Q&A: New Windstream Channel Chief On Building Strategic Partner Relationships

New Role, Big Expectations

Windstream, based in Little Rock, Ark., offers more than just your typical telco services and wants its partners to know it. Jason Dishon, vice president and general manager of channel enterprise sales for Windstream, took on the appointment of channel chief last spring. Windstream trimmed down management jobs in 2012, which claimed the company's channel chief at the time. After the restructure, channel responsibilities fell to two different executives, Dishon being one of them. But, now, the company has refocused its concentration around partners by naming a dedicated channel chief.

In his new role, Dishon is in the midst of building up Windstream's channel programs. Dishon spoke with CRN about how Windstream is getting the word out to partners that its network and cloud services, in addition to its telecommunications services, are now available for consumption.

In your new role as channel chief, what was your first priority?

Really my first priority was getting channel operations aligned first. As we've gotten them aligned over the last couple of months, our focus going forward is, of course, the upstream revenue tick. What we are doing is really looking at the VAR strategy and how we [are going to] grow our business more into the enterprise space. While we are doing that, we are offering training, and we are getting the message out there to our partners.

We are also getting more in-depth with our partners as far as baselining goes, and looking at their individual, large and strategic customers to determine how we can bring in managed services, cloud and any VAR-type application that's out there along with our multiple-location MPLS services and basic telecom services.

What do you want solution providers to know about Windstream?

I think what partners don't realize is the type of business that we can do. We are a cloud-established company, and we have other products aside from our network carrier products. I think it's important we are getting the message out that we are a full-course company that has UCaaS, managed services, and cloud, network and equipment sales. I think that a lot of partners don't realize the entirety of our portfolio.

What channel-specific programs were launched under your leadership so far that you've been particularly proud of?

We're actually in the midst of that right now. And I keep going back to our VAR alliance program because we just established the program. We added some heads in that group and we are taking a couple of our partners and looking at their overall strategic base, and then comparing them with [Windstream partners] Cisco and EMC. What we'll do going forward is if this can work with a few partners we are doing this test case with, we'll take EMC, Cisco, Windstream and the partner, and we'll go to that partner's customer and try to grow that revenue with all three of us included in the meeting. That allows that true partnership with the partner because ... now that partner has wallet share with all three. The goal with us is to grow that overall strategic revenue. We are just getting off the table with this program, which is in the trial period now. If it works, we are going to release it across the country to strategic partners.

What kinds of challenges are your partners facing that you're hearing about?

For the VARs, I think the biggest challenge is -- and this may go for all carriers -- how to differentiate, and that's the reason why we established the VAR Alliance Program over the last couple of months. We have a head count that supports our East relationships and a head count that supports the West relationships, and we didn't really have that before. When the VARs would come to us, it was kind of a mismatch of who does what. Now we have that alignment and they have a contact within Windstream that they can go to, and that liaison manages the sales channel.

What's on the road map for Windstream partners down the road?

I think the future road map for Windstream partners will include the ease of doing business with us, as well as more next-gen focus. So that's getting our partners more involved in the cloud and VAR business, and that comes down to us helping them build that platform. A lot of partners are trying to establish that themselves, but I don't think that the carriers [usually] help with that. That's one of the big [points of] focus. We also want to be involved with our partners on helping them grow that business model, and it's going to be up to us to host the training, the webinars and the certification courses that they need. That is what a true partnership is to me -- it's the carrier and partners working together to grow that revenue stream.

Coming from a background of working in channel sales, what do you find the most interesting about working with solution providers?

In working with the channel, you're not working with direct sales or even in front of the customer base. You're working with business owners that really rely on you as a company to help them grow within their portfolios. What I enjoy about it is all the relationships you get to build, but it's not only in the telecom sector, it's in the next-gen sector too. It's almost like the Cisco, EMC and the VAR-type world, and that's a big topic right now in the channel -- getting to know those groups has been really beneficial to us. Windstream gets to learn more about what they are doing and it helps us change our platform as well.

What's keeping you up at night?

I would say being able to support our channel partners the right way and making sure it's a continuous task that we are getting better at, [and] as we transition into really more of an enterprise space, giving our partners more ease of doing business with Windstream, having things like portal access. That's what keeps me up at night -- just making sure our partners are feeling good about us, and ways to make it easier to do business with us.