I’ve just returned from ShoreTel’s Partner Conference in San Diego, and while the weather was uncharacteristically gray, the executives were exceedingly bright. ShoreTel continues to capitalize on its SMB momentum with its “Brilliant Simplicity” tagline, emphasizing the ease of deployment of its solution for IT administrators, users, and buyers alike. ShoreTel executives were exuberant about their five straight quarters of revenue growth and committed to investing heavily in R&D and sales, highlighting current products (including the announcement of ShoreTel 11) and future directions for the company. Here are several significant items that ShoreTel stressed:


ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations. Already available on the market for four months, this self-healing UCC appliance is easy to deploy, configure, and maintain. IBM has had problems developing market momentum with other partners — Mitel, NEC, and Nortel — but current CEO John Combs stressed that the value of the solution combined with the strength of ShoreTel’s partners would set it apart. I believe this appliance will be a winner.


ShoreTel Virtualization. Ed Basart, chief technology officer spoke about future ShoreTel deployments having the ability to be centralized or distributed depending on the customer’s unique communication patterns and needs as the software for server and switch components is ported to run on VMware. I think ShoreTel will do well to capitalize on the market interest in virtualization, and that capability will provide a calling card for ShoreTel at potential enterprise accounts as it continues to increase the potential scale of its solution.


ShoreTel TCO calculator. The new economic reality has made clear financial modeling a requirement to making a sale. Mark Arman, VP of business development highlighted the launch of a simple Web-based TCO tool to help customers understand the relative cost efficiency of the ShoreTel deployments compared with the current infrastructure or other UC alternatives. Potential customers now have an easy-to-use tool to help them understand and predict the exact costs of a ShoreTel deployment, which will close deals more quickly. I predict that reducing the length of the sales cycle will enable ShoreTel to chase more deals and capitalize on its branding initiatives to drive higher consideration rates.


These products highlight ShoreTel’s commitment to simplicity and the ability to understand and deliver against current market needs in the SMB market WW. Language localization is accelerating, and Don Girkins, VP sales talked about potentially supporting as many as 26 languages by the end of 2011. With carrier wins at Telstra and Vodafone under its belt, there was also a great deal of discussion around supporting larger-scale multinational deployments and moving up into the enterprise market. But, before ShoreTel can expect to serve larger enterprises, it must natively support capabilities like videoconferencing and communications-enabled business processes, which enterprises are demanding from UCC deployments today.


The partners’ excitement was palpable and exhilarating, with round after round of applause rising from the audience as ShoreTel execs walked through product enhancements and program adjustments planned over the next two years. I heard many partners roaming the halls and talking about the promise of 50%-plus annual growth for the foreseeable future, the increasing relevance of ShoreTel’s contact center solutions, and their support of ShoreTel’s branding initiatives to drive more consideration of its solutions. ShoreTel has mastered the art of keeping its distributors excited and armed with the appropriate tools of the trade to succeed in the SMB market. Despite its momentum, ShoreTel has a long row to hoe in order to compete with Avaya, Cisco, and Microsoft in serving the needs of larger enterprises and multinational companies with grossly heterogeneous current environments and sophisticated collaboration and conferencing requirements.


As John Combs exits the CEO role, the single most important task for ShoreTel’s board is to find the right successor. The new CEO must be a visionary and energetic to continue to elevate awareness while evangelizing ShoreTel’s brand and value but also a relentless task master who will hold the product and business development teams accountable for continuing to accelerate the rate of innovation within the company. Most importantly, to maintain the momentum of the company the CEO should be someone who understands and continues to build on the loyalty and allegiance of the distribution partners, those that carry ShoreTel products and services to market on their backs.