Mid-market masters

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Mid-market masters

Mark Colquhoun, CEO at
Mark Colquhoun, CEO at Solar Communications

Chippenham-based reseller Solar Communications has successfully moved further up the ‘food chain’ by selling more and more applications in to mid-market users. CEO Mark Colquhoun explains how.

Established more than twenty years ago Solar Communications has built a solid reputation in the supply of communications systems. Until recently however their typical ‘good sized customer’ slotted firmly in to the 50- 100 user segment but today that same customer is more likely to be sitting at 400 plus users.

The firm has benefitted greatly from this move having been recognised by The Sunday Times Tech Track 100 and the Growth Business Top 50 Rising Stars of 2011. Solar is also a ShoreTel Circle of Excellence winner – the only partner in the UK in the top ten for the last two years, and holder of the vendor’s European Partner of the Year Award for the last four years.

Chief Executive Mark Colquhoun says the company has just completed a very successful year.

“We are not only winning bigger dealsbut also gaining a greater share of our customers’ wallets with networking applications from Extreme and HP as well as an increased number of video conferencing deployments.

“When we get to the customer’s table and have the opportunity to demonstrate the ShoreTel solution we find that we win deals. Customers just get the

simplicity of the solution, the level of customer satisfaction achieved – every user install is surveyed, and this results in buying confidence.

“Usually we find ourselves up against the likes of Mitel, Avaya and Cisco but the ShoreTel story is very strong and wins out.

“This success has fuelled our momentum; we have more than 150 sites installed and user references are a key issue for us. We encourage every prospect to contact as many of our customers as they want. It’s the way to win business – our customers really are our best sales people.

“On that note, we have become far more selective about the sales people we employ. At around the 50 plus user level the sale becomes a lot more consultative and sales people need to know their stuff so there is no point taking a gamble on recruitment.”

Colquhoun says there are a number of factors that characterise and differentiate the mid-market from the SME.

“It’s a longer, more complex and involved sales cycle. You engage with far more people in the user organisation – I did a presentation recently where the customer brought eight staff to the meeting from HR, IT, Finance and Sales for example. It’s a fact that more stakeholders in the business have to be satisfied they are making the right decision.

“Complexity can be as long as a piece of string. Typically at this mid-market level we will be engaged in integrating existing user applications and business processes. We find that providing effective and comprehensive reporting packages is essential for management and the ShoreTel solution delivers this for us.

“Typically we have five or six client meetings before we take an order and it’s interesting to note on these higher ticket sales that only fifty per cent opt for a lease. Users do however undertake due diligence on us and are more cautious – it’s a more professional purchase.

“ShoreTel scales very well all the way from SME to Enterprise-sized clients – it’s like Lego, you just add another ‘block’. The support we have got from ShoreTel to help us achieve our mid-market ambitions has been excellent. Their major account teams ensure we have vendor support at meetings where we need it and together we have produced video case studies for further references with new clients. Overall ShoreTel is very approachable and easy to do business with.”

According to Colquhoun ShoreTel has made two very strategic acquisitions in recent times that are working well and in their favour in terms of helping Solar gain new business and additional wallet share.

“The acquisition of Agito and most recently M5 have been inspired. Agito brings real, simple to use and deploy fixed mobile convergence.

“With regards to other ‘newer’ and leading edge applications we already have a number of sites installed as virtualised solutions as well as services provided through a ShoreTel systems located in remote data centres. Customers are delighted with the service in each instance. Clearly the distributed architecture design of the system lends itself well to these deployments.

M5 will bring us all closer to cloud based services with ShoreTel and in all of this we are conscious that our mid-market users are looking for controlled costs rather than surprises. A cost per user per month model will suit many of our users whilst others will opt for hybrid solutions of CPE and hosted or cloud-based applications.

“The Agito FMC applications however really excite us at Solar. We can dramatically reduce user mobile bills with the seamless roaming between Wi-Fi and GSM and expect this to win us much more business in the future as it is already opening lots of doors for our sales people.”