Comcast: We're Partnering With More IT Solution Providers Than Ever Before

As cloud services continue to blur the lines between the traditional IT and telecom channels, Comcast Business said it's partnering with a record number of IT solution providers to take its voice, Internet and data services to market.

"What we are seeing is a larger audience of solution providers getting involved in the sale of our services than we ever have before," said Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels at Comcast Business, in an interview with CRN.

Schlagbaum, who helped build Comcast's channel strategy from scratch with the launch of the Comcast Business Solutions Provider Program in 2011, said Comcast Business has roughly 3,000 partners in the U.S. today.

[Related: Synnex, Comcast Join Forces For Telco Services Push ]

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About 60 percent of them, Schlagbaum said, are IT solution providers.

"They are participating in the model very aggressively," he said. "And that's why we are trying to expand."

According to Schlagbaum, the solution providers partnering with Comcast are doing so in one of two models. In some cases, he said, they are reselling Comcast services through either a direct relationship with Comcast or one of the carrier's master agents or distributor partners.

In the second model, solution providers act as a referral partner, finding leads and then handing them over to a telecom agent that's also partnering with Comcast to actually sell and implement the services. Referral partners receive one-time commissions, while reseller partners receive a monthly recurring commission on Comcast services sales.

Comcast's growing base of solution providers is due, in part, to the carrier's new partnership with Synnex. In August last year, Synnex became the first IT distributor to join the Comcast Business Solutions Provider Program, delivering Comcast's range of Ethernet, Internet, voice and cloud services to its VAR customers through Synnex's MobilitySolv practice.

Schlagbaum said Comcast does not have immediate plans to add more IT-focused distributors to its partner ranks, but that's definitely a possibility moving forward.

"We are pleased with what we are doing with Synnex at the moment," Schlagbaum said. "I don’t see the need to add an additional distributor at this time, but we are always open to that option."

In addition to Synnex, Comcast sells its services through 11 master agents, five of which -- including MicroCorp, TCG Partners, Converged Network Services Group (CNSG), Telegration and Venture Group -- were just added to the program this year.

Matt Harty, president of CNSG, a Charlotte, N.C.-based master agent and new Comcast partner, said this year alone he has seen Comcast invest heavily in new channel resources to make things like order processing and tracking easier and faster for partners.

"They are clearly setting up a lot of new systems and processes to help us deliver their services more quickly," Harty told CRN.

Harty also said he is seeing a greater appetite for telecom services, including those from Comcast, from the traditional VAR community.

"We are starting to see a lot more interest from VARs," Harty said. "Our traditional partners have been more telecom-focused, but in the past year-and-a-half to two years, we have seen a lot of growth with more traditional IT-focused shops."

Harty said CNSG's partner base today is roughly 60 percent telecom agents and 40 percent IT solution providers.

NEXT: Bulking Up Channel Resources

Schlagbaum said Comcast's channel sales have steadily grown since the launch of its partner program in 2011, now accounting for a "double-digit percentage" of Comcast Business' overall sales.

To accommodate that growth, Schlagbaum said Comcast is bulking up its internal channel resources, adding more channel account managers and sales engineers to its ranks. He said Comcast's dedicated channel team has grown from virtually zero employees back in 2011 to being in the triple digits today.

What's more, Schlagbaum said, Comcast has been focused on building out new training and enablement resources for its partners. One of those tools, rolling out now, is called the Comcast Control Center, a new software platform based on that significantly accelerates the time it takes for partners to place and track an order with Comcast.

Schlagbaum said, in the past, partners would have to call a member of the internal Comcast channel team to place or check the status of an order. But now, through the Comcast Control Center, partners can directly link to Comcast's back-office systems and perform these tasks themselves.

"It allows partners to act as an extension of our direct sales team, with direct access to the same tools and information that our own internal employees have," Schlagbaum said.

In its third-quarter earnings report last month, Comcast said revenue from Comcast Business Services jumped 21 percent year-over-year to $1 billion, and achieved an annualized run-rate of $4 billion. Comcast's total revenue for the quarter was up 4 percent to $16.8 billion.

Schlagbaum said much of Comcast Business' growth stems from the success of its Business VoiceEdge virtual PBX offering, along with the data, voice and video solutions it sells into the hospitality segment.

Moving forward, Schlagbaum said Comcast's focus is on recruiting more "digital native" or "born in the cloud" solution providers familiar with the recurring revenue model to continue to fuel that growth.

And Schlagbaum urged them to get on board.

"All [solution providers'] customers need the services we provide, and either they can participate in the model … or their competitors will," Schlagbaum said. "Customers are looking for a one-stop solution; they need video, voice, bandwidth, cloud and other services, as well. If [solution providers] don't provide that, they risk the potential of others infiltrating their customer base."