CenturyLink Sets Channel Sights On The Cloud

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All of those initiatives will help partners cross-sell, bringing cloud and hosting solutions into their networking customers, and vice-versa. The overlap in buying both types of services from CenturyLink isn't even 10 percent in CenturyLink's top 2,000 customers, CenturyLink's Wetzel said, so the cross-sell and up-sell opportunities for the channel are vast.

"The approach we're taking is with a handful of partners, going through their bases and helping them strategize," Wetzel said. "Say they have 200 customers where we'd play; we can find six opportunities with [each of] those they can pursue."

"The education around hybrid [cloud] solutions is so important," added Hollander. "Selling a network is a much different sale than selling hosted. There's a great intersection between the two, but if you only know the network approach, you're not going to get to it."

The convergence of the IT VAR and telecom agent channels has been a hot topic in recent years, particularly as telecom and cable providers seek to recruit regional VARs and get at the customers they serve. CenturyLink, and Qwest before it, always had VAR programs, Wetzel said, but current VAR interest in telecom and cloud services is definitely trending upward.

"A number of the VARs we went to years ago, when Qwest was aggressively going after this community, they said no. Now, they're coming back to us and saying, OK, now we are ready," Wetzel said. "They see what we have is a frictionless product that they can take to the market on a massive scale. You still have to edge them into the [telco] model, but when we start getting three or four large, nationally-known VARs participating, then it becomes not a question of doing it but building the tools to make it work."

"The customer wants a complete solution," added Hollander. "Whereas maybe before the VAR would resell it and provide maintenance, now maybe that [sale] is a custom-built cloud module under a white label agreement. This has to be part of their value prop."

Successful VARs that have made the crossover to telecom agent-style selling have built dedicated practices, sometimes with separate staffs and P&Ls, Wetzel said. But for VARs that can't yet build that practice, CenturyLink offers sales force and staff assistance to its partners with the intent of scaling the business to where VARs can make the investment themselves.

"How this works is by enabling them to be as self-sufficient as possible," Wetzel said. "We're being more thoughtful and logical about that."

NEXT: Master Agents Thumbs-Up CenturyLink's Progress

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