Zayo’s Lynn Tinney On Going From ‘All Thumbs’ To Breaking Out The Channel ‘Swagger’

‘The channel is not window dressing for Zayo. If we’re going to grow at the pace that we need to, we have to figure the channel out. We have to do our sit-ups every morning. We’re not going to be perfect. So come with us, bear with us. We’re pre-tipping point, and you want to be a part of that,” Zayo’s SVP of global partners Lynn Tinney wants partners to know.


Lynn Tinney

Zayo Group hasn’t historically had a big channel business, but now is the time for the company to make its presence known or get a little more “extroverted.”

That’s according to Lynn Tinney, senior vice president of global partners for Zayo. Tinney joined the company in 2022, but she’s no stranger to the channel. Lynn came from Brightcove where she served as vice president of global channels for two years. Prior to that, she led channels for network security player OPAQ, now part of Fortinet. She also led channel in North America for CA Technologies and in the Americas for Riverbed Technology.

Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about growing a channel business and spearheading a successful partner program and it shows. The global communications infrastructure provider has just has posted 15 percent year-over-year growth for the partner program and the channel is accounting for more of the company’s business than ever before. It’s growing for a couple of different reasons. One is the technology. Zayo’s network and connectivity solutions are powering brand new use cases and helping customers digitally transform. But Zayo has also added to its portfolio in the last couple of years. The Boulder, CO.-based company has just finished integrating its acquired technology from business communications provider Allstream and is nearly finished bringing SD-WAN provider QOS Networks’ technology into the fold after buying the company last year.

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It’s one of the reasons that Zayo has to start being “a little noisy,” Tinney said.

Tinney sat down with CRN to talk about the growth Zayo has seen in the channel, as well as her plan for future growth. Zayo, she shared, isn’t about “collecting Girl Scout badges” or a lot of inactive partners. The company wants to be thoughtful about the partners it commits to as it prioritizes figuring out what the channel needs and the speed the company needs to reach that partners demand from their suppliers.

Here’s what Tinney had to say.

What’s been your priority in building out Zayo’s channel over the last year?

Zayo’s success was really in the direct mode. They had channel, but it wasn’t a priority -- they were all thumbs, if you will. So, when I first came in, my priority was to start to assess where our best opportunities where. One of the foundations for how I build channels is to not over distribute and to not, what I call, collecting Girl Scout badges for the sash. So, for me, when I got here I [needed to] rebuild the foundation for what would be a strong reputation for Zayo in the channel. We looked at who our critical partners were -- the ones who remain committed to us -- and get out there and meet them and hear from them firsthand. I find that organizations that traditionally don’t have channel organizations are a little introverted, so it’s time for us to get a little extroverted, and so I’m bring my executives out with me whenever I had an opportunity to make sure it wasn’t just channel speaking to channel, but so [everyone] really heard from much more than that channel leader about how important and critical this was to Zayo, which was really the reason that I took a look at Zayo. It wasn’t a: “Gee, we should do this,” it was really much more of a commitment to: “We’ve got to figure this channel thing out.”

2022 was really about building the foundation of a good program, and then the [other] thing that we did was we had really had to aggregate three programs with Allstream and QoS Networks with the practice of Zayo. So, we took all three programs, put them all under one contract and built a partner program.

How are partners showing up and contributing to Zayo’s recent growth?

The significant change between 2022 and 2023 is we’re now ready to throw a whole lot of swagger out there. We put [together] a partner advisory board in November and when we first started planning it, I was like: “Okay, we’re going be lucky to get 10 or 12 partners.” We invited 25 and 24 showed, and they engaged. I’ve been a part of advisory boards for some time, and I was really pleased at the participation and the ongoing engagement. We still meet with that group once a month. But it was really a sign of we were successful in doing the thing that we did in 2022, which was reestablish our presence with the partners that stayed with us and were committed and listening to them, so now we were ready to say: “Okay, we are reestablishing ourselves, we’ve rebuilt a program, we want your fingerprints on this,” and they showed up. Now I feel like we have earned the right to say: “Okay, really look at our portfolio, really understand where we are and what we’re doing,” and start to recruit strategically where we need more partners, as well as continue to improve with the partners that are with us, and we still have some growing pains there. Zayo has a reputation for big pipes [and] big logos, and we’re proud of that -- that is what we’re good at. And we attract a partner that very much understands that. But we’re not built operationally for volume and high response and moving at the speed of channel. The channel demands a different speed -- you live in fifth gear when you’re in channels -- so, I think that that’s the shift or the growing muscles that we are still going through. And [Zayo] is thirsty to learn it, there’s not a dismissiveness, it’s more like: “Oh, I didn’t know. Okay!” It’s a different lens, a different perspective that Zayo is thirsty to learn, but still needs to put its time.

