New Avaya channel chief Jon Brinton lays out Avaya’s channel strategy for the year ahead, which unsurprisingly emphasizes the new Avaya Cloud Office but also focuses on developing new channels.
PHOENIX – The big theme of this year’s Avaya Engage event here this week was really focused on customers, in demonstrating to them that the new partnership with RingCentral and the forthcoming Avaya Cloud Office [ACO] offering that stems from it will be the pathway to a stable and profitable future. The messaging for Avaya’s channel was important as well, however, and there were some key ones there, particularly for non-traditional channel partners. Avaya began a push into the Master Agent community in 2018, and that is intensifying this year, as the company looks to expand its agent feet on the street, particularly to sell ACO. Avaya also gave great weight at the event to its strategic partner community, which has had a much deeper focus in the past as a channel to broaden their reach.
Jon Brinton, Avaya’s new Vice President of North America Channel Sales,who recently came to the company from rival Mitel, indicated that the messaging to partners this year is multi-faceted, and includes a bigger emphasis on the Master-Agent channel than before.
“We are increasing our outreach to Master Agents and agents,” Brinton stated. “That’s a whole selling community that has not been engaged with working with Avaya.
Avaya began to reach into this community in 2018 with its UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, but didn’t really have the product set needed to interest much of this audience.
“We had a Master Agent opportunity before, but it wasn’t as successful,” Brinton said. “At Engage this year, we had an ACO breakout targeted at master agents and agents, which had about 200 attendees.”
Avaya Cloud Office, a multi-tenanted UCaaS solution, is the key to this. Avaya formally announced its availability at the event, which is March 31 in the U.S., and approximately a quarter later in Canada and a small number of other geos. Avaya CEO Jim Chirico appeared with RingCentral founder and CEO Vlad Shmunis onstage, to make the value proposition of Avaya’s new strategic partner and joint platform clearer to customers and partners.
Brinton said that ACO is being focused on a particular group of Avaya customers.
“The launch is targeted at customers who have a preference to buy a public multi- tenanted cloud solution,” he said. “We think that many enterprise customers will be more interested in our Subscription opportunity or our ReadyNow offer, which is a customizable semi-private cloud solution which can meet the needs of groups with very high compliance requirements.”
Brinton is confident that ACO will have the broad appeal to the channel partners who serve its target market that Avaya’s prior UCaaS market did not.
“Some of our partners had partnered with other UCaaS vendors because they didn’t feel the vision was right in UCaaS,” he indicated. “We think we will flip a lot of brand loyalty with this. We are fielding a team of ACO specialists across North America.
“Our first large ACO sale, for 700 users, was with a customer who had been using a competitor,” Brinton pointed out. “They had already eliminated Avaya standalone and RingCentral in their buying process. Once we announced the partnership, we were invited back to the table and we won that business together. We see this as creating new green fields opportunities for Avaya.”
Brinton said that the ACO Go-to-Market strategy has been carefully planned out.
“Our strategy is to first offer table stakes and then unexpected delights,” he noted. “The table stakes is J series at launch, a phone series which was just released a year ago, and has not had a high degree of penetration of the base. The unexpected delights are signature features within ACO that are being developed. There’s a whole roadmap for that. It’s not just a reskinned RingCentral Office. We are developing a long-term roadmap.”
Brinton also indicated that RingCentral has announced a comp-neutral system for their internal teams which will treat Avaya Cloud Office like RingCentral Office.
“We think that some of our channel already selling RingCentral Office will embrace Avaya Cloud Office as well,” he added.
Brinton acknowledged that some Avaya partners would not be All-In on ACO out of the gate.
“We think that the right channel partners will be selling ACO at launch,” he said. “Some will take a ‘wait and see approach’. Some will be all-in. We will focus resources on the partners who are all-in with Avaya.”
Part of the partner concern here is that AOC is being accompanied by the simultaneous ending of the Powered by Avaya IP Office solution that partners have been selling as a cloud option, because Avaya wants to have a single cloud line going forward.
“We are committed to IP Office itself as a solution, but we don’t want partners to be confused by the Powered By messaging there,” Brinton said. “There are some partners who are not happy with this, because they had built some of their business on Powered By. It wasn’t a successful model for the company, however.
Newmarket ON-headquartered Unity Connected Solutions is one of those partners who invested in Powered By IP Office. The first Avaya partner in Canada following the spinoff from Lucent, the company has continued to thrive and grow following the unexpected passing of founder Dave Sherry five years ago, moving beyond its original telecom focus into a high-touch solution provider that now has seven Canadian offices, and one in Arizona.
“We think that ACO can work if it protects that value-added relationship,” said Suzanne Sadowski, Sales Manager at Unity Connected Solutions. “We were doing a lot in the UCaaS area before, and were a Powered By award winner. The migration plan is still a work in progress, but we are working with the leadership in Canada to make sure it will be a win-win.”
Unity is more concerned about the possible impact of the agency model on their business.
“We do have concern for our high-touch model if the agency model is expanded into our space,” Sadowski indicated.
The expansion of the Avaya’s strategic partnership initiative seems to be a positive for partners. Aside from the critical RingCentral relationship, Avaya had executives from Verint, Google Cloud and Nuance onstage in a panel to discuss their expanding relationships with Avaya. They also announced a collaboration with AI-based behavioral pairing technology provider Afiniti around Avaya AI Routing with Afiniti AiRo, a new offering in the Avaya IX Contact Center portfolio.
“Avaya has realized that they can’t be everything to everyone, and that why they have this new emphasis on strong partnerships,” said Dan Silverman, President of Toronto-headquartered telecommunications service provider Telanet. “From a partner level, we want to do the same thing, to give customers the best experience that we can, which is why we also work with companies like Verint.”
Brinton stressed that Avaya won’t be forcing partners to do anything.
“You can’t TELL a channel what to do,” he said. “You have to get them to understand that your strategic intent is in their best interest, that we want to move to SaaS subscription, and we want to help them turn customer service into multi-experience. If your partners believe in your vision and it’s competitive in the marketplace, they will come along with you, and that’s the message.”
Brinton noted in addition to the Master Agents, Avaya is also recruiting traditional partners.
“We are also targeting strategic new channel partners to join our program as well,” he said. “A growing channel community is a sign of health. We just added a new leader this week – Lisa Frederick. She will help me build a stronger inside channel function working with smaller [Emerald] partners.”
Finally, Brinton commented that training has been stepped up.
“We are certifying hundreds of people to sell ACO, so there is a focus on driving more certification,” he said. “I’m not saying it has been lax, but it hasn’t been a high point of the program the last few years. We will double down on that from a subscription perspective. Multi-experience requires a high level of technical expertise.”