Unifys New Channel Chief: Were Pretty Much Going to Stop Selling Direct

**Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of recent channel-program changes you should know.**

Unify’s new channel chief, Jon Pritchard, is spending the summer putting the final touches on a partner program that’s been the target of a major overhaul. Here’s a glimpse into the changes in store for “Go Forward”: By October, when Unify’s new fiscal year begins, expect new rules of engagement and a refreshed certification program.

Unify's Jon PritchardPritchard has been on board as executive vice president of worldwide channels since February. He was hired by Dean Douglas, who himself just joined Unify. Both men came from distributor Westcon Group. Douglas had served as Westcon’s CEO since March 2009; Pritchard had been inside the Cisco practice for about five years.

In making a clean sweep of its executive team late last year, Unify (the former Siemens Enterprise Communications) was acknowledging that it needed leaders who understand the channel. The collaboration provider has been missing out on sales with its worldwide emphasis on direct sales, plus its decision not to offer its SMB product in the United States. That’s all changing with Douglas and Pritchard, and CMO Hurley, Westcon’s former CTO, in charge.

“We can’t get the scale and reach that we need, and that our products deserve, unless we change the way we go to market,” Pritchard told Channel Partners in a recent interview.

With that in mind, Pritchard reviewed “Go Forward,” which has been around for several years, and found that while it contained critical elements, it also lacked others.

“It’s missing some key parts,” said Pritchard. “If you compound that with the fact that we often seem to compete with our partners and do have a direct sales organization, that’s a less attractive proposition to our partners than some of our competitors. It’s not just about changing Go Forward, but the whole ethos in the business – a partner-first mentality.”

Indeed, rules of engagement are the first missing element.

“The preference should be to partner with a partner because they have skills we don’t have, relationships we don’t have,” Pritchard said. “The power of our brand and the power of their brand [together] is stronger than our brands individually.”

But Unify until now has not operated that way, and especially with the upcoming launch of its much-anticipated Project Ansible, the company can’t stay in that mode. Much of Pritchard’s aim for the next four months will focus on weighting rules of engagement in favor of the channel. The specifics remained under wraps when Pritchard spoke with Channel Partners; look for more details as Unify is able to discuss them.

“What we have to define is, and this is still a work in progress, is where is it appropriate for us to sell directly,” said Pritchard. “The easy one, our SMB product, should only be sold by our partner community.”

Pritchard explained that, a couple of years ago, Unify’s leaders decided not to go to market with its SMB portfolio in the United States, “which, in hindsight, was possibly not the greatest decision to make so we’re going to be looking to reintroduce the SMB portfolio [here].” Unify’s products for SMBs include the OpenScape platform; in fact, Unify just released the new OpenScape Business X1 appliance, which provides an all-in-one platform for up to 30 seats, to its U.S. channel partners. But there will be more to Unify’s partner-engagement strategy.

“[A]s you move up the food chain, the rules of engagement should be if we have a partner involved in the opportunity,” Pritchard said. “And if it enhances our proposition, we should be looking to partner up, and we do that already.”

Pritchard added that Unify has been down the road of better partner engagement in the past, to little improvement; this time, though, the renovations are for real.

“The most important thing, I think, is the fact that Unify has talked about doing this many times before, becoming more partner-centric, but didn’t achieve that because it didn’t have executive engagement, executive sponsorship,” Pritchard said. “Dean absolutely understands why we need to do it. … This is a very, very significant, serious change, which we will make happen.”

Meanwhile, Pritchard and his team continue to tackle a refresh of the certification program, as well. Unify has a curriculum, but it needs to address the right markets and be affordable, said Pritchard.

“In a way we’ve been a very typical European engineering company – very black-and-white, trying to be very perfect – and we’ve missed the mark slightly, but we’re going to change that,” Pritchard said.  

Look for the certification update to come in late summer.

Overall, Unify’s intent to tighten its channel approach falls alongside the company’s goal of driving 45 percent or so of its business through partners within 18 months. Right now the figure stands at less than 25 percent. And yet, Unify won’t get there unless it makes itself more appealing to resellers, integrators and other channel salespeople. Pritchard’s keen on making that happen.

“We’re pretty much going to stop selling direct, selling in a partner-centric model, so we are making sure our programs are global and ready to support that.”

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