3Com Draws Closer To Partners

Dobson, the Marlborough, Mass.-based networking company's new vice president and general manager of North American sales, has a tough road before him, but he's bent on opening the lines of communication with partners and fostering a new channel model that he said will not only get the infrastructure player back in partners' good graces, but also score bigger deals with larger customers that may have dismissed it in the past.

For Dobson, his endeavor to transform a channel program he called "unhealthy" started with two pressing questions: "How could we be more effective together? How can we grow our businesses together?"

To get the ball rolling, 3Com has launched a series of online Webinars and a new "direct touch" channel model, moves Dobson said he hopes will correct the missteps its channel program has taken over the past few years and regain partner confidence.

In the past year, partners began to lose faith as 3Com was plagued with trouble. First, it ousted channel chief Nick Tidd and his global team to take a more regional, geography-based channel approach. Then, a pending merger transaction with Bain Capital Partners, a Boston-based investment firm VARs thought might right the 3Com ship, went bust. In the wake of the Bain deal collapsing, 3Com tossed out president and CEO Edgar Masri and replaced him with China-based board member Robert Mao.

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Throughout many of those moves, partners said they felt left in the dark through lack of communication. Learning from that, Dobson and 3Com last month held the first of several partner-only Webinars, opening up a forum where 3Com partners can ask pressing questions and air their grievances, with the guarantee of getting answers. The first acted mostly as an introduction to Dobson and a way to offer some details of 3Com's channel plans and strategy. Future Webinars will cover 3Com's product roadmap, a 3Com University update and other topics.

Opening the lines of communication addresses one of the main concerns 3Com partners have had with the program. In the past, partners said they struggled to get in front of executives to talk turkey. Dobson said 3Com sees the Webinars as a way to open the dialogue and keep partners up to speed and supplement in-person meetings.

"That's something that we've been asking for for a long time " communication from the executives," said Don Gulling, president of Verteks Consulting, an Ocala, Fla.-based solution provider. "More is better. The more communication they send our way the better it is."

Dobson agreed.

"Lack of communication often leads to negative conclusions," said Dobson, who has been in his role for three months and was tapped to bridge the communications gap with partners while also devising new programs to keep them confident. "By not communicating at all, frequent negative conclusions are drawn."

While opening the dialog is step one, Dobson said 3Com is also introducing a new "direct" model, though he's quick to explain that "direct" in 3Com's vocabulary is not the ominous direct partners most fear.

"We have to be more involved in driving business through channel partners," he said.

To do this, Dobson said 3Com plans on spending and investing on demand generation through 3Com's inside sales team. Through this model, 3Com account executives will have the initial contact to engage potential customers and then go hand in hand into the deal with a partner. The new approach will enable 3Com to know customers better and have direct involvement with driving sales and business through partners.

"It really makes a big difference in sales," he said. "It makes us more eligible for larger deals."

3Com Bulks Up Sales Organization Dobson said this is the first of many shifts to come for 3Com, which in its bid to get closer to the customer has hired several new telemarketers and inside sales reps, with plans to hire more staff to round out the direct facing sales organization.

"We're growing our direct touch sales organization quite aggressively to find resellers new business and help them close," he said, after telling solution providers on the first Webinar that "it's [3Com's] responsibility to play a much more direct role in bringing customers to you."

And for VARs, once frustrated and considering 3Com a sinking ship, the tide is starting to turn.

Frank Kobuszewski, vice president of the technology solutions group of CXtec, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based solution provider and 3Com partner, said 3Com honing its messaging to end users and bringing partners into the fold to get 3Com on customers' radar screens is a move in the right direction.

"It's a nice clean message It's time they execute on that," he said.

And while the word "direct" can often be a frightening term for any partner, Gulling said he's embracing 3Com's method of directness.

"I never felt for one instance that we should fear this," he said.

Gulling said it's often difficult for VARs to get their foot in the door to communicate their strategy to potential customers, and having 3Com come in and help with that initial phase will ease some of that difficulty.

"The whole effort is to create a vehicle for you to get into the deal," he said, noting that with the bulked up sales force he expects to have more coverage in the field. "To me, more resources in the field is always beneficial. We see literally twice as many people in the field. Now the SEs have time to meet with us on a monthly basis if we need to."

More field coverage and 3Com's new "hands on" approach, Gulling said, should lead to an uptick in sales.

"With the economics being what they are today, now is the time for 3Com to approach customers," he said. "Offering greater value alternatives really opens the door for us."

Dobson said the moves 3Com is making will help the company "get back to its roots" and overcome the issues that plagued it in the past.

"All vendors have their issues," he said. "All vendors have things that occur. 3Com has had its challenges. Where we've made that worse is we haven't been out there enough. I'm really looking to a grass roots kind of effort that shows up in opportunities and customer wins."

Dobson said 3Com's channel transformation will continue over the coming months. The company is also working on updating the outdated partner access portal on its Web site, all to make 3Com more visible and approachable and easier for partners to communicate and do business with.

Overall, he said, as the changes take shape he expects 3Com to come out swinging.

"I expect we're going to see an increase in new customers and new business," he said, adding that larger deal sizes are also anticipated.