Not long after Richard McBee became Mitel's CEO in 2011, the company set about a new strategy, called 3+1, to focus its energies on important product lines and markets and be a far better partner to the channel than it had been in recent, conflict-plagued years.
About 18 months later, Mitel is still challenged from a revenue perspective; it recently said it would cut 200 full-time employees along with a weaker-than-expected July quarter. But from the channel side, Mitel's made a series of positive moves that have helped repair its once-flagging partner relations and set it up for a new round of investments heading in 2013.
It now sells 70 percent through partners in North America and is close to 100 percent in the rest of the world. Mitel accounts that were previously direct-only were opened to channel partner services opportunities last December. And, Mitel's executive and channel support teams have been streamlined to tighten how they execute.
"What we're seeing is simplicity in our go-to-market strategy, and greater alignment, where we have the right people playing the right positions at the right time," Jeff Nolan, vice president, North American channel development at Mitel, told CRN.
Nolan's role is a newly created position -- one seemingly tailor-made for a homegrown employee who understands the challenges Mitel is trying to put in its rear-view mirror as it moves full-bore into market opportunities like virtualized UC. Nolan, as an 18-year veteran of Mitel, is that employee, and now leads a team focused on recruiting partners, enabling partners and strengthening Mitel's relationships with both national VARs and integrators and also service providers.
Mitel doesn't have a happy channel history, but what it does have, observers agree, is a forward-thinking approach to voice and unified communications that enables virtualization-savvy partners and makes great use of a strategic partnership with VMware. Now, said Nolan, Mitel has to drive even further into the SMB segment in which the company sees some of its best opportunity awaiting.
"We have a great product set that supports SMB, which is where we want to be focused in North America," Nolan said. "And when you look at the next steps in UC, what you see is just that: unifying communications for midmarket, enterprise and SMB customers, not with one manufacturer's toolset but with integration in things like Salesforce or other toolsets that they need it. That's what CIOs look at."
Mitel on Monday confirmed a distribution agreement with Tech Data to further its SMB expansion. Mitel will be transferring a number of its solution providers to Tech Data for fulfillment and support, and Tech Data will also distribute two key Mitel lines: the Mitel 5000 Communications Platform for SMB customers up to 250 users and the recently launched Mitel UC360 multimedia collaboration point.
Mitel will continue to recruit North America based partners, Nolan said, though that recruitment will be specialized, not large-scale. The company will look to draw from competitive channels, particularly the Avaya and ShoreTel channels both in transition, and also from two other sets of partners that fit its models well: hosted platform partners and virtualization-centric partners that think "virtualization" first, and don't necessarily have traditional PBX and voice reseller backgrounds. Entisys, a well-known virtualization specialist and CRN Tech Elite 250 member based in Concord, Calif., is a recent example of the latter category, signing on with Mitel in October.
Nolan said its imperative that successful UC companies sell with a software mentality and that Mitel will double down on opportunities like infrastructure-as-as-service and app development to support the paradigm shifts in the segment.
"Our business model isn't predicated on hardware or services sales, it's based on instances," Nolan said. "We're focused on the UC business, so whether or not a customer wants to buy a premise-based system or a virtualized system, we can embrace that. It's not about how many endpoints do you need, or let me reduce your trunks. It has to be a business conversation with the CIO-level executive."
PUBLISHED NOV. 12, 2012