Verizon Channel Chief Wendy Taccetta: ‘We Can Be Part Of The Story Of This Country Coming Back’

‘Easy to do business with’ hasn’t historically been the brand of Verizon’s channel program, but the carrier’s newly-minted channel chief and small business lead Wendy Taccetta already has the wheels in motion to create a ‘single door’ for partners to work with Verizon. She’s also busy helping partners see the opportunities beyond connectivity, especially for SMB customers bouncing back from COVID-19.

‘Widening The Highway’

Verizon’s channel is under new leadership. The telecommunications giant in December crowned Wendy Taccetta as its new global channel chief and revealed a new channel structure for the recently formed Verizon Business Group. As part of the launch of the restructured business organization, Verizon centralized its enablement and operations teams into one organization led by Taccetta, a telecom and channel veteran with more than two decades of experience with the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based carrier.

Taccetta has been busy. As of April, she’s also gained the title of Verizon’s senior vice president for nationwide small business and channel chief, which has her thinking both about partners, as well as end customers, and what solutions they’ll require in a truly digital world. While connectivity is Verizon’s bread and butter -- and still a critical offering for the channel -- Taccetta and her team also have security and collaboration top of mind as companies big and small work to emerge from the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic and build back their businesses even stronger.

When she’s not deep in the weeds of tech, she’s also a passionate employee advocate and a member and supporter of Verizon’s employee resource groups, including Women’s Association of Verizon Employees (WAVE) and the Black Resource Association of Verizon Employees (BRAVE).

Taccetta sat down with CRN to share her vision for the Verizon channel, how the carrier is working to overcome its legacy as a hard-to-work-with large carrier, the small business opportunity, and the tech areas that partners should be placing their bets this year, including 5G and security.

Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Tell us about your new role with Verizon as global channel chief and small business leader.

I took the channel chief assignment in December, but I’ve actually been in a what I would call a transformation role for Verizon Business since we announced the creation of Verizon Business in 2018. I came from a field role. I’ve been a sales leader in the field for a long time. Our CEO [Tami Erwin] asked me if I would come to Basking Ridge [New Jersey] and help redesign how we serve customers. For the last two years, my job has been, how do we think about this business not as what product you buy -- historically, we’ve been a wireless and wireline company -- but how do we think about this as who’s the customer and what could they do with Verizon? That sounds really simple in a boardroom. Then you get to the nuts and bolts of enabling it and you realize there are reasons why we haven’t always been able to serve customers everywhere. So, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to really get after all these types of customers; small business right down to the single office, and all the way up to the largest enterprise, including public sector. The reality we have to acknowledge is, if you’ve done business with us over the last 20 years, the majority of people -- especially business customers -- have done business with someone wearing a Verizon badge. Now, that being said, we’ve had a pretty significant channel business, but we haven’t always been where we see it as a parallel line of business. It’s sometimes been something we do in another group. One of the things around when we think about the next 10 years of Verizon is, it’s not always going to be a Verizon employee. Sometimes it’s going to be that a business owner needs some customization that we don’t do in scale. They want a product we don’t carry. They want speed that companies our size can’t always give them. So, we started to think about how do you do more for customers? Well, you’ve got to get good at what you do as a direct sales team. But we actually believe the way to widen the highway is to add the partners to that. It’s probably the biggest difference if I think about who we were and who we are.

I actually sit on both sides of the business. I lead this channel work, but I’m also leading how we think about the customer. And that’s a little different than I think some of our competitors. We’re not looking to move to a channel-first organization or direct-first organization, we’re looking to look at the customer and saying “What do you need, and can I bring the right people to the table?” And then how we do this, whether a partner is going to sell with us, which happens all the time, or whether the partner is just going to go get a product from us and bring it to a customer, or the partner is going to sell on behalf of Verizon. [It’s about] how we make it work so that the customer is not stuck in our process. My mantra to my team is, we are the bridge from the partner to Verizon, so the customer doesn’t have to figure it out. Our job is to make it easy for the partner because we know when it’s easy for the partner, it’s easier for the customer. [Erwin’s] mantra to me is; “Your job is not to grow channel.” And that may scare some of our channel partners. My job is to grow Verizon’s share by growing channel. So, it’s not about how do I move it from a direct rep to an indirect rep, it’s how do I think about widening the highway of ways the customer can do business with us. That’s been the priority. It’s been acknowledging what who we were and really respecting our history because we have a program to be proud of, but also acknowledging it hasn’t been as integrated as it is today. And now how do we do it?

