Partner relationships traditionally have not been one of Siemens Enterprise Communications’ strengths. Despite its reputation as having a strong communications and UC portfolio, its reputation as less-than-friendly toward its partners has held it back from being a real player within the channel.

But Patrick Kehoe, SVP of Strategy, Planning and Indirect Business, and Andy Howard, VP of Channel Partners, are working hard to change that. In Kehoe’s 18 months on the job and Howard’s six months, the two have made it a point to chat with Siemens partners to see where the company can improve its channel relations. What they heard, Kehoe said, was that conflict abounded, so Siemens has set out to resolve that conflict and better define opportunities for its channel partners.

“One of the major things we’ve enhanced is the clarity of where we work with partners and which are partner-only opportunities,” he said. “Consistently we got feedback that we need more clarity, and so there’s been a significant focus and progress on clarifying.”

For instance, Siemens implemented a named account approach, in which the company looked at the capacity of certain large enterprise accounts and aligned its direct sales force with what Kehoe termed “those significant relationships.” Everything else,  he said, was designated as partner domain.

“We’ve taken great strides to say the net new relationships are partners' purview, but first we looked at our legacy customers and realistically assessed where our partners can drive cross-sell and upsell opportunities. And we have worked to align those relationships with partners to give them a handoff and further reinforce our commitment to the channel,” Kehoe said. “All of that has been defined, deployed and communicated within our team and in our partner community.”

In 2012, Siemens plans on expanding its love for the channel by making changes to its Go Forward! channel program (although the details of which are not yet available). But Kehoe pointed out the program, which was revised dramatically last year based on partner feedback, has played a large role in the company’s sales shifting more to its partners. In fact, partner sales now account for 25 percent of Siemens Enterprise Communications total sales.

“We’ve made good progress in terms of where we look to go,” he said. “Part of the reason why it's not higher is because we have significant book of services business that is based on legacy relationships and so it's difficult to move the needle too far too quickly. But we’ve targeted to drive two-third or higher of products and services business through our partners in SMB and large environments.”

Siemens also is looking to its partners in the coming year to offer more in the way of services -- something Howard noted the company was reluctant to do in the past.

“When we spoke with our partners the common theme was we were hard to do business with. There is some truth in that ... and the new leadership has learned some hard lessons. One of them was our channel partners have some expertise in their own right -- we’ve tried to shut the door for on them no reason in the past. We simply didn't let them take on a services role.”

In 2012, however, the company plans to more to clarify its business models with the channel around services, he said. “Our approach is to allow partners to own the customer relationship and hold customer contract and drive to a model where we have the flexibility to do what's best for the partner,” whether that means Siemens ends up servicing the customer or the partner does.

Also on tap for 2012 is a continued focus on the brand and awareness in the market, Kehoe said. “There still is confusion around what unified communications is; we have opportunity to push and clarify what it is and its value proposition for the market.”

That messaging is definitely an area where partners can help Siemens Enterprise Communications. And Kehoe and Howard definitely are saying the right things when it comes to how Siemens is engaging with its partners these days. We’ll continue to keep tabs on Siemens and the UC space as the new year marches on. Stay tuned.