CRN Interview: Harry Campbell, Sprint

At a time when consolidation seems to be the name of the game in the telecom industry, channel sales are proving to be more important than ever before. CRN Section Editor Matt Villano recently sat down with Harry Campbell, the new president of Sprint's emerging and midmarkets division, to chat with him about the role solution providers will play at the Overland Park, Kan., carrier.

CRN: You're 100 days into your new job. What have you learned so far?

Campbell: My motto is that every day is a new day, and I'm gradually starting to understand what my new job is all about. My background is primarily on the consumer side. I worked at Procter and Gamble, and have been at Sprint for almost eight years, almost entirely on the consumer side. My last responsibilities here included some low-end small-business revenue streams. This is the first time I've pushed up into the real business-to-business work. It's a different world.

CRN: How so?

Campbell: The thing that has struck me most clearly is that the complexity of the product set is clearly front and center. The dynamics of dealing with a professional and large field-sales force is something that I'm learning to deal with from a dynamics standpoint. I'm used to diversity of channels and selling multiple products to multiple customers in multiple ways. Having direct and indirect partners and call centers and Web sales is something that previously I've done quite a bit of. I'll probably have to pay more attention to potential conflict and overlap, not try to eliminate them but make them coexist. At the same time, of course, I'll have to try and maximize opportunities.

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CRN: With that in mind, how do you plan to get all of Sprint's sales constituents to work together?

Campbell: First, I need to make my direct reports from all of those different places--marketing, sales, service, product, etc.--get on the same page and ask themselves a bunch of key questions. What does the customer want? What does the customer need? How should our strategy reflect that? We'll need to start from outside and move back in. The requirements from our customers will drive activity and will lead us to concentrate more on what we need to grow.

CRN: So what issues do you see being critical?

Campbell: Issues that will come up won't surprise anybody. How can we simplify compensation plans so that we reward the behavior we're looking for? How can we acquire new customers? We need the compensation plan to be simple and focused. Whether our salespeople are employees of Sprint or employees of one of our channel partners, we want them to know that they don't have to worry about contractual issues slowing them down. If we can do that with compensation, we can simplify our pricing, our contracts. I think we have a chance to win big if we can do that.

CRN: OK. It sounds like you're planning to grow Sprint's channel, then?

Campbell: Definitely. [Channel partners] have a chance to help us grow by selling additional or even new products that we'll bring to our current base, and expanding our reach and getting us new logos. It's already started, actually. It's very early, but we have a few data points with regard to what we're doing. Take wireless, for example. Partners are starting to say, 'Looks like Sprint is back in the game,' even in advance of new products. On a practical front, we're asking for feedback, we're seeking input, we're providing more exceptions to folks with regard to the ability to work directly with our direct reps. We've made contract changes to lower our minimum sales threshold [for partners] to $12,000 per month. Lastly, we've improved some of our commission rates, with respect to performance levels that we get. My perspective with channel relations is that if we have a good attitude with regard to how you treat them, we'll get into a position where success begets success.

CRN: Realistically, then, what percentage of overall sales would you like to make channel sales?

Campbell: Let me be honest. Channel sales are nice, but at the end of the day, I have to figure out where I am. Including churn, yield and everything, I would like indirect or channel partners to represent somewhere between 10 [percent] to 20 percent of that business. The other part would be comprised of direct field representatives, phone centers, Internet selling, and a retail presence through our consumer division.

CRN: What do you see as the biggest challenge to these channel plans?

Campbell: Key is for us to eliminate friction between [channel partners] and our direct partners. We don't want them fighting over compensations where applicable; we want to be able to compensate them both. I want to see direct-sales reps and channel partners developing relationships, working together so that both get compensated and everyone wins. This has the potential of raising expenses for us, but we want to do it. If it proves as successful as I hope it does, I'm going to roll it out more aggressively.

CRN: Lastly, how do you think the recent consolidation in the carrier industry will impact Sprint in the long haul?

Campbell: The strategy that we've put into place and we are currently executing against is extremely logical and it's very appropriate and customer-centric. It's already starting to win in the market. We got that momentum and started it six months ago, in advance of the consolidation. Now our strategy will only help us accelerate our success. I'm not sure how long some of these mergers and acquisitions will take, but to me, while all of these other companies are consolidating, I'd say it's opened up a nice hole for us to drive through. In general, fewer competitors tends to be better, particularly in the wireless space. From my standpoint, it's all about execution. Our strategy is clear, simple and our customers are unanimously approving of it. No matter what goes on elsewhere in the industry, it's up to us to show that we can execute.