How is Verizon re-thinking its approach to the channel?

At times, we’ve been a company that has said, “We’re going to launch it and get it right inside Verizon, and then we’ll come to the partner.” Now, we’re actually asking the partner to come into the sausage making with us and saying; ”Hey, let’s do it together. You’re going to find out it’s not so easy on day one. It’s a little messy but give us your feedback and let’s figure this out together.” So, I’m proud of the way we’re approaching it. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got a vision that’s not what are we doing this year? It’s what are we doing for the next 10 years. I’m super excited about it from a business standpoint for customers. When I think about business internet [and] when I think about the spectrum investment, it feels so fit for us. It feels like this is a moment where the partner can make a lot of opportunity with us, where we can make some opportunity happen on our direct side. And hopefully that’s a win-win for community. We have 50 states that are trying to figure out how to recover from this crazy world. It’s not about battling each other on how we serve customers. It’s about doing what’s right for these communities. And I think this is the right time to make this move.

[Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s] (pictured) mantra from day one has been: “You have to preserve what you have been great at.” And for Verizon, that is network excellence and operational excellence. We are reliable, and we work hard to be reliable. But then you have to acknowledge, are you are you as good as you could be in everything? So, the second piece is about how you strengthen your business. I think channel is a phenomenal example of that. Someplace where you have built a good practice -- it’s been good for customers -- and we should never ever look back on that time period and not see it as success. But you can acknowledge that there’s more opportunity. So, invest in strengthening what you’re good at, but [acknowledging] you’re not as far as you could get. This place that makes us all uncomfortable, we love to say that we love change, but we all lie. None of us likes change. But sometimes, with some things, you’ve just got to start over and transform them completely.

How has the pandemic shaped business for Verizon partners over the last year?

We have a tendency to talk about the pandemic as always having a downside. The reality is some industries and some businesses have had a lot of unintended upside. Our partners who were enabled to do things like support local business or local government, or organizations that needed to do distance learning or help parents juggle the craziness of hybrid learning, those partners actually found a new opportunity and actually resourced those spaces, where maybe they were once a small part, they became a much bigger part. Which just is a reminder to me that being able to sell across the business stack is important for partners. Some are further along than others. The partners who struggled were those that were not digitally enabled. Those that really heavily relied on coming to [the customer’s] location and knocking on doors, they struggled. I think no different than small businesses, candidly, but they struggled with having the actual technology to do virtual. We all think that we’ve got it because we do Zoom with our families, but it’s very different to engage a customer while they’re living in a new world on video.

I think the blind spots were that so many kept thinking that it would be over in 30 days, so they never made the investment. I think the businesses that sat back and waited for the return to normal really struggled. Those that had some cash flow and who had been successful in the past were able to pivot a little faster. And those that were enabled were actually able to maybe do better than they had done in the past. COVID-19 had a lot of learnings. I think we sometimes focus too much on the downside where a lot of time and money has gone, and we haven’t spent as much time on where we got it right. If I can get back what I used to have, plus maintain what I got in incremental, I’m actually in a better place coming out of this. I try to remind my team that yes, the local retail world has struggled, but try to get a landscaper to come a do a quote for you right now. They are booming and [very] busy, so there’s not one story. I think we just have to make sure we’re focused on both.

Where are the technology areas that Verizon partners should place their bets this year?

I think there’s three. The first is, phones are the crown jewel of Verizon. We believe in the importance of having a great connectivity experience into the palm of your hand. But when you think about the next 10 years, it’s really about internet. It’s about broadband experience. And a lot of businesses have not necessarily had the time or the money to invest in a great broadband experience. In a world where some people may never want to come back in-person, you’re going to have to make investments in broadband. It is a huge opportunity for business customers. One of the challenges for our partners is the same sales team that maybe was doing our legacy wireline product isn’t necessarily the same one you need to start talking about mobility internet. Because it’s a different sales cycle [and] it’s different types of questions. Broadband internet, to me, is has got to be top of mind for everyone in business. What I’m excited about what the spectrum purchases is we go from where Fios on the East Coast is an outstanding product, to a nationwide footprint with the spectrum purchase. So now, no matter where our partners exist in the country, they’ve got the best of our internet service. I think that’s exciting and when I’m talking to partners now, I’m talking to them about unlocking the opportunity that every business operating on a ground floor can have a Verizon internet connection. That is a very different story than two years ago.

