Jim  Burton
JIM BURTONFounder and CEO, CT Link, LLCCo-Founder, UCStrategiesJim Burton is Founder and CEO of CT Link, LLC. Burton founded the...
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Jim Burton | September 20, 2011 |


Major Vendors Are Looking for Partners

Major Vendors Are Looking for Partners All the major UC vendors need a combination of hardware and software partners to help them deliver a complete solution.

All the major UC vendors need a combination of hardware and software partners to help them deliver a complete solution.

Vendor partnerships have long been a key element in the communications and collaboration landscape. In the early to mid '90s, the PBX vendors looked for partners to help them move into CTI. During the Dot -com bubble, vendors looked for partners and strategic acquisitions to help them move into VoIP. Cisco's acquisition of Selsius, 3Com's acquisition of NBX, and Polycom's acquisition of Circa Communications are prime examples.

Today the major vendors are looking for strategic partners to help them round out their unified communications offerings. IBM and Microsoft, because they're not in the hardware business, need partners to deliver endpoints and gateways. All the major UC vendors need a combination of hardware and software partners to help them deliver a complete solution.

Cisco and Microsoft got into the web collaboration business through acquisition--Microsoft acquired PlaceWare and Cisco scooped up WebEx. Cisco also bought Tandberg to help round out their video offering, while IBM and Microsoft partnered with Polycom.

If history it is an indicator and if you look at today's UC market, there are still a number of strategic partnership opportunities. Contact centers are an excellent example. When Cisco entered the IP-PBX market they did not have a contact center offering so they bought GeoTel, and developed several strategic partnerships, including Spanlink.

Neither IBM nor Microsoft have contact center offerings; they both depend on strategic partners. Microsoft has developed a special program just for contact center partners. Again, it's history as an indicator; vertical market solutions are a huge area of opportunity.

There's a long list of UC vendors that is looking for strategic partners. For example, in addition to the companies listed above, Alcatel Lucent, Avaya, HP, Mitel and Siemens all have product roadmaps that include products that could be delivered by a strategic partner in the near-term and then replaced by an internally developed product down the road. It is important for the partner to understand this and look for ways to keep in front of the major vendors' product roadmap.

The major vendors want partners they can work with over time as their product offerings evolve. They're looking for -long-term strategic relationships, but that can be a very tricky process. The good news is that all the major vendors are very upfront about their plans and where they can use help in the future.

But the larger vendors are a challenge to work with, because they're big organizations--there's a built-in bureaucracy. The biggest challenge for small companies is finding the right person to talk to, but even when that person is identified, the smaller company often only gets one chance to get its message across.

Having been involved in this courtship process for more than two decades, I have seen smaller companies have success in building partnerships when they:

1. Figure out where there is a fit for their product in the major vendor's offering. This may seem obvious but you'd be amazed how often it's overlooked. The major vendors spend a lot of time thinking about and developing their product roadmap and about what they need to offer a more complete solution. Smaller companies may think they understand what the bigger vendor wants and needs, but all too often, they're wrong. If the two vendors are out of sync, the likelihood of creating a successful partnership shrinks. 2. So to avoid that happening to you, I recommend that you focus on what your company and its products can do rather than trying to build a presentation that emphasizes how your product fits with a major vendor's strategy. This approach opens up the conversation and can often lead to an opportunity the smaller vendor did not know existed.

There are many great partnership opportunities out there. Good luck.


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