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Comcast Launches Agent Program

CHANNEL PARTNERS Comcast Business Services announced Monday at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo the controlled introduction of its first national Solutions Provider Program, a move that the telecom channel has long awaited as a source of true diversity and brand-name competition to the telcos.

As part of this limited release, the cableco has contracted with three national master agencies Intelisys Communications Inc., Telarus Inc. and Telecom Brokerage Inc. (TBI). Comcast will be ready to process orders from subagents as early as March 22, said Channel Chief Craig Schlagbaum in an advanced interview with Channel Partners. He noted that agents be able to sell business-class Internet (up to 100mbps down/10mbps up) and voice services; later, the company hopes to add metro Ethernet.

This is significant for the channel. It isnt too often that a $70 billion company [Comcast Corp.] enters the channel and launches a partner program,” said Mike Saxby, chief strategy officer for TBI, a master agency that has been selling cableco services from Time Warner Cable Business Class for a few years and from Charter for the past six months.  This means our partners and the channel will have more choices. Comcast providing alternative access to the premises gives the channel increased end-user opportunities.”

Executives at all three master agencies now representing Comcast pointed to the initial opportunities to sell Comcasts services for disaster recovery and lower price point, but noted that long-term the attraction is being able to sell more complex services, such as Ethernet and fiber, as primary services.

While many agents will go hog-wild selling the SMB solutions, there is a huge wave of metro Ethernet opportunity headed our way when Comcast opens up the complete pantry of its enterprise products to the agents.  That is where many up-market agents will score the large MRC deals,” said Patrick Oborn, vice president of marketing for Telarus. Telarus is new to selling cablecos services; its only prior deal with TWCBC began in February. The delay, said Oborn, was reengineering its quoting and ordering systems to fit the cableco model.

Unlike other typical carrier relationships, Comcast is initially going to be outsourcing a lot of responsibility to its pilot master agents.  We are going to be the ones responsible for quoting, order paperwork, and order submission,” Oborn added. Comcast has trained our staff and given us access to the tools we need to make it all happen, now it’s just a question of execution.”

Jay Bradley, president of Intelisys, said its important that we get it right and provide a viable telco alternative.” Intelisys has been selling cablecos services, such as TWCBC, Cablevision and Charter, for about three years, but it has been lobbying Comcast to embrace the channel for four years. It means a lot to us that we would be part of the launch,” he said. Bradley is optimistic the other long holdout, Cox Communications, also will come to the table with a national partner program. Weve had some nice successes with our cable partners,” he said, noting that its been a learning curve since cablecos have different processes than telcos and also are new to the channel.

The Comcast channel launch comes just shy of two months after the cableco named Schlagbaum as its vice president of sales indirect channels. Schlagbaum is the former channel chief for Level 3 Communications Inc., a post he resigned Sept. 15, 2010. Greasing the skids for the quick unveiling was earlier legwork by Matt Wilson, director of program management, and Kevin Conmy, senior director of partner sales. Both report to Schlagbaum and are the leaders of the companys channel team Schlagbaum is building.

The company was working for six months designing the program,” Schlagbaum acknowledged. In addition, Comcast Business Services tested the channel waters with an exhibit at the Fall 2010 Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C.

Schlagbaum told Channel Partners that Comcast has chosen a controlled introduction of its program in order to optimize its ability to support partners with quoting and service availability checks before opening it up more broadly to the channel community. No timeline was set, but Schlagbaum said it would depend on the companys ability to scale.

The three master agencies were chosen based on their operational and sales capabilities, he said. They are best positioned to work with us due to their prior experience with cablecos and their subagent support models,” he explained. Thats not to say that we wont have others over time.”

To further manage its processing capacity, Comcast is limiting the master agencies to involving 10 or so” subagents; the master agents will be able to select those participants at their discretion, Schlagbaum said.

Comcast Business Services has set up a dedicated group to support its solutions provider partners. Schlagbaum declined to disclose the size of the group, but said it was sufficient and scalable.”

In addition, agents will have access to WebTop, the order-entry portal Comcast acquired when it bought New Global Telecom. Presently, orders from WebTop must be manually entered into Comcast systems. Service availability checks are done in a separate system, Schlagbaum said, noting presently there is no API.

While the program is starting with a two-tier structure, Schlagbaum anticipates that Comcast will support master agencies as well as direct agreements with independent agents.

Schlagbaum noted that this is the cablecos designated agent program. The company launched a referral program in December 2010 that pays a one-time bounty. That program remains available as an option for those who prefer to throw leads over the fence or to collaborate with the direct sales team.


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