news Cuts Back on Channel is pulling back on its year-old partner program, by cutting its dedicated channel sales team and reallocating that investment into its product and customer support infrastructure, a company spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.

Todd Barr, vice president of marketing for, told PHONE+ the company laid off the channel sales staff on Monday. He declined to disclose the number of personnel impacted, but confirmed that Darren Chamberlain, who was brought on as director of channel accounts in summer 2008, was among them. Chamberlain was recruited by Jeff Uphues, who was tapped in spring 2008 to create the partner program to sell’s then-new nationwide VoIP service. Uphues remains with the company as vice president of sales.

“In order to get closer to our customers, we are aligning our sales resources, systems and support around where our data and voice business is gaining momentum – and that is with our SMB customer base and our strategic accounts,” said Barr. “This is about resisting the urge to spread ourselves too thin, and making sure our investments in systems and support are directly benefiting our end-customer experience.”

Barr said a majority of the company’s sales from SMB and strategic accounts (service providers and Web 2.0 companies) come from the inside sales team.

Unofficial internal memos from channel managers to partners, which were leaked to PHONE+, indicated the indirect sales program has been “disbanded,” but Barr said that’s not the case. He said is honoring its partner agreements and will continue to pay on business sold. It also will continue to handle orders from partners in the same way it has in the past – through its sales support team and online portal.

Going forward, Barr said will be more selective about the partners it works with to find a complementary fit. He said the best-performing partnerships for the company already are one-off relationships. He said to the extent partners want to continue to do business with, the opportunity exists.

In addition, he said the company will continue to support the base of some 500 VARs and PBX dealers that sold the company’s products prior to the new program.

Barr said is choosing to make a greater investment in product development and support – a newer endeavor for the former reseller. The company, for example, expects to conclude its hosted VoIP beta later this year with a rollout in 2010. “We need to make sure our products are rock solid,” he said.

Investments in product strategy and customer experience are the right priorities for the company at this stage, Barr said, adding they also should make the “kind of company partners want to do business with.”

The pullback comes as a surprise to the company’s agents. As recently as August, announced enhancements to its partner program, adding support for sales to large enterprises and touting its partnerships with enterprise distributors and solutions providers such as Telecom Brokerage Inc. and CDW.

Speaking on background, one agent said overextended itself with the enterprise sales initiative, which the agent said the company is not able to properly support at this time.

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