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Sonus Networks has expanded its channel partner program to include additional partner designations, including the adoption of a two-tier distribution partner model. The Sonus Partner Assure program was launched last year to support the company’s expansion into the enterprise market with its session border controller (SBC) portfolio.

Today, Sonus has expanded the program into a two-tier business model to accommodate more than 250 partners that joined the program after the acquisition of Network Equipment Technologies (NET) in August 2012. The company also created a Sonus Partner Assure Select program to accommodate partners that wanted to sell both NET and Sonus products, which are now sold through a network of reseller partners to small and medium businesses, large enterprises and regional service providers.

“Enabling a strong channel foundation is core to Sonus’ go-to-market strategy,” said Joe McLaughlin, vice president of Worldwide Channels, Sonus. “Our focus is on helping our partners effectively address the rapidly growing demand for SIP [Session Initiation Protocol]-based communications (SBC). Whether seeking to enable 100 sessions or 64,000 sessions, the combined Sonus and NET portfolio represents the market’s only end-to-end portfolio of SBC solutions, expanding the Sonus Partner Assure program into a two-tier model that allows us to better activate and empower our diverse ecosystem of channel partners.”

The expanded program includes high-touch support for select partners, as well as expanded partner management with value-added distributors that provide pre- and post-sales technical support, in-region labs and demonstration resources, and local product delivery capability worldwide.

Sonus also added more self-service tools available through the Sonus Partner Portal. These include an online quoting tool for instant delivery of product configurations and pricing, direct access to technical support documentation and trouble ticketing. The portal also serves as a hub for communications resources, including bulletins, webinar archives and product collateral.

The company also provides a library of online, on-demand training courses for sales and technical job functions. The courses are designed to accelerate the ramp up for new partners and partner representatives.

Nearly three years ago, Sonus made the decision to transition from primarily selling to service providers to targeting the enterprise. “We had to become channel-friendlier or channel-ready in order to gain access to the marketplace,” said McLaughlin. “In this market, partners significantly influence enterprises, and we couldn’t build a sales force large enough to be able to get in ourselves. We knew working with the channel was a critical component of being successful.”

Sonus also had to revamp its service provider SBC gateway products and make them channel-ready by scaling them down and providing a better user interface. “It has to be easy to install, use and roll out around the enterprise,” said McLaughlin

At the same time, the company planned to build out a one-tier partner program—Sonus Partner Assure—for resellers with the goal to recruit 20 to 25 partners worldwide. Starting with three legacy partners (AT&T, Verizon and Arrow S3), Sonus added seven more by the end of August 2012, when the NET acquisition was completed.

The acquisition provided Sonus with three key benefits from a channel perspective, according to McLaughlin. It filled out the company’s product portfolio, speeding up its product road map by about one year for a low-end entry product; gave the company access to a two-tier partner ecosystem in the Microsoft Lync world (NET had close to 300 partners and more than 40 distributors worldwide); and provided the company with a strong relationship with Microsoft.

“Overnight, we went from a one-tier partner play with 10 partners to two tiers with 300 or so partners,” said McLaughlin. He added that NET’s roughly 300 partners came in as “authorized partners” under the Sonus Partner Assure program, continuing to sell the NET products.

For partners that wanted to sell the entire portfolio, including Sonus SBCs, the company created a second-tier program called Sonus Partner Assure Select. “Sonus’ portfolio is a little more sophisticated and requires level 1 and level 2 support, as well as other things a lot of partners don’t want to do, or aren’t capable of doing because they are smaller partners,” McLaughlin explained.

The company also changed its distribution strategy. “We realized that having 40 or 45 distributors worldwide was not a good value proposition for the ones that provided the most value, so we focused on recruiting the top value-added distributors,” he added. “Our primary focus is not only to have them sell the product, but also to provide the services around the product.”

Sonus’ partner ecosystem now consists of 15 to 16 Partner Assure Select distributors, 45 Partner Assure Select partners and 250 Partner Assure authorized partners. The company expects the channel to contribute 20 to 25 percent of its total product revenue in 2013.

Gina Roos, a Channel Insider contributing writer, specializes in technology and the channel.