For Heather Tenuto, the channel chief at unified communications vendor ShoreTel, the lessons that best set her up to excel in her role came from some unexpected places. 

First was in a garage in Staten Island, N.Y., where in her first job out of college she worked for a reseller of printers and monitors and learned about the tech industry from the channel point of view.

Later, Tenuto got more critical lessons as a teacher in a hard-to-staff high school in New York.

"That really made me understand what enablement meant," she said, speaking of her time working with high-school students.

Tenuto, vice president for worldwide channel programs and sales enablement at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based ShoreTel, said those lessons have served her especially well given the challenges in front of her company and its partners in the cloud era.

While the cloud is synonymous with new opportunities for channel partners, the cloud also requires an ability to adapt in the channel. 

Which is where Tenuto is putting her enablement energies - in helping channel partners learn and embrace the new way of the cloud. A crucial task, given that ShoreTel relies on partners for about 90 percent of its revenue.

With her background in working for a hardware reseller in mind, Tenuto knows firsthand how the traditional channel model has worked, and why it's no longer sufficient for many partners.

"Selling a product is different from selling a service. It's like the decision to buy a boat or just go on a cruise -- it's a different model," she said. "We think that salespeople can sell both, but they just need to understand the differences."

One key issue is how partners adjust to the recurring revenue model of the cloud. Where they previously would sell a system and get an up-front payment, they now receive monthly recurring revenue. 

"Over the long haul, it's better for them. But it creates some cash-flow issues in the beginning," Tenuto said. 

"Sometimes it's hard to stop and change the way you're doing something while you're trying to do it. Partners have businesses, and lot of them have larger businesses," she added. "They can't stop selling the way they're selling just because this cloud thing came along."

One approach that Tenuto has taken at ShoreTel is to provide access to specialized cloud consultants to help partners through those issues.

For instance, a consultant might work with a channel partner on how to pay a salesperson for selling cloud, whereas their compensation plan had been originally designed for selling a product.

First and foremost, Tenuto said her goal is "to help the channel feel central and invested in the sale, implementation and support of cloud services."

"Having empathy for what the channel is facing is important to the role being successful," she said.