Windstream Revamps Channel Program, Arms Partners With More Resources

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Telecommunications provider Windstream revamped its channel program to give partners serving enterprise business customers access to more resources and dedicated support, the carrier told CRN.

Windstream's long-term strategy in the channel is to take on enterprise accounts, a focus that the provider put in place in the summer of 2015. Windstream alerted the channel to this shift in December 2015, and sub-$1,500 SMB accounts now have to be approved by channel managers. The carrier's indirect sales unit has been since strengthening its channel focus, while making the program more accessible to partners.

"With all the changes going on at Windstream over the past year, our channel has gone through a lot of changes, too. … It was the right time to make this happen," Windstream’s channel chief, Jason Dishon, told CRN.

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[Related: Windstream Channel Chief: We're Going After Enterprise Business]

For all partners, Windstream's channel program now includes dedicated sales engineering, support, and order coordination and management resources in the form of tools and support staff, according to the Little Rock, Ark.-based provider.

"We've been really focused on giving better support," Dishon said. "With account management, service order coordination and engineering coming into play -- those [resources] will be dedicated to the channel. We've never had these resources dedicated to the partners, and that's a huge benefit."

Using these dedicated resources, partners will be able to identify accounts that they can grow, Dishon said.

"The ability to go in and grow revenue in our enterprise customer base is such an opportunity,’ he said.

Windstream is a key partner of many of master agents, and going after enterprise business is a key move for a carrier and its partners since small to midsize businesses is a big piece of business for many agent partners. Putting resources and tools specifically in place for the channel shows that the carrier is committed the channel, said Rick Ribas, senior vice president, East Region, for master agent Intelisys. Petaluma, Calif.-based Intelisys is one of Windstream's largest partners.

"The fact that Windstream is now taking service delivery, account management and engineering, and finally streamlining that just to the channel shows me commitment because now they'll have dual resources for their direct sales team and for the channel. It makes a big difference and is a positive move," Ribas said.

The carrier is providing dedicated engineers across its service areas -- such as networking and cloud -- to assist partners. Windstream also is introducing new cloud-based sales tools that will help agent partners stay closer to their deals and help close deals faster, Windstream's Dishon said.

Windstream also has added dedicated representatives called Channel Advocates to its partner program. The representatives can help partners manage existing accounts, escalate issues or help with quote requests.

For the first time, Windstream is offering a tiered program for partners, including Silver, Gold and Platinum levels. The new tiered program will give partners access to co-branded marketing materials and additional quoting support, as well as dedicated support staff and quarterly sales incentives, the carrier said.

Introducing tiered levels of support will help differentiate large Windstream partners such as Intelisys, Ribas said.

"Larger partners like us will get to earn a higher level of support and service delivery," he said. "It rewards us for being a good partner."

In an alliance with Mitel and Avaya, Windstream also unveiled its Preferred Partner Unified Communications program. Windstream has always offered UC products to all of its partners, but the offerings haven't seen a lot of traction in the channel, Dishon said.

Windstream has selected a group of partners to become certified in its hosted PBX offering and then will focus on mining their existing customer bases, he said.

"We are finding out these partners have customers they have never looked at before for UC," Dishon said. "Having the partners being trained and certified, and with the Mitel/Avaya partnership in place, will help them grow that UC [strategy]."