Time Warner Cable Making Big Channel Investments As It Mounts Partner Recruitment Offensive

Time Warner Cable (TWC) is on a channel tear, doubling its channel budget in the last 18 months as part of an all-out IT solution provider recruitment binge.

The telecom provider is aiming to drive big share gains with robust investments in channel managers and a field sales team working hand in hand with solution providers to close big deals, TWC executives said in an exclusive interview with CRN.

TWC now has 33 channel managers supporting partners in its Agent Program and 18 channel managers supporting partners in its Reseller Program, a team which has doubled in size over last three years.

[Related: Time Warner Cable's NaviSite Now Bundling Cloud, Networking For Partners And Customers]

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"The message to VARs is we're open for business and ready to welcome them into the program," said Brian Snortheim, director of marketing for indirect channels for TWC, which has a deep product portfolio that includes VoIP, Fiber, Ethernet and broadcast services, as well as a robust set of cloud services from TWC subsidiary Navisite, an enterprise-grade cloud provider.

The telecommunications provider is willing to go to market in whatever model partners prefer – the agent model, the VAR model or a mix of both. That's part of a strategy aimed at getting partners to recognize that breaking into the telecom cloud services market is not a scary proposition, said Greg Iuzzolino, senior director of sales for TWC's partner channel.

According to Snortheim, between 70 and 75 percent of TWC partners are in an agent sales model with TWC. That limits the margin and sales gains that can come with the traditional solution provider IT services model. Taking the lead on the account - billing customers directly- is what TWC refers to as the wholesale model.

"VARs that have made the leap of faith [from the agent model to wholesale selling] are seeing 20-30 percent year-over-year increases in revenue," Snortheim said. "We see a lot of opportunity for the remaining [70-75] percent of the VARs that are not involved. We think there is a huge business opportunity for them."

TWC has some 280-plus partners that are already selling the full TWC portfolio and billing customers on their own under the wholesale model program. Now the company is making bigger investments to get more VARs to adopt the wholesale model.

In fact, the company has just hired a new director of VAR development, Keith Hall, a seven-year TWC veteran who was previously president and CEO of a broadband services provider. Hall has a team of eight that is chartered with recruiting IT solution providers.

"We want to sign up a bunch more partners," said Ira Morris, TWC's senior director of the wholesale channel division. "The way I look at it, with 280 partners out of the 170,000 IT partners in the U.S., we have zero percent market share."

Stepping up its VAR support is already helping TWC differentiate itself in the eyes of partners. While many carriers offer plenty of resources for their agent partners, additional support for VARs has been really helpful, said Michael Grossman, vice president of new business development and marketing for NetWolves, a Tampa, Fla.-based managed services provider and TWC partner.

"In the last couple of years, TWC has added more resources -- additional managers and reps -- than VARs have ever had," he said. "On the VAR level, they are taking support to another level."

The additional reps in the field has helped TWC become more proactive in figuring out how they can help partners grow and sell more services, Grossman said. "As opposed to two or three reps taking care of all the VARs, this has been a huge change -- it's like night and day."

TWC's biggest competitive weapon in its battle to onboard more IT solution providers is a massive investment in training and enablement, along with pre-sales tools, field sales resources and sales reps, all aimed at helping partners close deals.

TWC now has 51 sales reps in the field helping its IT solution provider partners close deals. That's a big differentiator for TWC, which has made a conscious effort to up its field sales effort with partners compared with some of its rivals, Morris said.

TWC has also invested in extensive training for new IT VARs, with pre-sales tools aimed at helping them get up to speed selling and billing on their own.

"We have taken a very proactive role in helping our partners sell," said Morris. "We get involved early in the selling process -- helping partners come up with the solution and pricing that helps them win the deal and even construction fees so we can build out the locations."

The deep investments are paying off, Snortheim said.

Besides the field sales reps, TWC is making deep investments in the master agent/sub agent market, where it has tens of thousands of partners being supported by some 33 regional channel managers tasked with building relationships with subagents in the field.

"We have a greater level of touch points with a bigger staff out in the field in the local markets where partners sell," Snortheim said.

Strong relationships in the field with solutions providers is ultimately driving the big TWC business sales gains, Snortheim said. "We think we are driving a lot more business commensurate with the size of our company, based on the fact that this business is all about relationships. If you don't have that with your sales organization at the local level with VARs, then you are dead in the water."

Snortheim sees TWC's strong field sales team as key to winning over the tens of thousands of partners that have yet to take the telecom cloud sales plunge.

"We are trying to touch as many VARs, subagents and whoever is out there selling IT services as we can," said Snortheim. "We are trying to get that 70 percent [of partners who are in a referral relationship with TWC] to convert over."