Customer Lifecycle Management: A Game-changer for UC Vendors and Their Customers – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series
by Daniel Newman | October 10, 2022

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series I am joined by Daren Finney, Senior Vice President, Global Channels for Mitel. Our conversation takes a look at how customer lifecycle management can be a game-changer for UC vendors, and also their customers.

In our conversation we discussed the following:

  • Daren gives a short overview on Mitel, and why customers continue to choose Mitel
  • A look into Customer Lifecycle Management (CLM) and how it impacts Mitel and the UC space
  • A walk through how the Customer Lifecycle Management changed during Covid
  • Why customers should get excited about CLMs and what the benefits are to end-user customers

It was a great conversation and one you won’t want to miss. To learn more about Mitel, check out their website here.

Watch my interview with Daren here:

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Daniel Newman: Hey everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host today, Daniel Newman, principal analyst, founding partner at Futurum Research. Excited about this Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, where I have Mitel on the show. For the first time, I’ve got Daren Finney.

He’s the Senior Vice president of Global Channels, and he’s in the UK or from the UK. We’ll find that out in a minute, but very excited about the show. Excited to have Mitel with me here. A big topic, future of work, unified communications contact center. We’re going to talk about it all here. So without further ado, Daren, welcome to the show.

Daren Finney: Thanks, Daniel, and thanks for having me as your first. I hope not your last.

Daniel Newman: Well, we should do this more often, but a lot going on. We’re all moving really fast. We’ve returned to a world of travel and events so quickly, by the way. Went from, we’re never going to do another live event again. They’re all going to be remote.

Then all of a sudden it was like you can travel and then it’s every company’s going to do an event at the same time. They all, by the way, want me there. I feel very flattered. I think I got over 100 invites to attend in-person events just this fall, so talk about being in demand, huh?

Daren Finney: Yeah, that’s great. I guess your travel’s going to be crazy for the next few months.

Daniel Newman: Well, let’s just say I didn’t say yes to all of them. Let’s just say that I wasn’t particularly popular in high school, so this has really filled a gap that has really straddled me since my youth. Yeah, this is a really great topic. I really have, for the longest time, enjoyed this space all the way back to the earliest parts of my career, where I ran an integrator that focused on video and unified communications.

Known Mitel for a very long time, been a company I paid attention to, and watched and admired, and so I’m glad to have you here. Let’s start with you, because before I’m going to hit you up on what’s going on in the market, let’s set your cred. Give me a little bit about yourself, your background, your role with Mitel, and what’s keeping you there and excited.

Daren Finney: Yeah. I’d be happy to, Daniel. Again, I guess Daren Finney, I’m the senior vice president of our Global Channels here at Mitel. I’ve been at Mitel now for just over a year. I cannot believe how quick that year’s gone. It’s not my first rodeo. I’ve been in the industry now for 30 years in sales and sales leadership roles. Prior to joining Mitel, I was at Citrix where I was the worldwide COO for Partner Ecosystems.

I think for me, the piece that attracted me and still excites me today so much about Mitel, is this role that I’m in today as a global channel chief. There was nobody doing that role before I joined for some time. Yet what was evident, as I started to talk to the folks at Mitel and the partners, was that Mitel, we’re 50 years old this year or next year, beg your pardon. A 50-year-old organization with a deep legacy of partner-centric focus in relationships.

It was a pleasure to join and become the custodian of the partners, and really make sure that I could continue to drive that legacy for the business. Then one of the things that you just alluded to there, we’ll get into the market, massive market opportunity and constant change, which creates constant opportunity. Yeah, I’m as excited today as I was on day one. It’s great to be here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that is great. Probably a pretty significant change, although you’ve gone from being part of Citrix public company to progress to having a private company, to now joining another exciting private company. That’s always a big change. Of course, we’ve seen the macro environment change pretty drastically over the last couple of years as well. But the demand for this particular space isn’t changing all that much.

The unified communication, collaboration, video, contact center, customer experience and AI, these areas are growing. In fact, you could argue that in a tougher economy, the demand for these things are actually going to go up. At Futurum Research, recently we acquired a firm called Wainhouse Research that was 100% focused on collaboration and UC. This was because we realized that the depth in this area is something that’s going to be really important to us. Let’s zoom out a second, Daren.

You got an industry that’s expected to do about $60 billion by 2025. That’s consequential, but you also have a lot of change. You have sort of born on cloud. You have companies that come from a legacy place. You have companies that have been around since the earliest era of SIP trunking and even traditional POTS lines that are in this space. Then you got the born on cloud, pure AI-driven, contact center focused communications platforms. Talk a little bit about just how you see the industry, the trends. What’s catching your eye?

