VARs Caution Avaya Use Of Customer Satisfaction Data

One of Avaya's major channel priorities heading into 2011 is changing its program rewards to reflect partner competencies versus volume sales. It's something Avaya partners see as a welcome change of pace, although one with plenty of caveats -- including Avaya's suggestion that it will emphasize customer satisfaction data to determine compensation.

It was a hot topic at Avaya's recent Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas, and one that may come to define Avaya's go-to-market strategy for channels.

"This is the third year in a row I've said competency drives volume, volume doesn't drive competency," said Jeremy Butt, vice president, worldwide channels, who told partners attending the conference that "the competency side" would be Avaya's focus for its channel program over the next few years.

That's all well and good, say partners, so long as it's handled correctly. At the very least, it gives regional or smaller Avaya partners without major national sales operations the opportunity to access more lucrative deals -- and showcase their talents.

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"I'm not as concerned about whether a partner is regional or national as about whether he is qualified to make the sale," said John Babcock, president of Relational Technology Solutions, a Columbus, Ohio-based solution provider.

Next: Why Avaya's Shift Makes Sense

The technology, Babcock noted, is "only going to get more complex." If volume is the only major requirement for channel rewards, the process becomes prohibitive to smaller solution providers, especially those who have invested in Avaya training and certification but can't by nature move the same volume of products as VARs four times their size.

"The smaller guys never get a shot," he explained. "Avaya needs better-quality partners."

"If Avaya approaches this new model correctly, the compensation model will ferret out who are the most competent," said Roger Junkermier, president of Cerium Networks, a Spokane, Wash.-based solution provider.

Junkermier was among VARs who cautioned Avaya against using customer satisfaction metrics to determine performance-based compensation for partners. So was Val Robison, who noted that when customers have issues with vendors, it's often the VARs that bear the brunt of their frustrations.

"The customer could love us but be upset at the vendor, so they take it out on us when they get that customer sat survey. Or the customer is having a bad day," said Robison, sales vice president at Sunturn IT Consulting Group, a Phoenix-based solution provider. "Tying our ability to customer sat scores makes things difficult."

Next: Too Easy To Manipulate

Dave Sherry, president of Unity Telecom, a Mesa, Ariz.-based solution provider, was among VARs who said the ability to manipulate customer satisfaction data one way or another makes it virtually impossible to use customer sat surveys fairly.

"It's like, I'll give you this price if you give me a 99 on my customer sat," said Sherry. "It's all such a game. It needs to be handled properly and independently."

If there are customer satisfaction issues, Junkermier said, they will eventually come to light anyway through customer escalation cases. VARs that are bad to customers don't stay hidden, in other words.

"I don't think it's the manufacturers' job to make an edict that you have that," Junkermier said of customer satisfaction requirements. "You're going to grow based on what you do with those customers."

"It's all about the relationship to begin with," added Richard DaCosta, president of Combat Networks, an Ottawa-based solution provider. "If you don't have that you're not going to have customer satisfaction. Simple as that."