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Master agencies that partner with CenturyLink give the company's overall channel progress a thumbs-up, even as they acknowledged a few continuing speed bumps.
"I think we're most excited about Savvis because that exemplifies where things are now going: the layering of these types of products and services on top of infrastructure, and not just the sort of legacy LEC play," said Vince Bradley, president and CEO of World Telecom Group, Malibu, Calif. "That's what we're going to be evangelizing to our partners non-stop."
Bradley saluted CenturyLink for not rushing to integrate the various channel programs it gained through acquisition. Partners, he said, saw a clear cadence with the blending of the Savvis program last year, which gave the channel an idea of what to expect with future integrations.
"Ultimately they left the legacy programs alone for a while, and we were pretty impressed with that," Bradley said. "A lot of the other carriers would have attacked the integration and tried to mash things together as quickly as possible. And, yes, a lot of agents want things right away, but the mature approach is to take your time. They prioritized Savvis over the legacy programs, which was a smart move."
WTG will be pushing partners to cross-sell, as well, as part of its ongoing "Cloudology" partner training.
"It's really about having business conversations and understanding where your client is having issues and plugging services and technologies into those," said Susan Penevolpe, WTG's vice president of sales. "Partners are so used to being reactive with clients, but if you're not having those conversations proactively, you're leaving the door open for them to find someone else."
Jay Bradley, president of Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent Intelisys, agreed that CenturyLink has done a good job with channel support.
"We believe in CenturyLink," he said. "When you're the 800-pound gorilla in this channel, which CenturyLink is, you're the biggest and baddest in the land, so anytime you make changes, you're going to make people nervous."
Intelisys' Bradley said a lot of the service complaints CenturyLink was experiencing in 2011 and into 2012 have ceased.
"There were a lot of service issues coming out of this meeting last year and that gave the partners some pause," he said. "We don't hear that as much right now, and they appear to be performing well."
Karin Fields, vice president of sales at Marietta, Ga.-based master agent MicroCorp, said CenturyLink could stand to get more of its partner tools out to the field faster, but that overall, communication around channel integration has been strong.
"It does take a while. You're not just going to turn a company of this size on a dime," Fields said. "The Savvis piece was the first, and it went pretty well. It will be interesting to see what happens next with the Embarq side of the house, but they've made sure we understand where things are in the process."
CenturyLink's most recent restructuring, in which it combined its network services business sales and operations teams into a single organization -- effectively merging its enterprise businesses -- will be a positive for the channel, the master agents agreed.
"This time around, with the way things landed, channel seems like it's even more mainstream in the overall management of the company than it was previously," Intelisys' Bradley said. "And you've got people like Blake [Wetzel at CenturyLink], who's done a yeoman's job of fighting the good fight for the channel."