Mitel Business Partner Conference - First Thoughts

Seems like I just got here, and I'm going home in about 3 hours. This year's Business Partner Conference has flown by, and that's an indication of a well run event. Well, it's also because Mitel has done a great job with the program and the news has generally been good - surprisingly good.

I'm just going to share some quick takeaways here, and in the next day or so, I'll have a longer piece about BPC 2013 on UCStrategies.

Outside In - that's the theme this year, and it's all about being more customer-centric. It's an about-face from convention where the business is done from the inside out. In other words, you do things based on what works for you, which is fine when you have a lot of market power, but very few companies truly have that any more. So, Mitel has definitely glommed on to the idea of being customer-centric, and it sure looks like there's a cultural shift happening with them.

You can see it in how they're doing business now, what they're talking about, how they're engaging with channels and some moves they've made on the management front. Most notable for this last point is the addition of Martyn Etherington as their CMO. He's a solid marketeer and really knows what needs to be done. Some pretty exciting initiatives underway on that front, and if they execute well, you should expect to see Mitel register much more often in converstations about UC, cloud, contact center, mobility, video, etc.

Underlying all of these good vibes is a solid performance on the financial front, and we heard about this from CFO, Steve Spooner. Compared to a year ago, it sounded like Mitel was on the right track then, but it wasn't so clear how well things were going to go. Well, now we know, and the numbers bear this out. Top line still has a way to go, but they're profitable, margins are solid, they have money in the bank, a healthy line of credit, and they's been discplined paying down the debt they took on to acquire Inter Tel.

The numbers tell a good story both in absolute and relative terms. These days, anyone looks good compared to Avaya's financials, and alongside them, they selectively showed how things stack up against ShoreTel and Aastra. These companies are comparable in size to Mitel, but their numbers are weaker, so these are logical targets. If we're looking across the broader landscape, it's hard to ignore Cisco, MSFT, NEC, Siemens and even Interactive Intelligence, so if  you want to take this comparative analysis down a notch, sure, this crowd would mute the story a bit. However, it's Mitel's show, and their job is to put the company in the best light possible to partners, upon whom their success largely depends.

Overall, there's no doubt that the vendors in general are struggling to keep up with the various technology changes that are disrupting things for everybody. Some are doing better than others, but it's certainly fair to say that Mitel is holding its own pretty well. For me, that's the biggest takeway from BPC, and the better they can get living the outside-in mantra, the more successful they'll become. This is definitely a challenging market space and there are no guarantees for anyone. Technology alone isn't going to be enough, and when you look at things like culture, leadership and go-to-market strategy, I like what Mitel has in place now. If they've fallen off the radar for you, they warrant a second look. You don't have to be the biggest to be the best - these days it's more important to be agile and in touch with what drives value for your customers, and that's what I'm seeing here.

Banging the drums - change is coming at Mitel. Nice Blue Man Group-styled opening routine to set the stage. How about catching the moment here by getting "rhythm" in my photo!  :-)
CEO Rich McBee
CMO Martyn Etherington