Infiltrating comms services one VAR at a time

Unified communications solutions provider ShoreTel has decided that the time is right to launch its business in the GCC region. Justine Cross, director of business development EMEA at the vendor, carefully outlines the firm's channel strategy and make-up, and reveals why now is the best time for the company to make its mark in the regional market place.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  February 3, 2009

Unified communications solutions provider ShoreTel has decided that the time is right to launch its business in the GCC region. Justine Cross, director of business development EMEA at the vendor, carefully outlines the firm's channel strategy and make-up, and reveals why now is the best time for the company to make its mark in the regional market place.

You say your 100% channel model is a fresh approach. How and why is this the best strategy in your field?

We have a two-tier channel strategy. It's clean and we don't break that model. I see absolute value in distribution and in the VAR when they know their role. In the PDX market, traditionally, some had a mixed channel strategy, which to me is quite shocking.

Traditional vendors have often put SME products through distribution, mid-tier products through resellers and sold direct to any customers where they can make a lot of money. This doesn't show commitment to the channel or allow it to grow. As a channel partner I wouldn't be comfortable if a vendor sold directly just because a customer was 251 users rather than 250.

Which channel partners will you be working with and how well-equipped are they for the task?

The two distributors we have chosen are pure value add and have a remit to recruit a few select service partners. We believe in having a handful of smart partners to deliver high levels of customer satisfaction.

The two distributors come from different market backgrounds and are comfortable working with each other - very unusual in a channel environment. One is Vanguard, which has a Motorola background and does a lot of IP enterprise through one or two resellers per country in the Middle East.

It's very focused on the banking sector. We are also working with a new company, PremCom Middle East, run by the ex-CEO of Lucent who is building a local team to wrap his whole product set around the ShoreTel products and our technology partners' solutions.

How about resellers?

We have already signed a few. One is Omnix, a big international solutions provider with the likes of Avaya on its books and with big offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as the rest of the GCC. The second one is Intelligencia, also a big support organisation focused on UC, voicemail, call-centre and wireless infrastructure

What benefits are there for partners to work with ShoreTel?

Everyone has a reseller programme and talks about value add. Every vendor has a lovely pitch about what resellers get. Resellers sign up with those vendors and get nothing. Our main emphasis is customer satisfaction so we look for partners able to offer a full service on our products, from pre-sales, product management and ordering, delivering the solution, training end-users, and ensuring customer satisfaction.

We are so passionate about this, nobody in our organisation gets paid until the customer is surveyed 90 days after the install date and says they have reached world-class satisfaction. We pay our partners to do a good job. ShoreTel pays up to a 4% quarterly rebate direct to the reseller for achieving high customer satisfaction.

How do you back up the customer satisfaction emphasis with local reseller support?

We ensure we have trained their sales people correctly through accreditation. We deliver pre-sales teams to the reseller and tools to help product management. We overlay and allocate an engineer as part of their contract to help them through the staging process of delivering IP telephony. We give them training tools and help with customer satisfaction programmes.

How can you offer partners here this commitment when you don't have a regional office?

Initially this support will be remote and through distribution. And then we will look to open an office in the region in the coming months. I can't give you a time frame for that, but it is in the coming months.

What are the channel development plans after launching?

We would like to have four to six partners depending on the size of the country. We would like to have coverage and leverage with those partners, but not saturation.

Why have you chosen now as the time to enter the GCC market? And how viable is the investment?

We are doing this strategically and we won't go wild and fast. 18 months ago we IPO'd and have US$180m in the bank. We recognise this as a strong market and a lot of background work has taken place in the last 12 months.

What targets do you have for your Middle East business?

What can I say and what can I not say? What I can say is when we invest in any market we like to achieve a minimum of 10% market share over a strategic period of time. We see the GCC region as one of our key geographies.

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