CRN Exclusive: Avaya's New Channel Chief Will 'Aggressively' Target Midmarket By Leveraging Channel

Avaya Channel Chief Targets Midmarket, Small Enterprises

Avaya's new global channel chief says he’s focusing on a partner-led sales push into the midmarket with more margins and products on the way for the channel.

Steve Biondi will head the newly created position of vice president of Avaya's Global Partner Organization and plans to expand the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's partner ecosystem, enter new geographical regions and simplify its partner program. He previously held executive sales and channel roles at Oracle, VMware and IBM.

Biondi told CRN about his plans to leverage partners to win more share in the midmarket and boost channel investments inside and outside the US, as well as Avaya's push for solution providers to sell more cloud.

You say you're planning to expand Avaya's partner ecosystem. Can you elaborate?

We don't have a lot of exposure there like we should in the midmarket, smaller enterprise space with 2,000 employees or less. So we're going to get a lot more aggressive there and that's going to be a partner-led place for us. We're pretty anxious to get into that segment.

How are you going to win more share in the midmarket?

The midmarket space is core to us and you're going to hear very shortly some really cool announcements we have to get products and bundles into that space that are very compelling. These are simple solutions that have immediate pull and interest in the marketplace – they're all cloud ready, cloud enabled.

I want to simplify the [partner] program so it's really understandable and digestible in one page or less … before it used to be (an) 18-page document and I can really write it down on a simple napkin now. That's where I want to get to and the margins will be commensurate with the solutions we come out in this space and highlight and expand upon our focus to get on the midmarket.

You're planning to enhance Avaya's existing partner engagement model. What are you going to do to help partners?

Coming in I looked at the programs, the enablement and engagement activities we have today and I think it's a little convoluted. You're going to see in the next quarter or so … that we're greatly simplifying that. We're greatly increasing margins into the midmarket space and some of our core technologies around cloud and fabric networking. We're going to make it a lot easier. I'd say to the partners today, "Stay tuned."

The new plans that we're coming out with aren't going to dramatically change anything; (they're) just going to make it an easier sales motion for you to get the enablement to make the money you need to go after markets we need you to go after … If you can't convince a partner in a minute or less why it makes sense to use our technology and how they can make money, they're disinterested, and I don't want that.

You plan to expand Avaya's partner ecosystem into new regions. Where are you looking?

The growth markets that we're seeing (are) certainly in the Middle East, North Africa, the Nordic countries. (There are) pockets in Asia that are growing very well that we don't have a lot of exposure, too: Vietnam, Philippines and then in South America – Columbia, Argentina, Chile – spaces that are growing very, very well.

The U.S. is the dominant marketplace for us, so we're going to continue to invest here [as well as] in the big powerhouses of Brazil and China.

What types of partners are you looking for?

We are a channel company with 75 percent of our revenues through channels. So we're looking to get the right channel partners who can help us go into those regions. In some cases, it's local service providers; in some cases, its local distributors; in some cases, its VARs and smaller resellers. I'm open to all.

The question isn't:"Can you help us move our current inventory solutions?" but more importantly, "Can you help us get to the cloud?"

Specifically in the U.S., where are you looking to expand your partner ecosystem and do you have a number of how many partners you want to onboard?

We have 10,500 partners at any given moment. I want to help partners get more customers and get partners into software as-a-service (SaaS). Some are fully prepared and some aren't – I love them both. The partners who are very willing and interested going after the SaaS with Avaya, (the question is): "How can we help you go after different customers and how can we go together into these spaces to get your business up?" So from a volume standpoint, it's hard to put a number on it. I just want the right partners.

This company has done a nice job on the distribution and service provider side – I want to go explore more into that. Now that we have the portfolio that can do more cloud than anybody else, I want to go have different conversations with the distributors and service providers leading with the cloud offerings.

How about new system integrator partners?

I was surprised we didn't have many relationships with the big SIs both regionally and globally that I think we should. Going after that space and exploiting that space I think will be key to some of our growth initiatives.

A traditional VAR … five years ago (was) probably 70 percent resell and 30 percent services. Today it's probably inverted – 70 percent services and 30 percent resell. Five years from now, who knows? So they're thinking they need IP, technology partners who can help drive services (and) at the same time drive value to customers with their offers. We're probably in the best position of any company in our space to go after that market.

What are you planning around the partner program?

The partner program today (is) channel neutral. My reps make the same money whether it's direct or indirect. That's a huge relief burden from the partner community because there's not going to be a sales motion inhibitor. So I'm going to make it easier for partners to understand and easier for the inside sales folks to understand we're going to carve out an entire segment for the market and make it partner led, so don't even worry direct guy.

Do you think Avaya will continue its 75 percent of revenue through the channel?

I don't foresee that 75 percent going down at all … It's all about the channel here. There's a good sense of urgency around continuing the strong channel we have today.

Were you surprised Avaya never had a global channel chief before?

I was surprised that this company never had a single channel chief. This move is to help us towards our evolution of being a software and services company.

There's great synergies we can leverage between service providers, distributors, and the VARs to go after the midmarket, smaller enterprises space. Our solution set today and into the future will be more and more applicable towards a software kind of sales motion.

Y ou have extensive executive experience at Oracle, VMware and IBM. Why choose Avaya?

You look at the communications landscape and a lot of vendors are still kind of stuck in the moving boxes and transforming to SaaS, and the Avaya solution set is there. They've been generating cash and doing extremely well in a private state and have aspirations of doing other things, perhaps, which is pretty cool.

The compelling thing was they've never had someone in this role before … and helping to transform [partners] to move into the cloud through SaaS and enablement of our solutions – that's right in my wheel house. I'm excited where we're going.