Wetzel: Channel Transition to Cloud Won't Happen Overnight

By Josh Long Comments
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DENVER—Like other carriers, CenturyLink has been beefing up its cloud and IT services portfolio through organic development and acquisitions — Savvis, Tier 3 and AppFog are examples. But is the CenturyLink indirect sales channel embracing these new services?

That's the question Channel Partners posed to Blake Wetzel, vice president of the CenturyLink Channel Alliance, at the carrier's partner meeting, AllianceEXPO 2014, in Denver Thursday.

Although CenturyLink has challenged its partners to become more tech-oriented, its channel chief doesn't expect the transition to happen overnight. The majority of CenturyLink's indirect sales partners continue to sell traditional telecommunications services.

Wetzel cited progress within the channel, including partners who have migrated to the cloud and rebranded themselves by scrapping "telecom" or "telephony" from their monikers. "Just like the VAR community [where] there is a relatively small percentage who have shifted into the services model, there is a small percentage of [telecom] partners who have shifted in moving into an IT consultative approach," he said.

Wetzel said CenturyLink is prepared to allocate resources to agents and coach those who are ready to evolve. "It is an education process," said Wetzel, who partly described the transformation as follows: "Understanding how to have a conversation with the CIO or CMO or CFO. Getting out of the transactional business that traditionally the telecom partner community has really lived off of and moving into a very consultative high-value relationship with their end customers."

Wetzel noted this is the same pivot the company is asking of its direct sales reps. "This is really a time we feel that IT is coming to the forefront," he said. "The challenge is that's a pretty huge shift from going out and selling circuits. And a lot of the partner community is still out selling circuits."

Wetzel said CenturyLink is educating partners to identify legitimate IT opportunities, understand when a customer is ready for a conversation and learn how to engage the customer. "We've said all along we didn't want to … just dump a bunch of products on our partners and say, 'now go figure out how to make the migration to cloud.' That is not going to work," Wetzel said. "When you are interested in figuring out how to make the migration, we are going to be here to help train you. We have world-class people who have been doing this for a long time."

Wetzel referenced CenturyLink partners who successfully made the leap to selling cloud-based services regularly in 2013 even though they had no such previous experience. "And that is what makes us feel very strongly that our approach is working," he said.

And if  partners fail to adapt?  "We are not going to jettison our partner relationships. We honor our relationships. We do not terminate them lightly," Wetzel said. "We have a decade-long reputation of treating our partners with care and trust and respect." 

That said, CenturyLink also is searching for new sales partners, such as large VARs, systems integrators and distributors, to help the carrier sell its expanding suite of cloud and IT services. As part of that effort CenturyLink announced in April 2013 a partnership with technology distributor Ingram Micro.

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