Avaya introduces new global channel chief – and new partnering philosophy

Walter Denk, who has a distribution background and has been working for Avaya in Germany, is the company’s new global channel chief. Even more importantly, he says that the job has been redefined and that the channel will benefit.

Walter Denk, Avaya’s new global channel chief

LAS VEGAS – Avaya chose its Avaya Engage event here to announce that Walter Denk is now Avaya’s new global channel chief. Denk, a five-year veteran of Avaya, has been working with the company’s German organization. He was appointed to the role four months ago, when his predecessor, Steve Biondi, moved to another sales role at the company, but his appointment is only now being formally announced.

Avaya has seen frequent change in recent years in the global channel chief role, so what may impress partners more is that Denk emphasizes that his role reflects a fundamental change in how Avaya is defining the channel chief position.

“The way that it used to work, we had all global channel resources under one leadership,” Denk said. “There were three sales leaders worldwide — in EMEA, the Americas and the US – while the fourth was global channel.”

On paper this seemed like a fine system, but Denk said the reality is that there were problems.

“With the three sales theatres and the channel all together, there was a fair amount of channel conflict, and the channel could end up like the fifth wheel on the wagon,” Denk said. “We still have the three theatres – but channel resources are now separated out and elevated to the next level globally.”

Denk said that the new system now has clear rules of engagement for the direct force, which begin with no competition against partners.

“We are not making quotes against partners,” he stressed. “That’s a new rule of engagement. They are price protected. That needs to be enforced, and to do that, you need authority.

“We are taking advantage of the Engage show to introduce the new channel set up,” Denk added. “The channel is very important to Avaya.”

Other senior Avaya leaders gave the same messaging at the event.

“We are cleaning up direct versus indirect,” said Morag Lucey, Avaya’s Chief Marketing Officer. “The proof is going to be in how we execute, and we know we have to execute on that. But the leadership team is working with partners to ensure clarity in the go-to-market.”

Some of this will inevitably involve transition in the partner base.

“We have put a great road map together, so a lot of our focus now is the right go-to-market,” said Gary E. Barnett, SVP/GM of Engagement Solutions at Avaya. “Who are the right channel partners? We are moving more toward system integrators.

“It’s a weird time from a channel point of view, and we will shake out some,” he added. “The industry is transitioning and probably the biggest impact will be on channel partners.”

The plan is definitely not to have a massive purge of legacy partners however. Avaya acknowledged that they have been trimming partners over the last year, but that these are partners who had very low revenue and could not meet what the company considers to be a “very low bar.” Some were described as partners who came in in the expectation that a single deal would close, and it didn’t so they had no revenue at all.

The challenge to the new structure that Avaya is implementing appears to be channel conflict, not between direct and channel over the same product, but between traditional channel products and the newer cloud offerings.

“We announced Zang Office for public cloud, and some IP Office partners asked us ‘why are you doing this? You are now our largest competitor,’” Barnett said. “But if partners don’t move into this new world, they wont be good partners down the road.” He stated that some partners were resisting software innovations like Breeze, which give new capabilities.

“Some of them said that they string cables, they don’t want to hire developers,” he stated.

Denk acknowledged that new cloud solutions like Zang create new dilemmas for the channel, even though in many cases Zang will appeal to a different type of customer segment that is less valued by the channel.

“If a customer is undecided on cloud, you give the option of both cloud and non-cloud offerings, because the competition will also be presenting cloud offerings,” he said. “It’s most important that we win the deal. Partners are trying to figure all this out as well.”

Denk also noted that new partner applications had been coming in since the Chapter 11 filing in January.

“Partner uncertainty climaxed in the last half of the calendar year, before we filed,” he said. “We have been explaining to partners that nothing would change operationally. That’s very important to the channel. Partners ask how long this will prevail until resolution, and we tell them that nobody knows. It’s a legal process.”