Agents Respond to QBPP Changes

Agents for Qwest Communications International Inc. told PHONE+ they are optimistic about recent changes to the leadership of the Qwest Business Partner Program.

The Denver-based telco informed agents Aug. 19 that QBPP’s longtime leaders Tom McGrath, senior vice president of alternate channel sales, and Sandy Spencer, regional vice president of sales for QBPP, would be leaving the company, and a new chief, Blake Wetzel, had been named to run the indirect sales channel as vice president of sales – QBPP, reporting directly to Teresa Taylor, executive vice president of the Business Markets Group.

Agents familiar with Wetzel, who previously headed up sales operations for BMG, including the channel, are enthusiastic about his appointment.

“I think they have put an absolutely excellent person over the channel,” said agent Ben Humphreys, president and CEO of agency Comtel Communications and vice chairman of the Agent Alliance, a buying consortium of 17 agencies. Humphreys also is manager of Agent Alliance Q, the consortium’s holding company that has had a contract with Qwest since 2002. “He did a brilliant job for us, I think. I am impressed with Blake, and I have been for two to three years.”

Incidentally, Wetzel is the younger brother to Chris Wetzel, general manager for Agent Alliance member NetGain Communications. But Humphreys said he wasn’t aware of the relationship until recently. Whether those family ties will work to agents’ favor remains to be seen. NetGain execs declined to comment for this article.

Ken Mercer, senior vice president for master agency Telecom Brokerage Inc. (TBI) also knows Wetzel from his oversight of Qwest’s order automation process. “He is very intelligent and process-based. Everything he has done to improve process for Qwest has worked really well,” he said.

Mercer added that “the shorter chain of command and streamlining of processes” will be beneficial to the program.

Jay Bradley, president of telecom services for master agency Intelisys Communications Inc., agreed. “We are optimistic that the change will result in more visibility for the QBPP program within Qwest,” Bradley said. “That was one of the stated objectives – by having Blake [Wetzel] be solely focused on the Business Partner Program and reporting directly to Teresa [Taylor], that will give Blake a voice with his direct-side peers. We are pleased about that.”

While agents’ reactions to the new reporting hierarchy and Wetzel’s appointment are positive, ranging from encouraged to elated, reviews are mixed for the outgoing team.

“We really appreciate what Sandy [Spencer] did for the program for all the years the he was in it. He was the glue and provided that continuity that enabled that program to become the leading program in the industry,” said Bradley.

TBI’s Mercer also praised Spencer, saying he “was always there for us when we needed him.”

Humphreys also was complimentary of the former leadership team. “Sandy Spencer, in my opinion, did an outstanding job for Qwest. Certainly he and Tom [McGrath] together worked hard and were extremely diligent. We enjoyed working with them and we are certainly going to hate to see them go.”

It’s worth noting that McGrath was a finalist for the PHONE+ Channel Executive of the Year two years running in 2008 and 2009 as voted by agents.

Humphrey also noted that QBPP, which he called one of the best managed in the industry, was not built by Spencer and McGrath alone. “A lot of the people who have made that a reality are still very firmly entrenched in the program and work hard to deliver day in and day out,” he said.

Among those that remain with QBPP and now report to Wetzel are Jerri Brainard, chief of staff; Wayne Coleman, manager of sales; Gene Elmore, director of sales; Jim Glackin, director of sales; Mindy Powers, director of sales; Brad Renville, NCM; and Dale Tucker, director of business development.

Other agents, who declined to be identified, were less charitable, blaming McGrath and Spencer for presiding over successive changes to Qwest’s agent program they perceived as detrimental to the channel.

In 2007, for example, Qwest cut in-region commissions from 15 to 14 percent and also set up a new quota program requiring agents to meet $18,000 on a three-month rolling basis or risk a 2 point commission reduction until quota is met.

More recently, Qwest made several key changes to its QBPP compensation plan, effective Jan. 1, 2009. One of these was to lower the compensation percentage on renewal and conversion orders by 2 percentage points. On top of these cuts, all renewal and conversion orders for local services are ineligible for commissions if the partner is not currently being compensated for existing services being renewed or converted. Another change to the 2009 QBPP program is that sales made through a Channel Integration Engagement (CIE) are now subject to a 10 percent reduction in commissions. Finally, Qwest is no longer paying spiffs on deals sent to the Qwest Referral Program to be worked and provisioned.

Are agents hopeful that Wetzel’s appointment will open the door for a reversal of some of those policies? No agents PHONE+ spoke to were willing to say as much.

However, Humphreys said he anticipates a continuing dialogue with Qwest over areas where the telco and agents disagree. “We are not going to agree on everything,” he said. “We are agents and they are a carrier and that’s just not in the DNA.”

Intelisys’ Bradley also stopped short of suggesting the Qwest might undo any previous actions. “I want Qwest to do what makes the program the strongest,” he said. “I don’t think the changes they made in January made their channel program stronger, but I do believe that it’s in their interest, and I believe it’s their intent, to make the program as strong as it could be.”

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