New Avaya WW Partner Head Looks To Bulk Up SME Partner Base

Richard Steranka, the new head of Avaya's Worldwide Partner Organization, is plotting a course for the Avaya channel in 2014 that involves significantly growing its SMB and midmarket footprint and offering new incentives for partners helping to fuel that effort.

Steranka, who joined Avaya in July of last year, was officially tapped as the Unified Communications (UC) and networking vendor's vice president, Worldwide Partner Organization in August. Steranka's appointment was the latest in a string of executive shakeups to the Avaya channel team, including the departure of Worldwide Channel Chief John Spiliotis and the looming exit of Senior Vice President of Global Sales Tom Mitchell.

According to Steranka, his new role within the Avaya channel organization is one that hasn't been carried out since Avaya's first formal Global Channel Chief, Jeremy Butt, joined the company in 2008.

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"Really, nobody has had this exact role in the past three years," Steranka said. "You would really have to go back to Jeremy Butt before this exact organization we have today was in place."

The distinction, Steranka continued, is that his responsibilities expand beyond those of the traditional global channel chief role -- such as managing the details of the Avaya Connect partner program -- to include the actual day-to-day management of the channel business itself, overseeing, for example, the Profit and Loss (P&L) statements for that part of Avaya's business.

This role, Steranka said, underscores a broader restructuring effort happening within the Avaya channel organization that includes adopting a hardline reporting structure and rolling out Centers of Excellence around different lines of business, such as front-line sales, channel account managers and systems engineers.

"[These groups] work as one, cohesive unit in the field, but are now managed by experts in those areas as opposed to what we were doing, which is managing by regional sales leaders who really had the responsibility of developing all those unique and individual skill sets, which was pretty challenging," Steranka said.

With this backdrop, Steranka said he already has some items on his to-do list for 2014. For starters, he said, he wants to fuel Avaya's ongoing midmarket offensive and elicit the help of partners to do it.

"For us, it's not just about the growth rate of the midmarket itself -- which is pretty much on parallel with enterprise if not slightly higher in some markets -- but it's the fact that it's a market where there is no clear, standout winner from a vendor perspective," Steranka said. "And we believe with the solutions that we have, we have the ability to take share."

NEXT: Avaya's SME Incentive

Steranka said of Avaya's roughly 10,000 partners worldwide, fewer than 500 of them hold Avaya's small- to midsize enterprise (SME) Expert specialization. That said, Avaya's SME-certified partner base grew roughly 30 percent in the last year, a trend Steranka wants to continue.

"The number of partners that have taken on the SME badge is in the hundreds," Steranka said. "But, quite honestly, to cover this market opportunity, which is enormous, that number should be in the thousands."

One of the ways Steranka hopes to grow Avaya's SME partner base is through the company's new SME Solution Sale Incentive (S3I) promotion, which offers rebates to partners who sell across the Avaya portfolio -- but only if they are SME Expert-certified.

"My expectation is that we are going to see that number [of SME Expert partners] increase pretty substantially, and probably way beyond the 30 percent we saw last year," Steranka said.

The S3I promotion is meant to incent partners to sell beyond Avaya's bread-and-butter UC offerings. The way it works, Steranka said, is that partners are given product rebates when they couple an Avaya UC sale with a networking, video, or some other product line sale. Rebates range up to 14 percent.

Bill Xydias, director of marketing at Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.-based solution provider and Juniper partner, said the S3I promotion is an especially attractive one for Integration Partners, as the company already sells across the Avaya portfolio and is an SME Expert partner.

"These incentives are a home run for us," Xydias told CRN. "It will be business as usual, but with added incentives around what we already do."

Xydias also said that Integration Partners expects solid sales around Avaya IP Office 9.0, the latest version of Avaya's SMB- and midmarket-focused UC platform. IP Office 9.0 differs from its predecessors in that it can scale to support up to 2,000 seats simultaneously, meaning it can appeal to a wider range of midmarket customers.

"[IP Office 9.0] is really hitting that sweet spot," Xydias said. "We are legitimately excited about it, and looking forward to selling it."