Daren Finney: Sure. There’s a lot there, isn’t there? You nailed it. I think from that perspective, I think it’s all of the things that you’ve mentioned and more. There is a massive opportunity in the UC market, as far as trends go. I think what we see, is we definitely see hybrid work continuing in the post-COVID era. I think this coupled with continued convergence or unified communications and contact centers, AI and data insights.

Also, the new communications API world, which allows businesses app integration and better customization. That they’re all areas really that are driving the communications’ industry today. I think as we touched on, it’s an exciting time and it is. It truly is a massive market. There’s so much change going on.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, you said it well. Like I said, I occasionally am guilty of taking the oxygen down. Asking the question, but giving the entire answer. There’s TV on. I do it in good spirit, Daren, because I know you have a lot of expertise, but I don’t want anyone to forget that I’ve done this for a minute.

But maybe on the Mitel front, we can hit that up. With all those things we mentioned, how are you describing Mitel today? Because people might say, “Are you a phone, a voice service, collaboration? Are you hardware-centric, software focused?” How do you do that and how are you telling the story about where it’s going?

Daren Finney: Yeah. Yeah. Again, good question. I think if we try and put it simply, we want to be that UC thought leader. We are a world leading communication solution provider. Today, if you think about Mitel, we are one of the top three UC providers. We’ve got more than 35 million customers globally in over 100 countries. Our customers represent key healthcare institutions, hospitals, schools, colleges, government entities, hotels, cruise ships.

More broadly, hospitality, as well as obviously a very strong SMB business, but our offering really spans across all of the key verticals. If you think about Mitel, we are a dominant player in the cloud, PBX devices and contact center industry. We’re number one in deck handsets in the world, and we are number three in contact centers.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Then what do you think, if you look at this continuum of different services, what are your customers and your partners telling you, in terms of why they’re choosing you?

It’s not an industry that lacks options, let’s just put it that way. What’s the hook, what’s the reason that they’re really sticking by and looking at Mitel and supporting your evolution so much?

Daren Finney: Yeah. Yeah. I guess partners, I talk to partners every day as you’d expect. Customers, I try to talk to every day, don’t always get that luxury. But largely, trying to understand how we support our customers more and how we enable our partners to deliver on that. I guess thinking firstly, Mitel’s strategy is to provide flexibility and choice for customers throughout their entire communications lifecycle. Our ability to support customers for many, many years with choice in their communications, has long being a differentiator for Mitel.

We don’t see that changing. In fact, you will see us lean into that more deeply with our CLM approach, the customer lifecycle management approach, because it encompasses both of our at core missions, both UC and migrations. We care about helping each customer get the right fit to support their communication strategy, and also how our technology becomes a business enabler for our customers. I guess for me, my discussions with customers and some of the feedback I hear largely, I guess, focuses on a number of common themes that come through.

The first one is, I guess one thing that comes out, and again, it was one of those things that attracted me in the first place, is Mitel has always had this family atmosphere, where staff stay longer than they would in other companies. That’s always a good thing. I spoke about our 50 year tenure, and I think I talked to partners and customers today that have been with us for decades. I think it’s also plays back into other areas where we often receive feedback, which is around our continuity.

That’s continuity of Mitel offers, of products, but also the relationships that we build with our customers. One of the other things as well that I hear from our value perspective, is that Mitel always shares what’s best for the customer. We also recognize and our partners recognize that sometimes this is not what’s always best for Mitel, and that, I feel, is quite refreshing and quite honest. Then the final theme, I guess, I often hear is around our product stability and quality, that trustworthy, credible, and reliable.

When I think about those, it’s a massive responsibility to us all in the leadership team to make sure that we uphold these values for our customers. But certainly, it echoes and comes through every time I talk to a customer or partner about what is it that draws you towards Mitel? They’re just some of the values that people typically tend to trend towards.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it’s interesting. You grow up hearing different iterations of it’s the customer’s always right. What I always said is the customer’s not always right, but the customer is always the customer.

Daren Finney: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: You got to find that balance. Being able to be a company that is really customer-centric, is part of that really strong, evolutionary customer experience or experience-led business models that have become very, not just in vogue, but really have proven to be differentiators between winners and losers in different markets and industries. This is going to be something that as an analyst, I would say should rank highly in your business strategy. Then making sure your customers truly see and value that differentiation is going to be very important.