The second piece is conferencing. And when you think about the security of conversations you’re having with customers, secure pipes matter. If lots of people are worried about their data security, they don’t want you having a conversation about their revenue or their spend that’s being listened in to. We went out last year and acquired BlueJeans and we also do work with other video conferencing platforms. But this is a big opportunity for business, especially businesses that want to act big. You need a platform that does the right collaboration things because we’re asking business customers to spend a lot of money. You can’t make it work when you’re doing it on two tin cans and a string. So, [partners should be asking] does your video platform work for you?

The last one is the security component. We released our mobile security index and one of the things that was a big aha for me was more than 50 percent of customers said that where they had breaches came from employee behavior. It’s clicking into links, and now, all of a sudden, your employees are using their work device to do their kid’s schoolwork, or they may be watching videos. Suddenly, you have customer credit data operating on the same system. And if there was anything that will destroy a business, it’s losing the integrity of customer data. We’ve got a lot of solutions around what you can do with security. If I’m a partner, I’m talking about; “What is broadband? How are you acting big when you need to engage virtually with conferencing,” and then having a security discussion on the fact that it’s a very different world when your employees are sitting in your office and when they’re using your devices at home.

Is it too soon for partners to talk about 5G?

No, we are hearing interest. We’re rolling out [5G] state by state and we actually are using partners to do outbound for 5G. That’s an exciting and that’s a new thing for us. I’m really having them do door to door and outbound on 5G. What’s interesting for them is, it’s a different motion. Most of what consumers want to do, they can do on 4G. The problem with business customers is reminding them that what consumers can do is just the beginning of what businesses can do. So, it’s not just; “Let me sell you on 5G,” It’s; ”Let me let me paint a picture for you of what’s possible on 5G with no latency and with the privacy.” Businesses aren’t dreaming big enough yet, and so much of what we have to do as a partner community and as a direct community, is help [businesses] see what’s possible. Because if anyone had told me that we’d all be working from home and schooling from home, I would have thought, this is crazy and that will never happen. And here we are, right? How many people want to work from home some part of the week, and how many kids want to school from home? We’re going to have to be agile.

How big is the SMB opportunity for partners?

What I’m doing in small business is actually not about how we sell small business in our stores. It’s actually about how customers have changed and how do we reimagine where we meet that customer. The biggest population of businesses by quantity are businesses that have less than 10 employees. So, it actually sort of marries itself to the idea that I absolutely need to solve small business with channels -- that’s a huge part of my solution to it. But I also need to solve it on digital. Because the only way to give business customers 24/7 access is to be digitally enabled. None of us are going to have customer service teams working 24 hours around the clock. You’ve got to get it right and digital. So, if I can get it right in digital for a company-owned asset, I can extend that over to our partners, and I don’t have two different teams thinking about that. And that’s a very different moment than I think our history has had.

[Small business] is a big focus in terms of the quantity of customers we can reach. I think that that right now [about] 49 percent of people employed in the U.S. are employed by small business. A big piece of Verizon’s mission -- one of one of [Vestberg’s] anchors for the company -- is how we can help society. What we know is that on average, after moments like COVID, where the country’s in a crisis, it can take small businesses 7-8 years to come back. We feel like Verizon, and technology generally, and change that trajectory, and that if we can help in community by community, we can really make a difference here. So, it’s there’s a piece of this that is the growth story of Verizon, but the big thing that I think about is can we help state by state come back? Having that connectivity that actually goes into the rural markets of a country; one of the things I love is with the newest of our technology, we are giving you a locked-in price for 10 years. So, you can actually build the plan of what you are going to do for the next five years with your business. I just think there’s this feel good piece of that work to me.

