butt said. For example, the company will be rolling out a special bids approval process, which is currently in pilot, and in the future, a select number of partners will receive new products before they're generally available, instead of everyone getting them at launch as is currently the case.

Other things partners can expect, according to Butt, are an advanced portal for managing Avaya renewals, more developed ISV programs, increased services commissions and, down the road, the addition of customer satisfaction requirements to Avaya's existing business partner requirements.

By and large, Avaya partners welcome the move toward competency vs. volume sales but have caveats around Avaya's suggestion that it will emphasize customer satisfaction data to determine compensation. It's all well and good, say partners, as long as it's handled correctly. At the very least, it gives regional or smaller Avaya partners without major national sales operations the opportunity to access more lucrative deals--and showcase their talents.

"I'm not as concerned about whether a partner is regional or national as about whether he is qualified to make the sale," said John Babcock, president of Relational Technology Solutions, a Columbus, Ohio-based solution provider.

"If Avaya approaches this new model correctly, the compensation model will ferret out who are the most competent," said Roger Junkermier, president of Cerium Networks, Spokane, Wash.

Junkermier was among VARs who cautioned Avaya against using customer satisfaction metrics to determine performance-based compensation. So was Val Robison, who said when customers have issues with vendors, it's often the VARs that bear the brunt of their frustrations.

"The customer could love us but be upset at the vendor, so they take it out on us when they get that customer sat survey. Or the customer is having a bad day," said Robison, sales vice president at Sunturn IT Consulting Group, a Phoenix-based solution provider. "Tying our ability to customer sat scores makes things difficult."

If there are customer satisfaction issues, Junkermier said, they eventually will come to light through customer escalation cases. VARs that are bad to customers don't stay hidden, in other words.

"I don't think it's the manufacturer's job to make an edict that you have that," Junkermier said of customer satisfaction requirements. "You're going to grow based on what you do with those customers."