ShoreTel Unveils Cloud Partner Program, Brings 'Sky' Products To Channel

ShoreTel Wednesday gave its roughly 600 North American channel partners the green light to start selling its ShoreTel Sky suite of cloud-based VoIP services and announced a new, three-tiered cloud partner program to go along with that initiative.

Starting Wednesday, ShoreTel's Champion Partner Program includes three new cloud-focused partner tiers, along with new partner training resources for selling cloud solutions and transitioning to the recurring revenue model that comes with cloud sales.

The aim of the new program is to help ShoreTel partners not only embrace the cloud services model in general but also go-to-market with ShoreTel's Sky portfolio, according to Heather Bennett, vice president of worldwide channel programs and sales enablement at ShoreTel.

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

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ShoreTel Sky, which includes cloud-based unified communications, phone systems and contact center solutions, has until now only been sold through the 160 or so partners that joined ShoreTel's channel with ShoreTel's 2012 acquisition of M5, the hosted VoIP company whose technology is the foundation for Sky. Now, however, all of ShoreTel's North American partners are eligible to sell Sky products.

"This is a highly anticipated event," said Bennett. "Partners have been asking since the [M5] acquisition about when they would be able to have access to the Sky suite of products."

Joe Rittenhouse, president of business development at Converged Technology Partners, a Chicago-based ShoreTel Gold partner, said ShoreTel's decision to open up Sky to the channel is a great move for partners, given the increasing interest customers are expressing in cloud-based communications.

"From where we are at, and where we are going, probably two out of every three [client] appointments, we're talking about cloud," Rittenhouse said. "And it's not that everybody knows what it is, but they want to hear about it, and they want to know how it can benefit their business."

Bennett said ShoreTel worked hand-in-hand with solution providers to design a new cloud partner program to help enable and drive Sky sales in the channel. That program, which is part of ShoreTel's broader Champion Partner Program, groups partners into three different levels: Referral, Approved and Enabled.

"We designed it in a way where partners can choose how much they want to be a part of the sales process," Bennett said. "A lot of VARs out there are new to cloud solutions, while some of them have sales people that are used to selling clouds and the monthly recurring revenue model that comes with it. We've designed it with three different levels so that they can decide for themselves how much help they need in the sales process."

NEXT: Referral, Approved And Enabled Tiers

Referral is the lowest of the three tiers, meant for those ShoreTel partners that are new to selling cloud. At this tier, partners simply hand over leads to ShoreTel, which then takes the deal direct, while offering partners a one-time payout for that lead.

At the middle tier, called Approved, partners not only identify leads but also qualify those opportunities and then work side-by-side with ShoreTel to close the deal. ShoreTel, however, handles the final proposal and actual implementation of the Sky technology. At this level, partners receive a one-time payout, in addition to a percentage of the monthly recurring revenue ShoreTel gets on the deal.

The highest tier, or Enabled, is for partners handling the end-to-end sales process for Sky. Partners at this level also receive a one-time payout, but they get a higher percentage of the monthly recurring revenue than Approved partners receive. Partners at the Enabled level must also have a dedicated ShoreTel cloud sales resource on staff.

ShoreTel's Bennett declined to give the exact payout or percentages partners receive at each level.

Customer billing and the actual technology deployments are handled directly by ShoreTel at all three levels, Bennett said, but the plan is to eventually hand over these responsibilities to partners.

"As of today, at all of these tiers, ShoreTel is billing the clients directly," Bennett said. "We have got a lot of feedback from partners and some of them want to do the billing, and that is something we are going to put on our road map, for sure."

Rittenhouse, of Converged Technology Partners, an Enabled ShoreTel cloud partner, said that, although ShoreTel handles all customer billing and Sky deployments, it still offers partner a sense of "stickiness" with their customers, along with an opportunity to offer other cloud services in addition to Sky.

"When you are going in there and talking about cloud environments, you are opening up a Pandora's Box for the cloud model," Rittenhouse said.

According to Bennett, there are no sales quotas for partners to meet at the Referral tier, but partners must hit a certain threshold to quality for the Approved and Enabled levels.

ShoreTel is hosting a partner webinar on February 25, Bennett said, for solution providers interested in selling Sky.