ShoreTel Rolling Up Its Sleeves As CEO Prepares To Exit

ShoreTel says the time is right for it to start making serious progress in the IP networking and unified communications spaces, thanks to what one ShoreTel executive calls a "jump ball" in the former Nortel channel and a greater willingness by customers to look elsewhere for products than the incumbent UC players.

Those are two of the messages being heard at ShoreTel's Champions Conference in San Diego this week. It's the scrappy UC company's annual partner confab, and ShoreTel is hoping to motivate its partners to help spur some impressive year-on-year growth gains, even as ShoreTel's CEO, John W. Combs, prepares to leave the company.

"There is a small number of people who really, really love [ShoreTel]," said Kevin Gavin, vice president of marketing, in a CRN interview this week. "How can we leverage that and work with our partners to attack that sweet spot of the market. When we come to the table, we have a win rate of 65 to 70 percent. So the real trick is to break out of this unknown entity thing and get brought to the table more often."

ShoreTel is rallying its troops at a transitional time: CEO Combs announced last week in a letter to ShoreTel's channel partners that he'll be stepping down.

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Combs, who has been at ShoreTel's helm since 2004, said in a statement: "As we continue to execute our strategy plan, now is the right time for ShoreTel to transition to a new CEO to drive the company to the next level. I am leaving ShoreTel at a great time in its lifecycle, we are gaining market share, growing our revenue both in the United States and internationally, expanding our distribution base of dedicated partners and achieving world-class customer satisfaction measure from our customers, resulting from our customer-focused resellers community and employee base."

Combs confirmed that he will stay on as CEO until his successor is named, and he's also planning to stay on the company's board. Gary Daichendt, who has served executive roles at Cisco and Nortel and has been on ShoreTel's board since 2007, will take over Combs' spot as board chairman.

As the company transitions, Gavin said the trick will be making sure ShoreTel partners have enough marketing muscle and plenty of refreshed technology.

Among new product releases announced at the Champions Conference this week is ShoreTel Contact Center 6, the upgrade to its call center software, which will be available as a free upgrade to customers that have an existing ShoreTel support contract.

Its new features include a real-time event feed system capable of group, queing and agent information and customizable through an open API, as well as a new addition called ShoreTel Contact Center Agent Dashboard, which is a cloud application that can provide customized contact center dashboards to agents and deployed on mobile devices.

ShoreTel is also adding Contact Center Interaction Viewer, which lets supervisors monitor contact center interactions in detail, and has increased the level of support for Contact Center 6 to up to 1,000 concurrent and 2,000 total agents.

Then there's a new version of ShoreTel's UC software, ShoreTel 11, available as a free upgrade to existing ShoreTel customers.

Announced Thursday at the conference, ShoreTel 11 includes ShoreTel Communicator (formerly known as ShoreTel Call Manager) clients for both BlackBerry and iPhone, with the new iPhone client available through Apple's App Store as a free download. ShoreTel has also boosted the release to allow for more instances to be installed at remote sites and expanded its QSIG support for migrating to ShoreTel UC environments.

NEXT: ShoreTel Courts Rival's Partners

Along with the new products, Gavin said, is a stepped-up campaign to bring disillusioned former Nortel partners into ShoreTel's fold. Many of them, he noted, will be ShoreTel's most helpful evangelists.

"The Nortel channel being jump ball, we've acquired a significant number of Nortel channel partners," he explained. "But it's on the advertising side too: we need to talk more about this and work this message a little harder out there."

ShoreTel is not afraid to attack rival Avaya's partner base either. Gavin declined to name names, but suggested that some of Avaya's larger national U.S. partners are giving ShoreTel a harder look than before.

"We're going after some of the bigger ones: they see the benefits and are intrigued, but of course they're a little more reluctant, and have more to worry about from the Avaya side," he said. "We're not saying you have to go exclusive. We're willing to let the customer decide and you can decide on a case by case basis which one is better. We're sticking to our story."

Earlier this year, Combs told CRN that market turmoil created by big moves like Avaya-Nortel acts in ShoreTel's favor and that the midmarket represents a huge opportunity for ShoreTel and its channel.

"We have a product that is brilliantly simple: customers love it, partners can make money by selling it, and we have world class customers satisfaction rates," Combs said at the time. "So my main issue is simple: I'm not in enough opportunities. That's where our distribution partners will help us most."

All the while, ShoreTel's modest gains continue. Last week, ShoreTel adjusted its guidance for its fiscal fourth quarter, saying it now expects to report revenues between $41 and $42 million -- up from its previously projected $35 to $38 million -- for the quarter ended June 30.

"We are very pleased to see over 10 percent sequential revenue growth in the fourth quarter, driving our quarterly revenues to our highest level ever and above our previously announced guidance," Combs said in a statement.