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The Fate of the Nortel CLP

The Nortel Enterprise Solutions (ES) Consultant Liaison Program (CLP) has seen better days. Not only is Nortel ES being auctioned off to raise much needed money to help the parent corporation partially pay off creditors and pensioners, but the program itself is a shell of its former self. Scott Nagel remains as the last CLP staffer since the departure of his Canadian counterpart Susan Pulfer (who was not downsized, but transferred to another position). The mighty Nortel CLP of the late 1980s through mid-1990s set the standard for the industry and always included four or more staffers, including the strong presence of its directors. Consultants still have fond memories of Bryan Pickett, Michael Tillman, Laura Wright, and other group members who were always there when you needed them in the days before Websites. I even recall the first manager of the Nortel CLP, Jolene Witt, from when I registered for the program fresh out of my corporate staff days at AT&T in 1983 (dating me, but who cares).What will happen to the Nortel CLP (and Scott) following the sale of ES to the winner of the bankruptcy court bidder auction? If Avaya or Siemens Enterprise Communications win Nortel ES will Scott be absorbed into the existing CLP? Ian Mofford and Marki Callaway both have their hands full at Avaya. The current North American CLP group is at its lowest staffing level since I had a hand in its founding just prior to the AT&T divestiture of Lucent Technologies about 15 years ago. At that time AT&T had a CLP that focused on its Long Lines operations; the ancestor of today's Avaya program was founded to focus on enterprise communications systems (and at just the right time).

The current North American Siemens CLP, like Nortel's, is down to only one staffer, Maggie McAuliffe, who has her hands AND feet full. I remember back in the John Davis days when the group had at times three full time members at Santa Clara, CA, headquarters and two in the field. One staffer, my old friend Bob Lee, seemingly spent half his time just supporting my needs (as I admit I am a handful). Considering the increasing complexity of today's systems and the expanded product portfolio, the groups should be larger, not smaller, but the industry downsizing has hit CLPs harder than most other staff functions. Maggie is not the only one-person CLP, because most of the other system supplier programs have a like number of staffers. Even the Cisco Systems CLP is in process of being downsized and if the market leader cannot maintain its staff size, which system supplier can? I hope Fran Blackburn's funding at Cisco is not cut too badly, if at all, because potential sales dollars may be lost. Maybe it's time to call in Barack Obama to help save our critically needed support programs: He spent billions to prop up the finance and auto industries, but only millions are needed for the CLPs.

I am fortunate to be a member of many system supplier Industry Analyst Relations (IAR) programs in addition to the CLPs. I usually have several official channel contacts at each system supplier, if the need arises. But what is a consultant to do when the lone CLP staffer is tied up or on vacation? Where do they turn? What is the opportunity loss for the company if the consultant turns elsewhere for support and a potentially large sales order is gone? The shrinkage of industry CLP staffs and the major reductions in funds for needed program activities will certainly take its toll on the system suppliers, even if they don't realize it at the time. A Website is fine for information access, but it is not a substitute for human assistance and intervention when problems occur in the field.

Let's hear from two experienced (a euphemism for old and aging, like myself) consultants express their views on the value of a CLP program. First up is John Thompson, from Thompson, Ross & Associates:

Over the 19 years that I have been a member of most of the major manufacturer CLPs, I have found them invaluable in assisting in my dealing with clients to help them better understand the product offerings and strategic direction of the manufacturers. While most manufacturers do an excellent job of keeping their global accounts up to speed on new offers, the majority of the markets they are trying to reach are not well served. Our ability to understand the products better through consultant education and consultant-arranged customer briefings often makes the difference between a vendor being ignored or given a clear opportunity at making the sale. These are just some of the benefits to the manufacturer, the customer and the consultant community.

One incident that sticks in my mind is several years ago when Don Peterson was CEO at Avaya, he addressed a question from the consultant conference on Avaya's support for the program by saying that he had learned while at Nortel the value of consultants, where their in-house estimates were that 65% of all sales came through consultants.

The consultant support teams at Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, NEC, Mitel, ShoreTel and Interactive Intelligence provide a valuable service to consultants, which in turn pays huge dividends in improved sales.

Next up is Byron Battles, The Battles Group, LLC and former President, Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC):

Any vendor or manufacturer with an active CLP is way ahead of the game. The CLP is my entry point into an organization, so I can find the right person, information, and support. Recently a vendor that has a viable solution just received two sizeable RFPs, (> 2,000 stations each), because the newly revived CLP got in front of the consultant community. If an organization wants to play in the big sandbox, it better have all the shovels it can carry.

I have known both John and Byron for more than a few years. The two have combined industry experience of more than 65 years, most as consultants. Throw in my years and it is close to the century mark. Take it from the three of us that a CLP pays for itself many times over. Why this is something a few of today's top executives may not automatically know, because more than a few of the current crop have little industry background or experience and are learning on the job. Getting back to Nortel CLP, it would be a stupid thing to dismantle the function post-acquisition. No way Ian/Marki or Maggie at Avaya and Siemens, respectively, could assume responsibility for the Nortel product line without suffering nervous breakdowns. Not only does it take time to familiarize oneself with a new full line of products, but establishing new relationships with internal Nortel contacts and resources to help them do their job would be another major barrier to overcome. And anyone spending more than a half billion dollars to buy Nortel ES should certainly afford to pay the salary of one person. If necessary, cut back on executive bonuses at the end of the year (they make too much dough as it is, IMHO).

Competitors like Avaya, Siemens, and Nortel were hit broadside by Cisco during the past decade, and the Cisco CLP, started by Fran Blackburn, who was the former manager of the Intecom CLP and had familiarity with the Selsius System solution acquired by Cisco, had a strong role in the data networking equipment supplier's success in the voice market. Now they all may need to worry about Microsoft encroaching on their domain, because the software giant is doing things right by establishing its own CLP for the telecommunications consultants. The Microsoft program is up and running at almost full speed from a standing start earlier this year. So watch out, traditional telephony system suppliers, as they are aiming right at you!

During my speaking engagement at next month's STC conference in beautiful Baltimore, MD, I will encourage all consultants in attendance to start a petition for the entire membership to encourage executives from the Vendor Advisory Counsel (VAC) members to continue providing their unwavering support to their CLP programs. And that means no budget cutbacks or downsizing (to spell things out).

Not all CLP matters, however, are gloomy. Amcom, a leading supplier of communications software, recently established a CLP and Acme Packet, leading supplier of session border controllers, is in process of establishing a formal CLP to increase awareness of itself and its offerings among the consultant community.

If end users wonder why they should get behind this initiative, as well, I remind them that the more knowledgeable a consultant is about a particular vendor's offerings, the better they will support you in your employ. The better the relationship with a vendor, the more responsive the vendor is to a consultant's (and your) needs to carry out a project. It's a win/win game all around. So support your local consultant and demand of your system supplier to support their CLP.

I'll be watching and reporting on the CLP situation in future No Jitter posts, citing names of those who run counter to my advocacy position.