Unify Channel Chief: New Name Of The Game Is Partners

Fresh off its major rebranding initiative, Unify -- the former Siemens Enterprise Communications -- is turning its attention to the channel.

"We firmly believe we will win more business and get into more opportunities by having a partner community," said Jon Pritchard, Unify's new, and first ever, executive vice president of worldwide channels. "It's a very, very big strategic change for Unify. Historically, our heritage is a German engineering company, direct sales-driven, so there is a huge cultural change which will need to take place in our business to help make this happen. But, in support of that, it's an absolute strategic objective of our shareholders."

Pritchard, who before joining Unify in February was president of Comstor, the $2.5 billion Cisco-aligned unit of distributor Westcon Group, told CRN this week that Unify is staging a major channel offensive, underpinned by a new channel-focused executive team, a revamped partner program, and what Pritchard called a complete cultural overhaul within Unify and its direct sales team.

[Related: Extreme Makeover: Siemens Enterprise Communications Changes Name To Unify ]

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"We have to stop competing with our partners. We do that today, and we do it consciously and subconsciously," Pritchard told CRN. "So we have to make it absolutely clear what the rules of engagement are."

Unify in October changed its name from Siemens Enterprise Communications in a bid to establish a brand that would distinguish itself from parent company and German conglomerate Siemens AG. The company is still owned by Siemens AG and investment firm The Gores Group, which has a 51 percent stake.

Unify, based in Munich, continued its recent makeover with the appointment of Dean Douglas, the former CEO and president of Westcon, as its new CEO in December.

"Dean's background is channels, my background is channels ... so we very much have a strategic objective to make Unify a more partner-centric business," said Pritchard.

Unify today does roughly 25 percent of its business through its channel, which is made up of 3,500 partners globally and 140 in the U.S.

Moving forward, Pritchard said he would like to see Unify do "at least" 40 percent to 50 percent of its business through partners. To do that, he said he's readying a revamped Unify partner program that will launch in September or October.

"When I looked at our partner program, I was challenged to see any real value in it," Pritchard said.

Among the changes to the new program will be a redesigned partner accreditation model that Pritchard said will drive greater differentiation, in terms of financial and other incentives, between the company's three partner tiers: Approved, Advanced and Premier.

In the past, he said, there's been "very little" difference between the financial incentives offered at each tier, leaving some of Unify's top partners feeling like they weren't seeing investments from Unify in return.

"We have had partners who have been top-level accreditation who have been outbid in a deal by somebody at bottom-level accreditation, not necessarily in North America, but around the world," Pritchard said. "Those are the types of the things we need to fix."

Complementing the new partner program, Pritchard continued, will be a new line of Unify products built with the channel in mind, including Unify's new OpenScape Business X1 appliance, a bundled solution for voice and unified communications targeted at the SMB market.

In addition, Unify this fall will launch its long-touted Project Ansible, a software platform that supports multiple communication channels, including voice, video and text, and lets users access those channels from a range of devices.

As part of its channel push, Pritchard said Unify is looking to recruit new partners, especially in North America, where he would like to grow Unify's partner base from 140 to between 200 and 220 over the next 12 months.

"To get the scale we need and to get into the opportunities that our products are lined up for, we need partners to do that," Pritchard told CRN.