Polycom Preps Partners for HD Video Push

Polycom this week outlined a myriad of investments it is making in its channel strategy that aim to boost partner profitability and grab a bigger piece of the growing IP communications market.

Chairman and CEO Bob Hagerty this week at the Polycom Global Partner Summit in Boston said the timing is right for the videoconferencing vendor and its partners to plant a big stake in the market as enterprises look for ways to improve communications between dispersed employees.

"Everyone ran to globalize and put their people out in the world, but they didn't have any way for them to participate in the operations," Hagerty said.

To help capitalize on the opportunity, Polycom is making investments in key areas that will benefit partners, including backend systems, sales personnel and marketing, Hagerty said.

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Along with new product rollouts, those investments will help Polycom maintain and improve its market leadership, make it easier for partners to do business with it and boost sales coverage, said David Phillips, senior vice president of worldwide sales.

In return for its investments, Polycom is seeking partner loyalty, he said. While the company doesn't expect partners to drop competitors, it does want its solution providers to lead with Polycom, he said.

"I want to earn the right to be the vendor you lead with," Phillips told the 850 conference attendees during a keynote address.

On the sales front, the company plans to add 150 sales people by the end of the second quarter to focus on growing partner business in global accounts, said Steve Huey, chief marketing officer at Polycom, Pleasanton, Calif., noting that Polycom's sales and marketing budget grew 30 percent for 2007 compared to 2006.

The influx of global account managers is also designed to help Polycom get more visibility among C-level executives so it can compete with rivals like Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard, which are selling their high-definition (HD) videoconferencing wares to CEOs and CIOs.

"Pretty much in the history of this company we have never talked to the C-level," Huey said. "It's clear to us now that the C-suite is going to be the tipping point for [HD videoconferencing] and that's why [Cisco Chairman and CEO] John Chambers and [HP Chairman and CEO] Mark Hurd are talking to them."

NEXT: Partners want chance to add services

Solution providers agreed that the influx of Polycom sales personnel should help grow partner sales, but the move will only boost partner loyalty if it's handled properly.

"It's a question of engaging early," said Chris Bottger, vice president and general manager of IVCi, a solution provider based in Hauppauge, N.Y. "It they're going in and just handing over paper, that's just transactional and is not going to create loyalty."

Instead partners want to work with the Polycom sales force to sell full solutions that include both products and services, Bottger said.

More upfront interaction between solution providers and potential customers creates the opportunity for partners to sell more managed services, said Michelle Zebell, vice president of marketing at Wire One Communications, a Miamisburg, Ohio-based solution provider.

"When we can wrap managed services around a deal we can pull through more product," she said.

Polycom in July plans to roll out a new partner portal that will give solution providers a personalized view into their relationship with the vendor, including information such as certifications and pricing levels and access to sales and marketing tools.

The company last week launched its new ARENA program for ISVs and channel partners to build applications on the Polycom video platform. Through the program, Polycom is certifying third-party solutions and helping sell those solutions through its channels.

Also at the conference, Polycom unveiled RMX 2000 Version 2.0, a software upgrade for its recently launched HD videoconferencing line that enables customers to combine video end-points with different resolutions on the same call while providing optimal call quality for each participant. The upgrade is scheduled for availability in the third quarter.

Polycom also rolled out ReadiManger SE200 2.0, the latest version of its call management application. The upgrade adds greater scalability and support for Polycom's HD platforms. It is scheduled for availability in June.

In addition, the vendor also launched a new High Definition Readiness program to help customers assess the ability of their networks to support HD video, Single Path IP Network Assessment services for remote troubleshooting and new On Demand Conference Services to help customers establish the cost and timeframe required to move from scheduled to reservationless conferencing. All are offered by Polycom Global Services and available through channel partners.