I want to just double-click on something you started to talk about. I’d like to just make sure you maybe lean into it a little bit more for the audience. That’s about what you were talking about with customer lifecycle management. What is that? It sounds good, but what does that really mean? What does it mean when you say, “We do this and we do this better”? Okay. Give me a little bit more on what that is and how you’re really doing it differently than others in the industry.

Daren Finney: Yeah. Yeah, and I’d say we are doing it very differently to others in the industry. It’s foundational to what we do. I think CLM or customer success depends how you look at it. It’s not new. I guess we’ve been talking about it for many years. For many of our partners, they’ve been doing it very effectively with their customers for years. But in many instances, they’ve been doing it in isolation of any vendor. They’ve had to stand up their own solution as to how they really support the customers through their lifecycle management. But for us now, CLM, what does it mean firstly for Mitel?

It’s really about supporting our customers through their communication lifecycle and delivering value, regardless of whether they’re using our on-premise solutions, if they’re moving to a hybrid solution, or if they’re fully migrating to the cloud. It’s really about ensuring every end customer has a high degree of satisfaction and future-proof flexibility, no matter their current solution. Ultimately, it’s about how we work with our partners to deliver value, trust, knowledge, and experience to our joint end customers.

What we’ve actually started to do now, is we’re starting to work really closely with our partners to show how UC solutions deliver value through their entire communications lifecycle. We really want to have an approach that we can truly understand where the customer wants to go with their business and which solutions work for their organization. I guess when we think about our CLM, it’s really focused in three key opportunities around how we deliver that value to the customer.

Firstly, for our existing customers, we want to continue to add value to their business today with things like our innovative analytics, and really how we start understanding their business. Then what that does, is that helps us have the conversations and gives them even more reason why they need to get current or do more. Understand what that means for them, how they get current, how they can do more.

Secondly, for new customers, we are focused on vertical markets.

Especially ones like healthcare or SLED, which lean more towards a private or hybrid cloud model, where they have requirements around security, privacy or regulatory requirements. Then from a third perspective, where we have customers where public cloud is an excellent fit. I touched on some of those earlier with the small to medium enterprise. Then obviously, as we start to migrate our customers to public cloud, we have the Gartner Magic Quadrant, top right-hand corner, UCaaS offer, prior to our strategic partnership with RingCentral.

I think really, Daniel, for us overall, when we think about customer success and what it means, it’s making sure that we’re able to stand it up so it gives our customers choice. And recognize that choice may be different today, as it was a year ago or as it may need to be in a year’s time. Does that help?

Daniel Newman: Yeah, of course. I think choice is critical. Agility is a very trendy idea in this industry, agility, flexibility, consumption. Of course, when you’re traditionally an on-premises company, showing that you’re giving flexibility to migration to hybrid and pure consumption cloud models, are things that people want. It isn’t being adopted at the rate that it maybe feels because of the way it’s talked about. I think a lot of on-premises, especially in those highly regulated industries, is going to last for quite a long time.

But being a company that says, “We refuse to enable choice, we refuse to enable flexibility,” I think will be a dead end for many companies. They have to figure out how to balance that. And so whether it’s your partnership with RingCentral or other strategies that you’ll come out with over in the coming periods, those are going to be important. The little time we have left, I want to hit on the partner model a little bit. I want to talk a little bit about how partner-led ends to really meaningful customer benefits. You guys are a largely partner-led business, right? That is accurate?

Daren Finney: Yes.

Daniel Newman: That’s your world, channels. Why do you take that route? Many companies have pivoted away from partner models. You guys have leaned into it harder. Tell me why that is.

Daren Finney: Well, there’s a number of reasons. We spoke about our nearly 50 year proven track record, and deep longstanding relationships with some of the largest partner networks. Those partners similarly have long established relationships with those customers, where they’re delivering far more than just a UC solution. From that perspective, what our partner community does is it gives us scale.

It gives us scale so that we can get out to market. But also, it makes sure that we can work agnostically in many instances, with our partners to make sure that they’re delivering the right solution to the customer. We are confident that we are the right solution. I guess it’s making sure that we are taking our partners with us on that journey, so when it lands with the customer, they fully understand the value they’re getting from Mitel.

For us, if I think about our strategy of working from a partner-centric perspective, it’s worked for us for many, many years. It’s certainly what we’ve built a history of how we’ve gone to market. Again, I don’t see that changing considerably any data.

Daniel Newman: Obviously, your whole customer lifecycle management approach is critical because the partners are an extension of that, right? That adds value for Mitel, adds value for the partner, and then ultimately should add value for the customer.

