I’m extremely happy to say that Windstream Enterprise rose sharply in the CRN 2018 Solution Provider 500 list – we jumped to #13 from last year’s #23 among North America’s top solution providers, ranked by revenue.
While that kind of growth always depends on multiple factors, two especially stand out for Windstream Enterprise:
As drivers of revenue, those two elements are completely co-dependent. There’s only so much a channel can do without first-rate solutions. And even the best solutions can’t climb in market share without a fully functioning channel.
For me, there’s a third element: No company can have fully functioning channel partnerships without the right internal infrastructure to support them.
At this point, our channel partners are familiar with the specifics of our program, but probably less familiar with what we’re doing internally. Let me bring you up to speed.
A channel program built for complete partnership
The key enablers of channel program health are the hiring of ample talent and the creation of infrastructure that talent needs to thrive. Both have been my passion since joining the company as SVP Channel in November 2017.
Our initial efforts to attract top talent surprised me, and in the best possible way. When we advertised our first openings for channel manager positions, we attracted more than 400 applicants, and the overall quality of those applicants was off the charts. There is clearly a great deal of seasoned channel professionals eager to help advance enterprise networking. In whittling those 400-plus applicants down to the most appropriate candidates, we created a talent pool that any network solutions provider would love to have on board.
From then on, our hiring has been, and continues to be, highly successful. In the past few months, we have brought on industry expertise and talent across the program, from channel managers to client advocates, and from sales engineers to pricing managers. Our channel program now numbers more than 125 professionals working in conjunction with our partners.
We’re far from finished. As of May, our pipeline has shifted past 50% toward strategic products, meaning that over half of the deals we are now working on contain UCaaS, CCaaS, SDWAN, and our On Net assets, proving the technology transformation is happening. Funnel activity continues to increase at a very healthy pace, and we continue to bring in the industry’s best talent to elevate our program to levels consistent with the best channel programs in the industry.
Our ongoing build-out means that as a channel partner, you’re likely to encounter new faces and names when interacting with us. In some organizations, that might be cause for alarm. Not here.
Please take each new channel professional you meet for exactly what it is: a sign of our very real commitment to build the best channel program in the industry. And please make full use of the resources we’ve committed to you. We have a great deal to accomplish together in the years ahead.
I look at the transformation we’re undergoing at Windstream Enterprise and not coincidentally it mirrors the evolution of our sales partners. At one time we were looked at to provide simple access and voice services for businesses. While our partners were tasked with helping those same customers decide which of a myriad of providers they should choose and then get called on to support the deployment.
That marketplace engagement model has all but disappeared through consolidation of providers. At the same time, our solution set has changed. In this new marketplace both WE and our partners are called on to guide customers to next generation solutions like UCaaS and SD-WAN. This new model makes the sales partner more important than ever but it drastically changes the task at hand for all of us.
Managing the transformation mirror effect
So how do we all manage our day in this evolutionary environment? Having spent the last 13 years as a channel partner myself (master agent), I know how I coached my team and partners. I told them we need to find a balance where we can care for our legacy customers and their traditional solutions, while having transition/transformation conversations.
This can be difficult because it is easy to get caught up “running on the wheel,” handling one inbound trouble or MAC at a time while paying little attention to our role as trusted advisor and technology guide for our partners and customers. That’s a problem anyone in our business can sympathize with. Who hasn’t made that call to a partner or customer to discuss an emerging technology or service opportunity, only to have the conversation side tracked by a billing question or a problem with a legacy service?
What we all need to be able to do is honor our responsibility to care for the existing services we have deployed while also honoring our position as trusted advisor to be an agent of change.
Sometimes this is as simple as saying, “Let me get some information from you (our customer) so that I can get that issue resolved quickly. But after I do that would you give me 15 minutes to discuss a new technology that will allow you to deploy and manage the next generation applications that will help drive your business?”
Making time for transformative conversations
If we can do this successfully and consistently, we will move from facilitating services seen as “a cost of doing business” to becoming the technology partner that serves as a pathfinder, helping customers drive innovation and grow their business. That’s an exciting evolution for us all.
I encourage all of us to hold ourselves accountable to making time for these transformative conversations. Make appointments with yourself to proactively reach out to customers and partners to help them define success in this new technology marketplace. I have heard this called “having peacetime conversations while the bullets are flying.”
This is important. If we get so wrapped up “handling” yesterday’s products, someone else will get in there by solving tomorrow’s challenges.
Getting to know you, getting to know WE
We are passionate about pursuing transformative conversations with partners, just as you need to pursue them with customers. You may have noticed our recent “Our Size Fits You” campaign, dedicated to providing you with clear picture of Windstream Enterprise. I encourage you to read it, request your 5X SPIFF through the Partner Perks quick form and embrace the strategic and transformative relationships we are building with the partner.
Are these traditional products keeping your business’ lights on: POTs, PBX/Centrex, T1’s, DSL, MPLS…? If so, I strongly recommend you stock up on flashlights!
The race to the cloud by businesses is beyond on. Most are well into the implementation phase. But while the earliest adopters understand the relevance of the underlying network architecture to cloud transformation, many don’t know the rocky road that lies ahead of them. As you put your business and reputation as a trusted advisor for these businesses on the line, it’s critical to work with a service provider that’s as invested in your success as they are their own.
As part of a Master agency for over a decade, our organization built much of our business on Type 2 access and legacy products from telcos like the one I now represent. In that role, I saw the seismic shift taking place in the market as companies drove their cloud migration strategies forward. Knowing Windstream Enterprise was carefully following this shift excited me. I knew the partner community needed a service provider that understood the shift and had a laser-focused approach on getting ahead of it for customers and partners alike. And I knew with the consolidation in the market, Windstream Enterprise was one of the few remaining providers positioned to address this change and to lead the evolution.
Reimagining the Windstream Enterprise brand
This week we unveiled the new Windstream Enterprise (WE for short). Our brand has been reimagined to represent the transformative work we’re doing to become a more valuable and agile business partner for you and our customers. It defines us as a company focused on the change ahead in terms of our products, our people and our customers. More importantly, it defines as a partner for channel leaders like you.
That in mind, I’d encourage our channel partners to take a look at our press announcement and the short video (below) highlighting our new brand. Windstream Enterprise President Layne Levine also discusses our transformation – how it started, where it’s going and what it means – on our Insights blog.
We strongly believe you’ll see our ongoing transformation as part of a natural evolution for our company; one that clearly highlights our continued commitment to creating the best channel program in the market.
That’s important to know, because just as your customers are counting on you to guide them through change, I’ve made it my mission to make sure Windstream Enterprise is there to help YOU through it. And I’m fully confident that partners who embrace this change as we have will realize bright, profitable futures, too.