We are a large employer -- we employ 135,000 people -- and our stores sit next to the small businesses of America. There are actually four agent stores for every one of our company-own stores. Our employees are part of the community. When you talk to them about being able to help these businesses get back with a great website, figure out how to keep their data safe and take payments in a safe way, and having a conferencing platform that looks big, they just get excited about it. And it makes you feel like you’re doing more than working. I think for all of us as we’re living in this new normal, the places where you can feel like you’re giving back to your community just feel good. I’ll never be confused about my passion for hitting numbers. I’m absolutely a sales leader. I love the competition of it. But then there’s this other place that’s about how we can be part of the story of this country coming back because technology can help these businesses.

Is Verizon looking to recruit MSPs, in addition to its base of agent partners?

We actually have multiple [kinds of partners]. One of the things we’re looking at is, how do I get an actual connection? It’s a huge piece of it. That will always be a piece. But that security solution is not a connection. So, we’re expanding who we’re doing business with to do solutions on top of the network. The philosophy is this: The network you ride on matters because it makes everything else good or bad. So, let’s talk to you about the network access. The second piece is, what applications are riding on that network? A lot of business customers, especially small business, tend to try to use consumer apps to do business things. We’re trying to introduce them to the idea that some of these business apps are complicated. They’re built for the IBM’s of the world. But the majority are not and let me tell you about an app you don’t know about.

Then, we’re talking to them about what else they could be doing that they’re not thinking about today. So as an example, 85 percent of people will tell you if they call a small business, and they don’t answer, they won’t call back. Okay, well, we’ve got a One Talk [cloud-based business phone] solution that lets you share your number in your office and on your handset. So, when you’re out and about on the weekend, you can still take that call. And if you don’t take it, it will route to everybody you have in your group so that someone that is available can answer. And it gives you a receptionist, so you seem like a big company [in which] somebody is answering the phones for you. There are solutions like that, but if you go to our website and you see One Talk as a business customer, you have no idea what that is. So, we’re bringing in partners who can talk to you about it and talk to you about how to migrate and set it up. Because one of the stats that keeps me up at night is that most businesses outside of the enterprise don’t have a full tech department, so this all just seems intimidating. That’s the place where I think the partners do a phenomenal job, in support. So yes, there are different people coming to the table, but coverage is always a big piece of partner [business] -- the person that’s out there knocking doors -- but what we’re trying to acknowledge is there is a larger conversation for business than just your connectivity.

What are your goals for the Verizon channel program?

I think one of the things that I have to acknowledge is “easy to do business with” is not the brand of our channel program. And some of that is because there have been multiple doors to come into Verizon. We’re big company and there’s been a lot of ways to come into us. Success is creating a single door, and that is a digital portal that we are spending a lot of time obsessing about. We have partners that are part of building it with us and we are absolutely listening to what they have to say. How do I make it so that connecting to Verizon is not its own job? So, one piece is the digitally enabled platform that we’re looking to bring it out in the third quarter. I spent a lot of time thinking about that.

The second piece of success is, really being able to get the partners on-board with the new products where the real growth is happening. I think that’s a struggle for them as they think about where they are going to invest their money. Training, people, that’s a lot of change for them to navigate. I’m trying to extend the things that we’re investing in so that they can take advantage of some of that. But at the same time, we need the partners to invest. They need to see our they need to see us investing and then we need to see them investing, and then let’s hold hands and let’s figure this out.

The last piece of this, ultimately, is about results. I look at the country state by state, and I look at each of the segments. Whether you’re thinking about small markets, midmarket, public sector or enterprise, are they all seeing more activity in channel than we saw two years ago (I don’t compare to 2020, I compared to 2019) and are we seeing more? If one of the segments isn’t succeeding, my job is not done. So once you get the flywheel going, where everybody participating, everybody’s growing, and we’re spending more time talking about customers and less time talking about processes, then we can talk about the vision for the next nine years of the decade. But this year is about putting the foundation in and creating that single door, and then let’s talk about how we’re going to grow this together. I look at what we’re doing today and we’re just getting started. What feels good to me is as we look at things like Verizon Small Business Days and watching our partners in it with us, where does that make sense? And where doesn’t it make sense? Yeah. But the next 10 years, I think, for everybody, is going to look different. We really don’t know what the full fallout of COVID-19 is going to be. We’ve got to get some agility. I would say the biggest thing to me is I need to know what’s on the partner’s mind. They’re talking to customers. And anybody who’s talking to a customer is somebody that I need to spend time with.