CRN Interview: Windstream's New Channel Chief On 'Change-Fatigued' Solution Providers And Helping Partners Take On 35 Percent Of New Orders

From Agent To Supplier

Curt Allen, a veteran with more than 20 years of sales and leadership experience exclusively in the telecommunications industry under his belt, was named Windstream's channel chief at the end of October.

Allen is no stranger to the issues facing the telecom partner, having spent 12 years as president and co-owner of master agent X4 Solutions, which was acquired by fellow master Sandler Partners in 2016.

As the new leader of Windstream's channel, the executive is confident he can speak the language of partners. Allen sat down with CRN to share his vision for "change-fatigued" partners, how the carrier is going all in on the SMB market, and the solutions powered by Windstream's network assets that solution providers should set their sights on.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Windstream has experienced a great deal of change in recent years. What is your priority for the company and its channel strategy in your new role?

Windstream has been in acquisition mode a long time. It has an incredibly robust collection of underlying network assets, great, relevant solutions and SD-WAN and UCaaS, so as far as structurally, we need to create that one-company feel from a systems and network perspective. The beauty is that a lot of that work has been done and we are a lot closer to the finish line than I expected. Mechanically, we are already doing that, so now culturally, I have to create that within the channel organizations.

How will that cultural shift within Windstream impact channel partners?

Every [Windstream employee] is going to get a tremendous opportunity to stay and thrive and reap the benefits we we'll see on the other side. I also recognize that the channel is a little change-fatigued too, and the last thing they want is the new guy coming in and turning things upside down when I don’t have to. We want to help our partners take care of their customers, and then in concert, create that unified culture and help partners understand where they can win with us on a regular basis.

What can partners expect in terms of resources?

The hope is that we are closer to right-sized as we are now. My intent is to grow the production of the channel to support the headcount, and then grow the organization from there so I can ensure to [partners] that the people they work with today will be the people they work with in the future.

Windstream and Earthlink approached small-business customers differently. Will Windstream partners have access to small-business customers?

There was certainly a change in how Windstream wanted to treat and manage those customers [in the past], and that was challenging for the street. But with the acquisition of EarthLink and its underlying network assets, it's allowing us to deliver competitive solutions down into the SMB space, so that’s an area of the market we are all in on again. We are going to address that area of the market with right solutions and we are going to be profitable and efficient with our systems and processes there. We do have to be careful to make sure we stay profitable, but that’s where it's even more important that we build systems and automation where possible, but yes, we will address the entire market.

Is Windstream actively recruiting new partners?

Yes, we absolutely see the value in aggregating different types of partners [MSPs, agents, VARs] under our master agent partners that can help us manage them and do some of the things that allow us to get better reach to those partners.

We also think it's exciting that some of the master agents are recognizing the new types of partners, like MSPs or IT VARs, that maybe need a little more 'sell with' type of support for telecom services, so we are going to actively work with those partners through our masters because those are the type of partners that we're not getting our fair share of today, and with the suite of solutions we have today, we are a great fit for those folks. We are 100 percent looking at what is the next generation. We have our eyes and ears open for those new sellers and want to bring them into the fold.

What's the next opportunity for partners?

The underlying network assets we have, in my opinion, are powering [solutions such as] SD-WAN, UCaaS, and ultimately what's coming next that partners can sell. If we control the network and deliver broadband and fiber, and we are delivering the intelligence on that network in the form of SD-WAN, and tools like OfficeSuite [the unified communications portfolio that Windstream acquired from Broadview Networks in April], those are just jumping-off points for the next things like IoT and managed security.

The network is still foundational for us, but things like SD-WAN will enable us to get deeper into application layer. We definitely want to layer services wherever we can.

How is your experience as a master agent helping you now on the carrier side?

I definitely have an interesting perspective because I always saw my competition as peers, so I always pushed for partnering between master agents. I think, ultimately, my experience on the master agent side gives me a unique perspective because historically, [carriers] have to go to the partner base -- and Windstream will continue to do that and ask them what they need from us. But, I'll be able to speak their language a little quicker. I know what the challenges are [for partners], I know where carrier partner programs struggled, and I know what the keys were that helped carrier programs thrive.

What are your goals for your first year as channel chief?

I want to see [the channel account for] 35 percent of production and new orders. A goal of mine is to have partners make up a larger share.

If you look at what Windstream has done historically, we've paid consistent residuals and offer secure agreements for partners. We are committed to the channel and will continue to improve as we ask partners for their business.