This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Over the past couple of years, Polycom has moved with the trends of software, cloud and mobility, and now it’s time to push the channel in the right direction.

Last week Polycom held its annual channel event, TEAM Polycom, in one of my favorite cities, Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver boasts the mildest climate of all the major cities in Canada and is able to attract some of the best professionals, so the city itself is constantly changing to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse community. This is one of the reasons why I thought Vancouver provided a nice setting for the event, as Polycom’s channel is currently undergoing a major shift.

Historically, most people thought of Polycom as being a manufacturer of large hardware based video conferencing technology with a few voice products, like conference phones, sprinkled in. Given the perception that video is a flat or even a declining market, it was easy to assume that the company and its channel partners were in for a long, slow decline towards irrelevance.

However, I think that this perception is flat out wrong and created because the video industry is in a state of transition. First, Polycom is no long just a hardware video vendor. The company boasts a broad range of leading hardware, software and cloud solutions and has augmented the video products with strong voice and content solutions. Also, I recently ran a survey of video usage and buying habits and my data was clear–video usage and purchasing is at an all time high and growing.

The industry is shifting, though, from being primarily hardware-based to one that incorporates more software and services.

A good analogy is to think of how the computing ecosystem evolved when it shifted from mainframes to PCs. It would have been easy to say then that the compute industry is dead! Low-cost PCs will lower overall average sale prices (ASPs) and kill the industry. This of course, did not happen. Organizations spent more on personal computing, software applications, integration services and other parts of the ecosystem than ever before–and that’s what I’m expecting for the video and collaboration industry.

However, to capitalize on this, the collaboration channel, which includes Polycom’s huge reseller base, must accept and embrace the following shifts:

* Move to a services-led business. For decades the collaboration technologies we work with–voice and video–were deployed on dedicated networks and managed independently. The sales model for this was very much infrastructure focused. Today, the UC products work on shared networks, run on virtual platforms, are integrated into business applications and are accessible from anywhere over any device.

The sales model now must be more service-led, as there are significantly more integration and deployment challenges. Lifecycle services that start with business case planning and include integration and interoperability services as well as post-deployment operational support services are a must today for channel partners to compete. I’ve talked to a number of channel partners that have made this shift, and those businesses have never been healthier.

* Sell to different buyers. Today, voice and video purchasing are often part of a larger UC decision made by a line of business manager or corporate executive. These buyers have bigger budgets and tend to made decisions faster. However, channel partners must go to market with solutions to business problems. This may require some vertical expertise or knowledge of certain horizontal job functions like remote experts or sales professionals.

One of the partners that I talked to at the event, who not coincidentally won an award for being one of the regional “partners of the year,” told me that his company never sells to IT any more. He has directed his sales force to start with a CEO, as that is where the decisions are being made today.

If you’re a reseller, the key thing to remember here is that you’re not selling video or voice or even content. You’re selling business solutions. This is an absolutely mandatory shift for channel partners today.

* Embrace all deployment models. One of my pet peeves regarding this industry is that we get hung up on certain trends like “all video is moving to software” or “everything is moving to the cloud”. We talk about these shifts as absolutes, but the fact is that all the various deployment models–hardware, software and cloud–have value, but the value varies by use case.

Channel partners need to understand how to optimize the usage of each model and then apply this understanding appropriately. Hardware platforms are still best when quality absolutely matters, and then companies can leverage the flexibility of software for “bursting”. Cloud can be brought in as a way of addressing the needs of branch offices and mobile workers.

For resellers, the multiple deployment models are ideal, as this leads to more upfront consulting services to plan out the best way to leverage the various technologies.

* Compensation models will need to change. This was a big focus of conversation in a panel I did led by Polycom’s CMO, Jim Kruger. The shift of more UC services to the cloud changes the way customers pay. Instead of spending a bunch of money up front, the spend is done on a per seat, per month model. For sales professionals, this can have a big impact on compensation, as those single big checks will be replaced by numerous smaller checks.

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer on how to make this shift. If the business already has a thriving cloud business, it’s probably not an issue. For those that don’t, there are some strategies used to create a bridge to the new world. For example, I’ve talked to some businesses that forward-roll the first year’s revenue and pay commission on that. However the business chooses to migrate compensation, the key is to do it and do it soon.

I certainly don’t want to make these shifts seem easy, or trivialize the challenges of making the shift, but they are necessary to survive in this new world. Polycom needs to play a key role here as well, with channel training, new certifications and other programs to support its channel. Over the past couple of years, Polycom has revamped its product portfolio to be in line with the trends of software, cloud and mobility, and now it’s time to push the channel in the right direction.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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