ESI reworks partner program for greater structure, and support of new offerings

Telephony vendor ESI has announced the enhancement of its reseller partner program, to provide greater formalization and to move the company ahead as it moves into SIP trunks and, most recently, the cloud.

Last week, ESI launched its new ESI Cloud PBX solution, a highly integrated offering which uses its own manufactured phones and Web-based dashboard. It’s the latest iteration in a long journey for the 27 year old company, which started off as an OEM manufacturer for voice messaging systems before ultimately expanding voice mail into a PBX and offering the solution to SMBs.

“The original products in this space were not easy to use for end users, and we wanted to create products that were,” said George Platt, ESI’s chief executive officer. “Since then, our market has been the SMB space, with under 400 lines being our sweet spot.”

ESI has also had a more intimate relationship with its partners than competitors, even though Platt said they typically have between 500-600 partners at any one time.

“We don’t use contracts, it’s about relationships,” Platt said. ESI sells 100% through the channel and rather than using distribution, they deal directly with their partners, some of whom have been with them since they got into PBX. Platt said ESI prides itself on their demo kit, which has been a foundation of their success, and is designed to highlight the features that show and sell well to SMBs. These  include automated linked access control to security, virtual answers, which allow you to select a custom greeting for a specific caller, and the ability to do one-button recording.

The company’s offerings have changed significantly since the January 2013 acquisition of the SIP trunking and hosted PBX solutions of the Vintalk Retail Division from Vinculum Communications.

“We decided we needed to expand beyond on-prem, and we saw an opportunity in that many phones weren’t tightly integrated into cloud systems,” Platt said. “This will let us extend the most channel friendly provider to cloud PBX.”

ESI turned on the ability to add SIP trunks to their products right after the acquisition, and around 230 partners have signed on to that. The Cloud PBX launched a week ago with 8-10 early adopter partners, and now over 20 have enrolled.

The new offerings from the acquisitions combined with some issues stemming from the informal nature of the old program to make a reorganization of the channel program necessary.

“Under the old program MDF and co-marketing funds were earned from the result of surveys of customers about the quality of work done,” Platt said. While the idea of tying rewards to customer satisfaction was an inspired one, problems eventually developed with this particular process, especially wasting a lot of time trying to get hold of customers.

“It worked really well for a while, but it got difficult to coordinate,” Platt said.

Like the old program, the new one has three levels: Select, Premium and Elite, but in this program, the levels are much more formalized.

“MDS is now based on sales,” Platt said.

The introductory Select level gives access to ESI’s online portal with resources such as marketing collateral, technical documentation, and a comprehensive knowledge base.

Monetary benefits kick in at the Premium level, where partners are incented with a higher compensation structure, and more marketing resources than before. They are also able to participate in ESI’s Marketing Co-Op program to earn marketing funds. Premium partners are required to complete ESI’s Sales and Level I certification program. Certification and training were expanded last week with the cloud launch to add ESI Cloud Level I Training, ESI Cloud Sales Level 1 Certification, and ESI VoIP Network Certification Level II.

Partners at the Elite level get the Premium benefits, but get the highest level of compensation. They also have access to a new lead generation program to assist them in acquiring new customers. In return,  Elite partners are required to participate in extensive sales and technical certification training.

“What will make a channel partner today successful is being able to offer the customer choice – on prem or cloud – not just one or the other,” Platt said.

This article originally appeared on eChannelLine.

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