Zayo has experienced some pretty solid growth. We have 15 percent growth year over year in channels. I will tell you, that’s from just good housecleaning. I don’t think we did anything spectacular, to be frank with you, it was really that foundation. It was those foundational channel changes that we made, and partners were excited to hear from us. I think now, we’re ready to up our game.

How are you leveraging your experience with more than two decades in the channel at Zayo?

Because I’ve worked with all different sized companies, anything from startups to the biggest logos, one of the things that I am very respectful of that very much lives at Zayo is, when you work for a big logo, your business card is going to get you that meeting. Zayo is still kind of establishing its presence in our marketplace. The organizations who know us, know us, and we’re very critical to their digital transformation and their critical priorities are moving to the cloud. We know that we are a required, critical utility to their business, but our brand is not super known out there. And so, I recognize when I’m working with partners that because we’re still establishing that in larger circles, and they are still getting to know us and there’s some level of trust in us with that brand. That’s a change. I draw upon my experience of dealing with startups and small organizations to work the channel landscape at Zayo than I do my big brand logo experience. You have to revert to: “Do they trust us? How much do they know about us? What motivates us and how are we different? Are we offering them differentiation? What’s important to them that Zayo can bring to the table?”

What is Zayo bringing to the table that helps differentiate the company for prospective partners?

In 2022, our acquisition of QoS networks, which is just really just a phenomenal disrupter for us in managing the edge. Also, the Allstream acquisition; this year, we fully integrated them in and that brings the voice to the table for us. So, one, I think we’ve strengthened our portfolio. Also, Zayo has made significant investments in extending our infrastructure, as well as hardening our infrastructure. And those are those are things that you cannot be quiet about. You have to be a little noisy about that. People put their head down and they grind, and you have to be the one that says: “You have to pay attention because we made some significant changes, and this is going to make a difference for you.” So, not only did we make the investments and extended more of our infrastructure, but then we really have developed a stronger portfolio so regardless of where customers want to start, whether that’s at the core, in the cloud, or at the edge, we’ll start where [partners] need us to start. And there’s no infrastructure situation that we can’t come to the table with and help them solve. So, we recognize where their starting point is, and I think that’s important for partners to know.

What are your future plans for the Zayo channel?

[We can’t] ignore this the fundamentals. There are still some growing pains we’ve got to go through. We have a contract out there and it’s very well received in that we’re not getting a lot of red lines and people think it’s fair. We’re getting signatures [and] I am proud of that. That’s months of hard work internally. So, we’ll continue to work that. Now, it’s time to really make investments in training and enabling our partners on our portfolio and then looking for where we can thoughtfully add partners to our landscape. I want to grow at a pace that continues to build trusted partners. That means being a little bit more thoughtful about who we are putting our calories into and that we don’t run ourselves thin either. You don’t want to sacrifice the attention that every good partner deserves as you bring them up and onboard. I’d rather have 10 great new partners than 100 unattended partners, so we’ll be smart about it.

My hope I’m bringing to Zayo is that we take this seriously. The channel is not window dressing for Zayo. If we’re going to grow at the pace that we need to, we have to figure channel out. I consider that a present challenge. We have to do our sit-ups every morning. We’re not going to be perfect. So come with us, bear with us. We’re pe-tipping point, and you want to be a part of that. Now’s the time to get engaged and learn about Zayo.