ShoreTel Makes Splash With M5; VARs Ponder The Ripple Effects

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Girskis said ShoreTel began looking at potential acquisition targets in the hosted UC space about seven months ago. At ShoreTel's Champion Partner Conference in Chicago in July, Blackmore identified mobility and cloud as among the "pillars" that would drive ShoreTel's growth, though several partners at the show said ShoreTel's discussion of a hosted strategy was muted compared to previous years.

ShoreTel found its mobility play behind the technology it bought with Agito Networks in 2010, and the M5 pickup represents the missing cloud piece, according to Girskis.

"In April [2011] we did a refresh of our five-year plan and game up with the four pillars for growth you heard at the partner conference," Girskis said. "When the board approved our plan in June, we embarked on a path of make vs. buy. Did we want to build our own data centers, acquire the billing systems and provide our own platform, or did we want to go ahead and buy a company? We came to the conclusion that for speed to market, we needed to buy a company, so we began an extensive vetting process."

Girskis said ShoreTel was familiar with M5 CEO Dan Hoffman and several of his lieutenants -- three of M5's current salespeople were sales representatives under ShoreTel Vice President of Sales Tim Gaines.

"M5 is a really good fit for us," Girskis said. "They share our maniacal focus on customer satisfaction."

According to Hoffman, the ShoreTel and M5 teams first formally met at Dreamforce in San Francisco in September. Hoffman described ShoreTel's team as "strikingly open book from our first exchange."

"Combining what we each do, it is chocolate and peanut butter," Hoffman said in a post to the M5 company blog Wednesday. "ShoreTel has the best app on the market to insert your desk phone into your smartphone. Their UC and collaboration suite is polished, as are all their interfaces. And they make their own handsets, allowing them to control this all-important customer touch point. They have a formidable presence in the channel. M5 needs these things.

"ShoreTel doesn't know how to be a cloud service provider, but they do understand what their competitors have not figured out," Hoffman added. "Cloud isn't just partitioning software and running it in a data center. It needs to be in your DNA."

ShoreTel also will be deliberate in how it lets ShoreTel partners add the M5 hosted offering and vice versa, Girskis said. With a few exceptions -- notably CDW -- ShoreTel and M5 have very little overlap in existing partners. ShoreTel initially will onboard a select few ShoreTel partners over to M5, and M5 partners interested in selling ShoreTel will need to go through ShoreTel's standard training and partner certification programs to do so, like any other new partner.

"Now that we have a definitive agreement in place, we can look at rolling out a program for ShoreTel partners that we'll test with a few of them," Girskis said.

ShoreTel hosted a Webinar for partners Thursday afternoon to talk through many of the deal’s particulars. Several solution providers said ShoreTel executives told them they would look to open M5 services to ShoreTel partners starting in the April time frame, following the deal's completion.

It's important, solution providers said, for ShoreTel to keep the M5 assets restricted to certain partners so they don't disrupt the separate sales channels and customer bases.

"I applaud that because a lot of the rank-and-file ShoreTel partners probably aren't a good fit for it," Westron's Casey said.

NEXT: ShoreTel Partners See Opportunity, But Have Concerns

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