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CenturyLink's New Channel Focus: First Tiered Program, Plans To Bring Third-Party IT To Partners

CenturyLink's channel partners can develop solutions incorporating hardware and software from such vendors as Cisco and NetApp with the help of CenturyLink, which will pay partners to bring in the business.

CenturyLink is rolling out its first tiered channel program and will shortly expand it by making a wide range of products and services from its strategic vendor partners available to channel partners who need such products to meet customer requirements, but may not have direct relationships with those vendors.

CenturyLink's plans to bring third-party vendor products to its channel partner community were introduced at the company's CenturyLink Alliance Ascend partner conference being held this week in San Diego.

CenturyLink has had a channel program for years, but it was a single-tier program that treated all partners equally, said John DeLozier, vice president of channel alliances for the Monroe, La.-based communications, hosting, cloud, and IT services provider.

[Related: CenturyLink Merger With Level 3 Gives Partners More To Sell In The Enterprise]

The new CenturyLink Ascend Metals channel program has five partner levels, ranging from bronze to diamond, differentiated according to partners' recurring revenue and sales commitment, DeLozier told CRN.

As partners move up the tiers, they gain increased access to marketing assistance, market development funds, and incentives for bringing in new customers, he said.

"We used to have one level," he said. "Everybody was treated the same. No distinctions. Going forward, we will never apologize for treating the best partners the best."

The next major enhancement to the new CenturyLink Ascend Metals program will be the availability of a wide range of third-party products via CenturyLink to its channel partners.

CenturyLink has strategic partnerships with a number of top IT vendors including NetApp, Cisco, VMware, Microsoft, Juniper, and others, and has traditionally sold products from those vendors direct to business clients, said Bill Corbin, CenturyLink's senior vice president of partnerships and channel operations.

Starting in the second quarter, the company will bring those vendors' products to its channel partners via CenturyLink's Ascend Metals channel program as a way to bring additional value to the CenturyLink services those partners currently offer customers, Corbin told CRN.

It is a big opportunity for CenturyLink channel partners who do not currently have relationships with those vendors, said Bill Hurley, the company's chief marketing officer.


"One of the big opportunities for CenturyLink is to move more business through the channel," Hurley told CRN. "[This] is a way for us to show we're putting our money on our partners and alliances."

Corbin said channel partners who bring CenturyLink business for its strategic partners' products will be compensated by CenturyLink on a commission basis. Channel partners will not need certification or training in those products, he said.

Bringing its strategic partners' products to CenturyLink's channel partners should not result in channel conflicts with the vendors' own channels, Corbin said. "Our strategic partners have been begging CenturyLink to find a way to bring them to our partners," he said. "We see this not as a conflict, but as an opportunity."

The ability to work with CenturyLink to bring in third-party enterprise products is a huge opportunity for partners, said Shane Stark, director of vendor and strategic relationships at Carrier Access, a Des Moines, Iowa-based solution provider and CenturyLink channel partner.

Stark cited as an example the importance of working with Cisco for channel partners who have no relationship with the vendor.

"Cisco's known for trainings and certifications needed to be a partner of theirs," he told CRN. "That's good for Cisco. You need to know the Cisco product, how to sell it and support it. And if you can't pass the gauntlet of training and certifications, Cisco doesn't want you. And that's fine."

But for a partner like Carrier Access, which understands Cisco and similar vendors even if it does not have the necessary certifications, having access to those products through CenturyLink is a big plus, Stark said.

"We know the basics," he said. "But if we want to have the full line, we would need some new high-level employees. I think it's great that CenturyLink can help its partners check the box on some of those high-level certifications."

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