Talk a little bit about that. How does the end user, how do you convince them that this whole customer lifecycle approach is beneficial to them?

Daren Finney: From a customer perspective, the way we’ve really worked it is we’ve empowered our partners. We’ve worked very closely with our partners to give them the campaigns, the content, the analytics, the data that they need, to be able to go and have the conversations with the partners. Then for us, it’s really around how do we make sure that we lay that out so it’s really easy for the customer to understand the choices that they have by working with Mitel? I think for us all, when it comes back to something I mentioned earlier, Daniel. I think for us all, we’re all inherent sales people.

I guess everybody’s probably listening to us today, we’re all sales guys. We know exactly what the solution is and we jump to solution. And we’re five minutes into a conversation and we’re like, “Right. We know exactly what you need.” I guess from the value that we want to deliver to the customers through lifecycle management, is really about taking the time to understand the customers’ strategy. What it is the business needs from their UC solution, and then make sure that what we can do is we can provide the right solution, not a solution.

I think that’s really important that we take time, so that we understand exactly what it is that UC is delivering for that customer’s business. How it has an impact on their top line. How it has an impact on their agility or their bottom line. Then make sure that we can then map onto that and come alongside to deliver what’s needed from that perspective. That’s really, I guess, what we are trying to achieve with CLM. Not just jump to a solution around, “Hey, I’ve come to see you today. I know what you need is contact center.”

It’s trying to understand exactly what they’re trying to do with their UC strategy, and then make sure that we have a solution that can come alongside to support that. Bizarrely, that might just simply be sweating their current asset. That might be good enough. That’s obviously what we are trying to do and become more strategic with our partners and customers through those conversations.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. I think you’ve really hit it on the head. A partner-led model has to both A, empower the partner to continue to have a really critical role. B, it has to create a very strong interdependence between the end customer that’s using the technology, the partner. And then of course, wanting them to have an affinity towards Mitel where there’s a loyalty.

Where if a partner does change or if the market situation changes, Mitel still does have a strong relationship and a strong affinity from that customer to stick with Mitel, as channels change. You know that. You probably know that better than I do. I guess we’re coming to time. First of all, first interview is okay. Your heart beating, slow down? You feeling good?

Daren Finney: I’m hanging in there. I’m just waiting to see if I get invited back for another one. That’ll be the test.

Daniel Newman: Well, we’ll have to see, we’ll have to see. I ask the same question every time I go on TV, “Will they ever have me back? Did I say anything really smart?”

I’ll listen back and I’ll let you know there. No, I’m just kidding. You did a great job. I’m sure we can find time to have you back.

Daren Finney: A small one.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. Let’s wrap-up with a last bigger, broad question, but Mitel, it is definitely a very well-known name in the UC space, but it’s not necessarily as synonymous as a Microsoft or Amazon in technology.

What do you want the listeners to walk away thinking about knowing? What do you want their impression of Mitel to be?

Daren Finney: Yeah. I guess thanks for asking. I guess as we discussed earlier, we have a massive opportunity ahead of us with CLM. It’s foundational to support our partners and our customers in every possible way during the communications journey. We touched on Mitel’s presence, we want to be known as that UC thought leader. Yeah, I honestly believe that we are uniquely placed in the market to ensure that our customers get the right solution for their business needs.

Again, without that breadth of offering. I guess my ask would be for every partner that’s out there listening, I’d say please take the time to understand our CLM approach. For every customer that’s listening to us today, I’d say please ask your partners how they can support you on your UC journey. Because I’m confident that’s our differentiator as we continue in the market.

Daniel Newman: There you go. There you have it. Daren, thank you so much for joining. It was a lot of fun having you on the show. Learned a lot and congratulations on making it a year into the role. Time flies. What do they say? As I’ve aged, Daren, I say the days go slow, but the years go fast. I don’t think I made that up. I probably heard it in a country song. But the point is that I definitely tend to believe that where the days can feel long but the years have gone relatively quickly, just like my hair did when it fell out.

I do want to thank you so much though for joining. I want to thank Mitel for having you on the show. A lot of great information there. Check out the show notes. We’ll put some links in there to learn more about Mitel’s customer lifecycle management, as well as we’ve written a few research notes through Futurum Research on our site that you can read available to you, not behind any gate or paywall. To learn more about our opinions and what our research is saying about what Mitel is doing in this space.

Hit that subscribe button, come back, join us for many other great interviews and shows here on the Futurum Tech Podcast. We appreciate all of you in our community, but for now, I got to say goodbye. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you later.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio