ShoreTel Partners: New Partner Program, Training Initiatives Show 'It's Not Business As Usual'

ShoreTel partners are praising the unified communications (UC) vendor for its recently revamped partner program and a new series of business development workshops designed to help solution providers embrace hosted UC solutions and the recurring revenue model that comes with selling them.

ShoreTel's new partner workshop series comes as the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company puts the finishing touches on its newly designed Champion Partner Program. The program changes, which go into effect Jan. 1, are designed, according to ShoreTel, to make the Champion program easier for partners to navigate, simplify how they earn discounts, and sweeten ShoreTel's MDF and deal registration opportunities.

ShoreTel partners say the redesigned program, coupled with the new partner workshop series, suggest ShoreTel is investing more in the channel today than it has in years.

[Related: ShoreTel Taps SVP As New President, CEO ]

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"It's not business as usual," said Joe Rittenhouse, president of Business Development at Converged Technology Professionals, a Chicago-based ShoreTel Gold partner. "There has been a lot of change in the [ShoreTel] partner program, a lot of change in the forward motion of the company, and a lot of change in the executive leadership. Some people were scared about that change, but that change was needed to bring on the new ventures they have ahead of them."

Recent changes to the ShoreTel executive team include the appointment of Don Joos, ShoreTel's former senior vice president of business operations, as the company's new president and CEO. Joos in August replaced former ShoreTel CEO Peter Blackmore, who announced plans to retire.

Meanwhile, ShoreTel in July reorganized its sales structure to create, for the first time, sales teams dedicated to partner business management and sales support. ShoreTel also said Heather Bennett, vice president of Worldwide Channel Programs and Sales Enablement, along with Sam Koury, vice president of Americas Channels, have been tasked with taking over the responsibilities of Joe Vitalone, vice president of channel management at ShoreTel, who left ShoreTel in March for Mitel.

Rittenhouse said his ShoreTel business has grown 200 percent year-over-year for the past four years, much of that fueled from ShoreTel's mobility and call center technologies, but, more recently, from sales of ShoreTel Sky, the company's hosted VoIP offering.

"We will finish the year again as another record year in sales, with total revenues upward of about $13 million a year," Rittenhouse said.

Travis Dillard, president of Inflow Communications, a Portland, Ore.-based ShoreTel partner, agreed that ShoreTel has gone through what he called a "transformation" over the past year, and said that, from a partner perspective, that transformation has been "fantastic."

"Their traditional model was to sign up as many VARs as you can to sell the product, and it was a race to the bottom in terms of margin quality," Dillard said. "But now, they have gotten rid of this kind of old-school way of thinking with the new partner program. And these workshops are just one of many things they have implemented to really help us."

According to David Petts, senior vice president of Worldwide Sales at ShoreTel, the new workshops and channel program do, in fact, reflect a shift in ShoreTel's channel strategy from a partner recruitment blitz to better enabling the roughly 900 solution provider partners it already has.

"We essentially turned off that treadmill of recruitment and have been focusing on developing and working deeper and deeper and more closely with the partners we have," Petts told CRN.

NEXT: ShoreTel's New Cloud, Business Development Workshops

There are two workshops in the ShoreTel partner workshop series. The first, which is available now, focuses primarily on business development best practices for solution providers. It's a two-day workshop that takes a deep dive into channel trends and the evolving solution provider business model. It also lets partners use a profiling tool that helps them understand how their businesses stack up against competitors and industry KPIs, along with how well-positioned they are for long-term or sustainable growth.

The course is delivered by ShoreTel and an independent consultant, but ShoreTel said the material is completely vendor-agnostic.

The second workshop, which will be rolled out in late January, focuses specifically on best practices for moving to the cloud and a recurring revenue model. The topics covered include broader market dynamics around cloud, building a cloud business practice without disrupting the traditionally hardware- and software-driven solution provider model, and adapting to an annuity-based financial structure.

ShoreTel said that roughly 150 of its partners currently sell its hosted VoIP platform ShoreTel Sky, but that almost all partners recognize the urgency of moving to the cloud. Converged Technology Professionals' Rittenhouse said his company definitely felt that urgency, and, thankfully, recognized the importance of embracing the cloud "before it was too late."

"For many years, we were selling across the hosted space, and it was pretty easy to face defeat. But it didn't come to the negotiation table that much, where [customers] were seriously looking at a cloud-based application," Rittenhouse said. "But versus now, it's probably one in every three opportunities that somebody is looking for the cloud."

After each course, partners can participate in what ShoreTel calls "Peer Group Formations," a one-hour live web session with all workshop participants intended to keep the conversation running. ShoreTel said each workshop has a cap of eight participants, and that it makes sure those eight partners are "noncompetitive."

All workshops are hosted in ShoreTel's Austin, Texas, location. The fee is $2,100 per partner, but ShoreTel said partners can use their MDFs to cover 50 percent of that cost.