Polycom Revamps Partner Program To Challenge Cisco-Tandberg

The new program, which Polycom will officially launch April 1, offers tiered partner levels and a certification program that according to Polycom will urge VARs to specialize in particular product segments and vertical markets.

Polycom's Choice Program, revealed to VARs this month, is one of three new channel programs and will focus on Polycom's VARs, A/V integrators, regional systems integrators and service providers, as well as retailers, distributors and direct market resellers. Its other programs are the Alliance Program, focusing on global system integrators, OEMs and strategic vendor partners, and its Arena Program, focused on technology partners and application providers.

"We are realigning our channel strategy and our program investments to reward and pay back the investment that solution providers have made in Polycom," said Maurizio Capuzzo, Polycom's vice president of Global Channel Marketing. "We're doing it right now because we have the breadth and depth of solutions, and it's the right time to help partners grow given the market consolidation."

A wave of consolidation in the video space last fall -- Cisco's purchase of Tandberg and Logitech's acquisition of LifeSize Communications being the most obvious examples -- have left Polycom the lone remaining independent videoconferencing vendor of scale.

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According to Capuzzo, that means the time to firm up Polycom's channel and get aggressive is now, while the channel strategies of both Tandberg and LifeSize are being reconciled with their new owners.

"The consolidation effort is creating a void to the partners," he argued. "A lot of partners are scratching their heads and asking right now, will Cisco-Tandberg bring my margins down? Polycom is a leader and has the strongest market share in the space, and we're here to empower unified communications and make it easier for partners to do business with us."

Polycom has been busy building out its internal channel ranks, and Capuzzo -- who held sales and channel roles at IPC, Avaya, Symbol, Ingram Micro, HP and Novell in the past -- is among several channel veterans to have joined Polycom in the past eight months.

In July 2009, Polycom brought on former Cisco and Tandberg executive Andy Miller as its executive vice president of Global Field Operations, three months after snagging former Tandberg vice president of Canada sales Ron Myers to be its vice president of worldwide channels.

It's the Choice Program that will see the most immediate change in how Polycom addresses solution providers. Polycom will address partners through three tiers: Polycom Registered, Polycom Gold and Polycom Platinum. New, specialized training programs will also give VARs Polycom certification in the areas of immersive telepresence, video solutions, VoIP, wireless, A/V integrator, federal government and GSA, and unified communications.

"The core of our program today is around certification," said Deandra Cassidy, Polycom's senior manager, global channel market & programs. "The program takes into account their level of investment in the business and specializes their areas of competency. Their benefits are also scaled to the program levels. We're trying to incent higher levels of competency and commitment to Polycom."

Gold partners have a minimum, annual Polycom volume requirement of $750,000 in the U.S. and $500,000 in Canada, and require VARs to have dedicated Polycom technical staff and hold at least one specialization.

Platinum partners are required to do $5 million in Polycom volume annually in the U.S. ($1.5 million in Canada), and hold at least two specializations, plus participate with Polycom in quarterly sales and annual business planning.

Higher partner levels give partners rewards, deal protection, proposal-based market development funds, sales leads and specific offers and promotions in greater frequency. According to Cassidy, Polycom has also beefed up the company's online partner locator and will do more co-marketing with VARs going forward.

Capuzzo stressed that it's Polycom's vendor alliances that also set it apart from Cisco, including its longstanding partnerships with Microsoft, Avaya and IBM in areas like collaboration, video and unified messaging. (Polycom and IBM last week debuted a consumer-grade videoconferencing product at CES, and earlier Thursday, Polycom confirmed it would expand its telepresence and voice integration with IBM's Lotus Sametime 8.5.)

"We have a great opportunity right now," he said. "Cisco will need to be able to make that consolidation work and rationalize a lot of products. That will take time, so I see us as having 12 to 18 months to act and grab those partners that are really seeking to differentiate themselves. The opportunities for them are increasing, and we're going to continue to attract new partners in the enterprise space as well as DMRs and partners focused on SMB, because we can't forget the other consolidation of LifeSize and Logitech either."

Polycom channel partners say the changes would definitely build channel opportunity, and they pressed Polycom to invest even more in what it can offer partners.

"It seems that they have recognized that there's value to be working more closely with and providing greater incentive to people that have a business model engineering toward something other than just moving tonnage of boxes," said Kevin Powers, managing principal of Technical Innovation, a Norcross, Ga.-based solution provider. "They've done some things now to reward people focused on different vertical markets and that's going to allow partners to compete more effectively with some of the big box players."

Powers said Polycom hadn't done a good job in the past of incentivizing mid-tier partners, describing a "pretty dramatic gulf between high-volume box players and smaller, more full-service providers" in Polycom's channel.

He said even more opportunity to provide after-market customer support would be welcomed by solution providers like Technical Innovation, which also has a strong Tandberg practice.

"We can now participate in better margin proposition whether at point of purchase, or discounts from a list perspective," Powers said. "It's welcomed on our part. What took them so long?"