Avant, Navisite Clear The Way For Partner Cloud Sales With New Microsoft Office 365 Opportunity

Master agent Avant and Navisite are offering partners the ability to resell Microsoft Office 365, even if those companies are not part of Microsoft's partner program.

Most solution providers have historically been locked out from this major selling opportunity with the popular business productivity tools. "Unless you’re a big VAR or distributor, you really didn’t have a play with Microsoft, and quite honestly, couldn't make any money associated with reselling Microsoft," said Ian Kieninger, CEO of Avant.

Chicago-based Avant has a self-proclaimed "cloud-first" approach to providing voice and collaboration services. The company is also aware that partners shouldn't navigate these waters alone. By teaming up with cloud service provider Navisite, Avant can help partners get their foot in the door with Microsoft and profit from reselling its popular products, too.

[Related: Partners Cheer Microsoft Incentive To Boost CSP Sales Of Office 365]

Navisite was bought by Time Warner Cable for $230 million in 2011. Time Warner Cable was then bought by Charter Communications in 2016 for $78 billion, and Navisite, part of Spectrum Enterprise, remains a business unit inside that behemoth.

Kieninger said that for partners looking for value-added services, Office 365 is a strong product with excellent brand recognition, but it needs support. It needs more support, he said, than most agent partners are prepared to give.

Most solution providers don't want to invest in the operational side needed to support a product like Office 365, but with Avant's partnership with Navisite, Avant's partners have access to a managed Office 365 solution that they can turn around and offer their end customers.

Microsoft and Navisite have enjoyed a two-decade long relationship which began on the infrastructure side with Navisite delivering managed hosted Exchange email platform and then extended to include Microsoft's messaging and collaboration tools.

Today, Navisite is within the top 10 percent of Microsoft's base of 200 Cloud Service Provider (CSP) partners in managed services selling and supporting Office 365, said Suren Singh, senior director of hosting and cloud services for Microsoft.

The longtime Microsoft partner has hundreds of engineers on-hand that have experience in resolving issues, and supporting Microsoft environments. Navisite also has access to the highest level of support from Microsoft directly that the average end customer and channel partner wouldn't have on their own, said Craig Sandman, senior director of Navisite's cloud alliances and indirect channels organization.

"Customers go to Navisite for Tier 1 support. That’s our business and that's really the value we are bringing to the channel," Sandman explained.

In addition to its managed services and support that Navisite wraps around Office 365, the cloud provider also bundles Proofpoint cybersecurity software for email security and continuity into the offering, providing another layer of value that partners can offer their customers. Navisite handles the billing for the entire solution on behalf of partners.

Avant was one of Navisite's first distribution partners and the two teamed up about six years ago. Avant has been Navisite's top partner for the past five years, giving the Andover, Mass.-based provider access to greater scale and a distribution channel of thousands of Avant partners. 

Now, Avant and its partners are representing Navisite's product set as well as the provider does for itself, Sandman said. "There's no way would could have achieved the scale and success that we have had without our channel partners, and Avant has been a leader in that because of their cloud focus," he said. 

By working through a managed service provider like Navisite, not only does the channel have access to a significant sales opportunity that was once hard to reach, but partners are also able to bring a product to the table that their customers want and are already buying, Kieninger said. 

"Partners don't have to pass on the opportunity anymore, and we think this is the best way that customers can get [Office 365] – from their trusted advisor," he said.

Avant has trained or educated at least 70 percent of its agent partner community on the Navisite relationship and the Office 365 opportunity since the start of the partnership nearly two years ago, Kieninger said. Of that percentage, Avant has an active funnel of 50 to 60 percent of those partners and about 35 percent doing transactions today. That percentage, according to Kieninger, is very high for a new product.

That's because Office 365 is a household name and an easy set of tools that customers are already accustomed to using to get work done. The managed services wrapped around Office 365 by way of the Navisite relationship are also a unique and necessary value-add for the channel, Kieninger said.

"Everyone knows what [Office 365] is and partners don’t have to be super technical to talk about it, so we have a lot of sellers that are comfortable bringing it up to customers," he said.

The relationship between Microsoft, Navisite, and Avant is translating into "healthy" monthly recurring commissions for solution providers. Best of all, the offering is low in overhead and high in value for partners while Navisite handles all backend support, Kieninger said.   

While making Office 365 available through the channel undoubtedly helps drive sales of the product and strong commissions for the channel, it also puts partners in a position to continue the cloud conversation with customers. 

The well-known brand and product provides an easy transition for partners to discuss how willing customers are to move more workloads to the cloud, Sandman said. "We've seen a number of situations where a customer buys Office 365, because that’s a product with great brand recognition, and then it's become a great cloud enabler to more solutions-oriented products," he said.

Once inside, partners can keep adding value, Sandman said. "It's a great Trojan horse – a bridge sale that is helping partners get to cloud selling."

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