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Unify works to build channel-friendly model; analysts unconvinced

Unify says it will become easier to partner with and wants to increase indirect revenue to 40%, but industry watchers say it's an uphill battle.

The recent broadcast by Unify Inc., the company formerly known as Siemens Enterprise Communications, that it's serious about implementing a channel go-to-market strategy and de-emphasizing its direct sales model has solicited a single response from industry watchers: Prove it.

How the company can do that is two-fold: by getting experienced C-level leadership that can implement the required changes to the internal sales culture while at the same time building the required field sales organization designed to help partners succeed; and by making sure the company has a product value proposition that encourages partners to want to invest and build a business with Unify.

That's a pretty tall order, according to industry watchers, but it isn't impossible. And to be fair, Jon Pritchard, the recently appointed executive vice president of worldwide channels at Unify, admitted that a direct sales model is in Unify's DNA, in spite of the fact that today 25% of the company's business worldwide goes through its indirect channel. Unify has about 140 partners in the U.S.

If Unify wants to really turn this ship around, it's about how they behave at a field level in their relationships with their potential partners.

Diane Krakora,
CEO, PartnerPath

"Companies like Cisco and Avaya are channel-centric and the market has moved on and we haven't," Pritchard said.

Siemens rebranded to Unify in October 2013 and is a joint venture of The Gores Group, which holds a 51% share, and Siemens AG, which has 49%.

Historically, Unify/Siemens Enterprise Communications has ignored the channel and often competed with it by having a direct sales force that was financially incented to make the sales directly. Additionally, Pritchard said, there were no clear rules of engagement that outlined where the direct sales force played and where channel partners played.

A massive effort, with the support of recently hired upper management, will change all that, according to Pritchard. "We're clear about our message to partners: We will stop competing against you," he said.

That's yet to be seen. Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath, a partnering development firm, said Unify, over the years, has gone back and forth on efforts to become more channel-led.

"We worked with them several years ago to create a more partner-centric model, and in the last year or so, they lost some key channel talent," she said.

If the company is serious about increasing the percentage of sales going through the channel, it will have to hire or rent experienced and top channel executive talent to focus on the internal organization and not repurpose direct sales executives to work with the channel, she added.

"If Unify wants to really turn this ship around, it's about how they behave at a field level in their relationships with their potential partners because they're going up against some really big, well-known and very successful channel companies," Krakora said, referring to Cisco Systems Inc. and Avaya Inc.

Pritchard is responsible for all indirect channel activities from small and medium-sized business markets to large-scale alliance relationships. He signed up with Unify in February, leaving his post as president of distributor Comstor Worldwide, a $2.5 billion Cisco-focused practice of Westcon Group Inc.

In January 2014, Dean Douglas became Unify's new CEO. Douglas was Westcon's president and CEO.

Rick Fitzgerald joined Unify this year as vice president of channel sales in North America. He previously held several business positions at a few different companies following a stint as vice president and general manager of the channel solutions group at Siemens Enterprise Communications from 1984 to 2007.

Pritchard knows Unify has a lot of work to do to overhaul its Go Forward partner program, including making investments, building out a support mechanism, hiring account managers in the U.S., putting in place pre- and post-sales support, hiring project managers and rethinking its channel marketing.

Unify will also revisit accreditation for partners going forward because today there's little financial incentive for partners to become accredited, he said. Not only will the company put appropriate accreditations in place, it also has plans to look at how it enables training and how it polices it.

The company expects to roll out its new partner program by the end of September.

Internally the company has to formalize its rules of engagement and change the way it pays its direct sales force.

"We also have to rationalize our products to make sure we have a product-friendly portfolio for partners," Pritchard said.

Today, Unify products are complex and driven by the enterprise marketplace, he said, adding that the company needs to have a set of products that partners can understand and know how to position.

Product sales also need to be repeatable and scalable, and Unify plans on offering packaged services that partners can sell.

"This isn't about picking up some pieces. We're looking at a complete refresh of everything we do to make the business partner-centric," Pritchard said.

Vanessa Thompson, research manager for enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at IDC, said the market has changed aggressively around Unify and making such a large shift from a brand awareness and recognition perspective is very important.

"Unify has to deliver a strong vision to not only their traditional channel partners, but to a new breed of channel partners and potentially that new developer-led ecosystem around embedding communications into business processes," she said.

Pritchard noted that the partner opportunity includes selling Unify's existing OpenScape Business line and OpenScape Enterprise Express products. And the new Project Ansible, a secure software communications platform that pulls together and manages the daily flow of communications into meaningful conversations, according to Unify, will be an additional incremental opportunity. Ansible is based on Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) standards and works across multiple channels, platforms and devices. It's scheduled for launch in the fall.

Unify's target is to be 40% partner-led in 12 to 18 months, with a 50% increase in its partner ranks over the next year.

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Would you consider Unify as a vendor partner in the unified communications space?