ShoreTel Partners Gear Up For New Sales Chief, Program Changes

ShoreTel partners will have a lot to keep an eye on over the next few months, as ShoreTel integrates its acquisition of hosted VoIP provider M5 Networks, and makes some planned changes to its partner program.

In a few weeks time, they'll also meet a new global sales chief, following word that Don Girskis, senior vice president, worldwide sales, is departing.

Girskis, whose pending exit from ShoreTel was first reported by CRN, will officially leave the company on March 31. He'll turn his attention to philanthropy, he said, in hopes of following the footsteps of Richard Stearns, the former Parker Brothers and Lenox executive who in 1998 joined Christian charitable organization World Vision, where Stearns is president.

"He made the change from the corporate world, chasing the traditional business definition of success, and moved his life to really trying to achieve that significance rather than business success," Girskis said in an interview with CRN. "That's what I want to do with my life. I want to meet my maker and be able to say more than 'Don sold a lot of phones.' It's totally my decision and everything to do with my personal goals."

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[Related: 10 Things VARs Should Know About ShoreTel ]

Girskis will pursue work with organizations such as World Vision and the Catholic Relief Fund, to which he is a regular contributor. Philanthropic work has been a long-term personal goal, Girskis said, "but given how jobs in charitable organizations pay, you pretty much have to be financially independent."

ShoreTel is not retaining an outside search firm. Girskis said Peter Blackmore, ShoreTel's CEO, is actively evaluating both internal and external candidates and a decision is expected soon.

"We're not ready to make an announcement but Peter has had plenty of heads-up time on this one," said Kevin Gavin, vice president of marketing.

Girskis is departing ShoreTel at a pivotal time when the scrappy unified communications player has used much of its cash hoard on the recent acquisition of M5 and is also fueling momentum behind the year-old ShoreTel Mobility practice in built following a fall 2010 acquisition of Agito Networks.

ShoreTel partners said Girskis' replacement will need to rationalize all of those priorities as ShoreTel, a $200 million company as of the end of its fiscal 2011, sets its sites on $1 billion in revenue.

"I can't really attest to what [Girskis] was directly responsible for, but a lot of good things did happen during the period he ran it. The organization went through a lot of growth during that time and he seemed good for the stage they were at," said Rick Hall, managing partner of StormWood Technologies, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based solution provider and a ShoreTel partner since 2003. "They've now got their sites set on $1 billion in revenue, so I anticipate the next person will be someone who's experienced and ready to take them there."

Robert Plessett, managing partner at TeleSwitch, a Miami-based solution provider, said Girskis was "very approachable and easy to talk to and obviously engaged." As ShoreTel tackles bigger customers beyond its traditional SMB base, however, Plessett and several solution providers said ShoreTel's next head of sales would need to be more visible in field engagements.

"In the phone business, once you get upstream with larger customers, it's very difficult to get them to change their system to a new vendor -- there are a lot of forces at work against you to get them to do that," Plessett said. "It's a lot of work getting them to turn the way you want them to turn -- that requires some executive involvement from the [ShoreTel] side."

Next: Changes To ShoreTel's Champion Partner Program

ShoreTel partners say they've been briefed on several upcoming changes to the vendor's Champion partner program. ShoreTel, for example, is evaluating a Platinum level of partnership for its top solution providers, although according to Annette Lorenz, director of worldwide channel marketing, no requirements for a Platinum tier have yet been finalized.

ShoreTel is also re-evaluating the criteria for its Circle of Excellence designation for partners, and Lorenz told CRN it will likely add a growth component to the revenue and customer satisfaction metrics it used to calculate the 2011 Circle of Excellence designates.

Some of the biggest changes are to ShoreTel's requirements for selling its Mobility platform, including that VARs must meet a minimum sales threshold of $100,000 in Mobility sales and demonstrate more certifications to qualify.

TeleSwitch, which Plessett said will hit Gold status with ShoreTel this year, was an early adopter of the Mobility strategy.

"That application has gotten a lot of interest," Plessett said. "We're in Miami and we have a lot of people traveling to Latin America on business and getting absolutely killed on roaming charges, so we have been able to sell a bunch of mobility systems."

When ShoreTel first released Mobility shortly after the Agito acquisition, it had a few technical kinks to work out, Plessett said, but the company has been aggressive about updated software releases. ShoreTel Mobility 4.7, which released at the beginning of March, added support for a number of mobile devices and mobile OSes as well as secure LDAP and URL-based dialing with Pause and DTMF support.

ShoreTel is well-advised to keep the Mobility product from broad channel availability, he said.

"I'm pleased to see the new partner requirements because it'll make it tougher for folks who don't know how to sell it to do so," Plessett said. "The product needs to be put in the best light. The best way to learn how it works is by going through the program and doing a few installs."

"The best candidates for this product are customers that do a substantial amount of international travel and use a lot of international cell minutes," added StormWood's Hall. "For our regionalized customer base, that's only about 5 percent of our customers. But the other big advantage is multi-platform capabilities. That's opened up a lot of doors for us."

Both StormWood and TeleSwitch are also waiting for more information from ShoreTel on the channel availability of M5 hosted UC services.

"I'm very interested in that business, and I hope they do it fast because if they can come out with something really compelling for our CPE business and for our hosted business, great for them and great for us," Plessett said. "But if it's just kind of little dribs and drabs, we might go somewhere else because customers are talking about it now. Here's hoping they don't put out a piece of news like this and then keep people waiting. They might lose a little bit of the market opportunity if they wait too long."