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Tue 14 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Out to make amends

A healthy mix of Middle East representatives, including Redington, Aptec, Almasa and EMW, were among those to make the trip to Madrid for Avaya's recent annual EMEA Business Partner Conference. They returned enlightened by the IP communications vendor's willingness to accept its faults and usher in a new era of partner engagement.

A healthy mix of Middle East representatives, including Redington, Aptec, Almasa and EMW, were among those to make the trip to Madrid for Avaya's recent annual EMEA Business Partner Conference. They returned enlightened by the IP communications vendor's willingness to accept its faults and usher in a new era of partner engagement.

Avaya's VP of worldwide channels Jeremy Butt pulled no punches when describing Avaya's current channel approach upon taking to the stage to address EMEA resellers at the vendor's recent Business Partner event.

"We have created ourselves a very complicated maze to try and work through - I have had our channel programme explained to me three times and I am still struggling with it so you must be struggling enormously," said Butt to a theatre full of channel partners.

What was coming up was that the product is actually pretty good and we have a very strong foundation of partners and distributors, but we are becoming too complex to do business with.

This candid admission was not the only one to come from Butt, and indeed from Avaya, as the company went about laying its cards on the table for all to see in what seemed to end up as a mutually cathartic exercise for both partners and vendor.

Butt was almost as brutal in his evaluation of how Avaya has been doing business and, in particular, how it has been interacting with the channel until now. Since being instated as the global channel boss less than six months ago, Butt has been busy trying to evaluate Avaya's partner strategy, a job he says has been fraught with complexity.

"I started doing a little enquiry into the channel and spoke to quite a few partners and what was coming up was that the product is actually pretty good and we have a very strong foundation of partners and distributors, but we are becoming too complex to do business with," admitted Butt.

Avaya acknowledges that partners have had to contend with an overly complicated and non-standardised partner programme, lack of investment in channel structure, unnecessary involvement from the vendor in smaller transactions and an unclear product and service strategy.

Even the stinging criticism that Avaya has been overly competing with its own channel was addressed, culminating in the vendor promising it will no longer sell direct.

Michael Bayer, Avaya's president of field operations in EMEA, assured partners that work is being carried out to eradicate the majority of instances where Avaya is engaging with the end-user directly.

"We are not going to take a new customer on direct without a VP signature and a clear understanding why this customer really wants to do business directly," vowed Bayer, a commitment which was met with applause by the assembled channel masses.

As the pledge to cut out direct business sank in, Avaya also put forward ‘high touch, channel-centric' as a motto for how it will engage with partners in the future.

The IP telephony specialist says that it will continue to work with end-users, but only in collaboration with partners.

One of the major changes that it needs to implement within its internal structure is the way that its own sales teams are compensated, a modification that Avaya insists is firmly in the pipeline.

It also backed up this channel-centric message with the revelation of forthcoming partner mechanisms designed to increase the predictability, integrity and consistency of the work it conducts with partners.

This includes the creation of a partner relationship management system, an EMEA deals desk to offer same-day turnaround, the standardisation and simplification of its channel programme and the election of channel representatives to a partner council.In addition, Avaya has vowed to invest in helping current partners increase their level of competency, rather than actively growing its partner base for the time being.

While the company was getting all of these issues off its chest, it did make it clear that partners would also have to demonstrate their commitment and worth as part of what Butt coined ‘mutual expectations'.

Citing the example of the tier system within Avaya's partner programme, Butt said it was important for partners to earn their status, adding that they would be rewarded fairly for their work.

Avaya plans to ensure this is the case by re-evaluating how each partner's work is monitored and offering incentives based on sales-out, not sales-in.

Although some partners will prefer to reserve judgement until the vendor's promises are met, the prospect of such an overhaul appeared to be welcomed by the vast majority of resellers in attendance.

"This is the first time I have heard the word ‘partner', perhaps over 100 times, from all of the speakers - usually they say ‘Avaya will do this' or ‘Avaya will do that,'" said Serjios El-Hage, CEO at EMW Middle East, echoing the general consensus from regional partners attending the conference.

El-Hage said that in addition to working hard to avoid competing with the channel in the Middle East, Avaya also has to ensure that conflicts between partners are greatly reduced as market competition increases and services become a serious battleground.

He also hopes that this new thrust from the vendor will manifest itself in more partner training, which he describes as minimal to date and geared towards tier-two partners.

"It is a two-way street - I hope that they will look at the partners and the level of experience they have, the number of certified engineers they employ, their route to market, and their support and service strategy because this is the only way to differentiate partners," asserted El-Hage.

EMW enjoys a strong relationship with the local Avaya team in the Middle East, but admits it would like to see an even greater level of engagement if Avaya is to apply its ambitious new partner strategy to the region.

Roger El-Tawil, channel marketing director for the Middle East and Africa at Avaya, claims that the new global impetus from Avaya will not be too difficult to implement on a local scale because his team has already been adopting a similar strategy.

"I think the Middle East, Africa and Turkey are such diverse territories that you cannot do direct business, so we have already been very indirect and it has been very natural to us," explained El-Tawil.

"Now we are not swimming against the company. We are already 90% indirect and the reason that 10% is there is because there are some very complex deals where the end-user still wants the vendor to be in the game."

As Avaya's Middle East operation assesses what steps it can take to support partners further, El-Tawil insists it is also important for partners in the region to specialise, differentiate and establish a value proposition.

"Expand and step up your skills - it is not the big that beats the small, it is the fast that beats the slow, and competency that brings revenue," advised El-Tawil.

The Middle East suggests El-Tawil is the fastest growing region for Avaya and as such Avaya's local bosses in Dubai will have to ensure that they apply the same partner-focused approach here, regardless of whether they are already or not.

Although he is honest that Avaya can improve in the Middle East, responsibility for future growth is not solely the vendor's responsibility.

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