Centurylink's New Channel Chief On Recruiting New Partners, Data Center Strategy, And 'Doubling Down' On The Channel

'A New Day At CenturyLink'

Telecom giant CenturyLink has been keeping its new channel chief close to the vest since his appointment in July. But now, channel veteran John DeLozier is ready to step into the spotlight and reveal his plans for partners.

DeLozier comes to Monroe, La.-based Century from Unify, where he led the unified communications provider's North American channel organization. DeLozier is no stranger to the telecom industry. He has held leadership stints at both Arrow Electronics and Cross Telecom, and founded his own UC systems integration company, ACT, in 1994.

The new vice president of channel alliances sat down with CRN and shared his plans to reinvigorate the provider's partner program with the addition of new kinds of partners, selling opportunities, and how CenturyLink's Channel Alliance team isn't going to rest on its laurels under his watch.

What's your new role at CenturyLink?

My responsibility is for all of our channel partners within the Channel Alliance program, and I'm very excited about it. My job is to make sure, number one, we have the right kind of partners surrounding CenturyLink and we go to market with them to be successful – the right partners are critical.

[CenturyLink] told me: 'This is our channel program today, this is where we've been successful, and we'd like you to bring your talent to the company to help us take that to the next level.' This includes not only fortifying the product base of what [CenturyLink] has now, but also to increase and really diversify the kind of partners that the company has today. It's time to change it up and dust it off a little bit.

Coming into this role, what are your priorities for the channel?

The first thing I did after walking in the door was call the top 40 partners and introduced myself. I wanted them to hear from me and hear from my staff that we are here, we are excited, and we are inspired going forward. But most importantly, I wanted them to know how committed the company is to them and to the success of their business. We know we don't grow unless they grow.

I think we have a unique opportunity, as a service provider and a telecom provider we are in the right place at the right time. This world we are in today has a lot of buzzwords and acronyms, and I think we can be the company that helps demystify that for customers through the partner community. You will see the continued push in the channel, not only in fortifying the partners we have now and taking them to the next level no matter where they play, but also bringing in new partners.

Talk about your plans to include new kinds of partners within CenturyLink Channel Alliance?

It's a twofold plan. Number one, we have a really solid base of telecom agent partners. These partners have been with CenturyLink from the beginning via Qwest [the telecom provider CenturyLink acquired in 2011] and we love those partners. Within those partners, there are two flavors – the traditional network-type partners that are going to bring in the MPLS business and connectivity, and then those partners that are moving up the stack and selling managed IT services, cloud, co-location, etc. There is a place for both.

However, on the other side of the coin, there is a new partner for CenturyLink and they come from the world I come from -- the VAR community. These are the partners that are trying to figure out that Capex versus Opex model and really moving from the on-premise to cloud solutions, and so they are looking for help from companies at the service provider level like CenturyLink.

How will your experience in the channel help you better understand the needs of VARs?

I've been born and raised in the channel, so that's the world I come from. I owned a company [ACT] that serviced every VAR in the Avaya space and most in the Cisco space, so I understand their challenges. It's not just about a new compensation [model]. It's about how to service and maintain those new solutions, and obviously the motivation to sell those solutions, so it's very different. Compensation is a challenge because in the VAR world, you drop off equipment and reps get paid 50 percent down and in three to four weeks they'll get paid the rest. In this world, when it comes to hosted, cloud and co-location, it's an annuity-based scenario. You have to find the right balance between the two, and I think CenturyLink can get those VARs excited about that business.

The service provider really is the train track. I think all roads and all pathways start and stop with us, and we are foundation in helping VARs get to that next level.

What are the big opportunities you're seeing for partners right now?

There's really two places. We have well over 60 data centers in the U.S. alone. There is a huge opportunity to jump into the co-location space. We are very committed to that space, and I think it's an important area – I'd love to see partners get more ingrained into that business as it is very profitable. Along that same line, cloud in general is so vague and we could talk about it all day, but customers -- whether it's a Fortune 20 and or Fortune 10,000 -- are looking to diversity their assets and resources. And so that Opex play is so much more attractive right now than the Capex [model]. I'd love to see our partners get more plugged into that space.

What would you say to partners wondering if CenturyLink will be leaving the data center space?

I will tell you that CenturyLink is very committed to the colocation and data center space. From a network perspective, we have done nothing but continue to invest in resources. Anybody that would intimate that we are leaving the colocation space in any way, shape, or form, is incorrect.

I think a lot of times it gets misconstrued in messaging -- if you don't want to be a real estate agent, suddenly you're out of the data center space and that's not true. We are very much focusing on the network and continuing to invest in it. In fact, we just lit up a couple more data centers in the last week or so.

How will you and Bill Corbin (pictured), senior vice president of strategic partners and CenturyLink's interim channel chief before your appointment, be working together moving forward?

Very closely and carefully because he's my boss! CenturyLink hired [Corbin] as senior vice president of all strategic relationships, and so as vice president of the channel, I fall under [Corbin]. The good news is, [Corbin] and I have known each other for 20 years. So, I think the writing is on the wall for CenturyLink. We have a senior vice president of strategic relationships that was a high-end executive at Westcon Group, who also owned a solution provider business [RedCard Solutions], and now they brought in a channel guy – me -- into the mix to run the channel. I think it's very different for CenturyLink -- they are actually showing you how they are doubling down on the channel.

Talk about CenturyLink's strategy toward becoming an IT services provider and moving away from the traditional 'carrier' distinction.

CenturyLink has absolutely broken out of that old telco [distinction]. I think they have proved that with a lot of their acquisitions, like its [purchase of cloud service provider] Savvis back in the day. And you will absolutely continue to see us offer more services up the stack. You'll see a healthy mix of managed IT, cloud, hosting, and co-location because we are really focused on those going forward.

Of course, we are not going to forget about our roots. We understand how important network and MPLS services are, but we are absolutely diversifying as we go up the stack into bigger and better things.

What is your message to partners?

The proof is in the pudding with what is happening here. If you look at the addition of Corbin and me, [it shows CenturyLink] is committing and investing in the channel. We will do the right things that make sense for the partner community, and we won't rest just because we've done it a certain way for a certain amount of time. if it makes sense to change a policy, we are going to do it. If it makes sense to go to market with a new product that we haven't before, we are going to do it. If it makes sense to eliminate a product we have gone to market with because it doesn't really help the program today, we will do it. We are open to that and we have a very strong advisory council that we rely on as we move the program forward and will continue to do that.

It's a new day at CenturyLink, and we are going to do the right thing by the partner program and continue to take it to the next level.