Level 3 Partner Program Overhaul Has VARs In Mind

Now that the tricky integration of the former Level 3 and Global Crossing channels is complete, Level 3 has a revamped channel program meant to broaden its appeal for both traditional telecom agents and VARs warily embracing the IT-telco convergence trend.

"We created a program that will help give us leverage and scope through our partnerships across the entire company," Michael Jerich, vice president of indirect channels for Level 3, told CRN. "A lot of our relationships are still predominantly telecom agents. That being said, we realize there's a convergence going on and that we needed to create specific programs to help [VARs] be successful and get the results we need."

The new Level 3 Partner Program, which the company announced in late January, offers agents and VARs a number of ways to engage with Level 3, depending on how their practices are built and their level of comfort selling telecom and carrier services.

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VARs can be referral partners or direct agents, or they can contract through one of Level 3's master agencies -- all of which were possible in the old programs. What's new this time around is that VAR partners can also opt for a co-selling relationship with Level 3's direct sales organization, through which they'll be supported in key accounts and offered contract terms under a program separate from Level 3's standard agent agreements.

Overall, Level 3 partners are now designated in tiers: Elite, Premier or Authorized. Each tier has a revenue threshold and sales quota, but the higher the tier, the better the pricing and access to other benefits such as market development funds, lead generation and dedicated account team resources.

Level 3 acquired Global Crossing in October 2011 in a deal valued at about $3 billion. Jerich was named channel chief later that month -- a return, of sorts, seeing as he'd previously been at Level 3 until leaving for Global Crossing in 2009.

Jerich said that after several integration phases, the formerly separate companies' channels are combined, and the new Level 3 is ready to move forward.

"This should be the final piece," he said.

By and large, VARs are more interested than ever in adding telecom and carrier services practices, he said, but there's still a "wait-and-see attitude" for many.

"We've been on this journey for a number of years now, and we're closer than ever to getting the VAR community working in this space," he said. "In the last 18 months, especially, we've seen an influx into Level 3. We've always been channel friendly, but there's no doubt that VARs are definitely becoming more favorable to this type of partnership."

NEXT: Partners Cautiously Optimistic

Among other updates, Level 3 expanded its Partner Experience team to help channel partners with lifecycle management of customer deals, and it is also adding resources on its online Partner Portal. Level 3 also has a new, 14-member partner advisory board to act as a "think tank" for its channel efforts.

Level 3 partners see the new program as a step in the right direction, though caution it'll take some time for partners to feel out the changes.

"It makes sense," said Ken Mercer, vice president of sales for Chicago-based master agent Telecom Brokerage, Inc. "We were a big Global Crossing house and a big Level 3 house before, and there were certain parts of each agreement I liked better. But if I can't get everything I want, it's still pretty damn good."

Mercer said TBI was able to freeze its Level 3 account bases at their existing commission points, which will help TBI's Level 3 business continue without interruptions in the short term. But Level 3, he added, will still have to convince partners that its integration headaches have subsided.

"There was some overlap and confusion, but I like the support structure they now have in place," Mercer said. "The people who made it through are good people. I'm very bullish on the new Level 3."

"The new compensation strategy is a big change, so we are concerned there," said Jay Bradley, president of Intelisys, a Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent. "And they've had some challenges being able to provide ease of doing business over the past year since the integration, and partners have seen that. But, they're staffing and putting resources into areas critical to their program, and that's going to help a ton."

"I'm encouraged by the support we'll have to manage partners and provide a quality experience," said Ian Kieninger, CEO of Avant Communications, a Chicago-based solution provider and cloud services distributor. "The investments made in the back-end infrastructure and process sound good and should allow for more efficient quoting and contracting, so that will allow everyone to spend more time out there actually selling."

Not all Level 3 partners are excited about the changing programs.

"I look at that VAR program and that's them aligning VARs with the direct sales teams. So, if I'm an agent, I don't participate in that, and how does it help me?" said a Level 3 agent, who asked that his name not be used. "That's not giving me a part of that program, and it's also stealing a potential future sub-agent or VAR partner of mine. So I don't think that helps me at all."