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"When I got in here and had my first partner executive meetings, I found organizations that were not well-aligned," said Avaya's Mitchell, a longtime channel hand who was Cisco's first well-known channel chief until departing in 2001 and has worked or consulted for most of the major IT networking players over the years. "The difference this year is that four out of five conversations I've had with partners in these past few months are positive and on the theme of working through the legacy issues to do better."
Mitchell became an Avaya SVP in early 2011, but had joined Avaya nearly a year earlier in a behind-the-scenes consulting role. When former global channel chief Jeremy Butt left Avaya in March 2012, Mitchell assumed worldwide channel duties and took on Butt's reports.
Soderlund, who became Avaya's vice president of channel sales, Americas, in October 2011, also came in with a channel pedigree, having held channel and sales roles at Extreme Networks, Fortinet, HP ProCurve and Certeon.
A year into the job, Soderlund said there's a lot of work to be done but a lot that's been accomplished already. He and Mitchell hosted a webinar over the summer with key Avaya partners and explained that Avaya's improved things such as time to implementation and maintenance for SMB solutions and the level of time needed for training on some Avaya UC solutions. Credentialed partner associates over the last two years have increased 300 percent on a "range of solutions," they said at the time, and Avaya promotions such as "Triple 7" -- which extends discount of up to 70 percent for customers refreshing the Communication Server 1000 product -- have also been successful.
Overall, according to Soderlund, Avaya has invested more than $60 million in what it described as "quality processes," which cover product quality, service performance and other tangibles such as time-to-market.
"I think what you'll hear this year from Avaya partners are better stories," Soderlund told CRN in September. "I think you'll hear that we've responded to a lot of their concerns. You'll see, for example, the partners that maybe looked at ShoreTel and then came back to Avaya. You'll see a lot of momentum for us in areas like IP Office and also the new areas like Radvision Scopia."
Partners say they've appreciated the leadership Mitchell and Soderlund have shown since taking their current roles.
"One of the big changes is that the channels organization has been well-integrated into the direct sales force," Catalyst Telecom's Ferney said. "Karl's been adamant about making sure his people are aligned with [Avaya Americas Vice President] John DiLullo's people. In any channel structure, there's usually a big opportunity for friction, but those guys have done a good job of marrying those sales forces and starting in on demand generation."
Some partners have been concerned with the non-stop exodus of top-level Avaya executives. But at the same time, Avaya's hired well-known executives from bigger competitors like Cisco, including Marc Randall, senior vice president and general manager of Avaya Networking, and Pierre-Paul Allard, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development.
Avaya can still attract top talent, Carousel's Marsh said.
"I don't take too much concern with that," he said. "Guys are going to move around. We get the information we need."
Among other key 2012 hires, Avaya recently brought on Sandy Devine, a former CGI and HP executive and now vice president and global lead for Avaya Professional Services, and Karl Meulema, well-known for the work he did heading up Cisco's global services channels. Meulema, who left Cisco during its 2011 restructuring, joined Avaya in August as vice president, global services and partners.
Avaya expects to take more of an integrated approach with its executives' various channel and sales responsibilities, Mitchell said, meaning the leaders from individual groups will work more in tandem. That's something partners have been asking for.
"Kevin Kennedy said at the Nashville partner conference in 2009 that Avaya wasn't going to get caught up in silos, but I still think that has been going on -- occasionally it can be difficult to find the correct Avaya resource and getting Avaya staff to step outside their core responsibility to help us find the correct resource," Converged's Melchiorre said. "With some recent changes to roles and responsibilities, it has gotten better lately."