Level 3 Integrates Channels, Unveils Tiered Partner Program

Sixteen months after its acquisition of Global Crossing, Level 3 Communications Inc. announced Tuesday that it is rolling out a new channel strategy that combines the respective agency and referral partner programs of both carriers and introduces a new partner program for VARs.

Channel Chief Michael Jerich, vice president of the Level 3 Indirect Channel, told Channel Partners in an advance interview Jan. 15 that the company’s new Channel Partner Program for traditional telecom agents will finally integrate the contracts and support systems of the previous Level 3 and Global Crossing programs; staff resources were integrated in January 2012.

“This is the next evolution, which is bringing the two programs … together under one umbrella and bring some uniformity across the board in terms of tiering and contracts,” Jerich said.

Significantly, the CPP institutes a new tiered structure  Elite, Premier and Authorized  that defines both revenue minimums and sales quotas associated with levels of support as well as additional benefits like dedicated account teams and MDF. In the pre-launch interview Jan. 15, Jerich said the minimums and quotas had not yet been established definitively.

Jerich also said Level 3 has revised its teaming policy so that it is based on the entire customer relationship, not just a specific deal.

Jerich said Level 3 will be rolling out new contracts to partners this week along with notification of their tier, commission rates and any changes to their benefits. All partners are expected to be on the new contract by the end of first quarter.

Jerich said a majority of partners will fall into the Premier category. Because the entry-level Authorized tier does include revenue minimums, Jerich said some partners  less than 5 percent  will be dropped unless they double-down on their commitment to Level 3. ”Our intent wasn’t to clean house,” he said.

Ken Mercer, senior vice president of master agency Telecom Brokerage Inc., told Channel Partners Jan. 17 that he had not seen the new contract, but was told that commission rates would be frozen on past business until renewal and changes would be on business going forward. While he acknowledged that commission reductions are possible, Mercer said he expected the alignment of resources to performance to make Level 3 easier to do business with.

Mercer said that the new structure puts agents on a level playing field; terms and rates varied significantly between Level 3 and Global Crossing legacy programs. “It’s fair. We will start at a tier and grow,” he said, noting that the program rewards partners that choose to do more business with Level 3 and that established partners can no longer rest on their laurels.

Karin Fields, vice president of sales for master agency MicroCorp Inc., agreed. “There has to be a partner investment if they are getting the resources,” she explained.

Fields, who also had not seen the contracts, said she was not expecting any big surprises. “As long as we are being asked to play by the same rules. That’s what’s important to me,” she said.

Along with the contract changes, Level 3 said it is boosting resources, including increased pre-sales design support, channel managers and support for demand generation.

Of particular note, is the creation of an additional channel manager role that will complement the efforts of local support teams, working with the regional channel managers to help partners with quotes or closing sales. National channel managers will still support large master agents and Elite partners.

Agents also will now use one portal, the  Level 3 Partner Portal based on MasterStream and no longer have access to Global Crossing’s uCommand system. The portal provides partners with product information, marketing resources, training and network maps, as well as on-net selling tools, quoting and contracts. Jerich said Level 3 has been investing in APIs to its systems from MasterStream to improve response times.

MicroCorp’s Fields says the integration of the portal is a positive change. “We are glad. We rave about MasterStream. That’s huge,” she said.

Finally, Level 3 is formalizing its Channel Partner Program advisory board.

In addition to integrating the agency programs, Level 3 is combining the referral programs from Global Crossing and Level 3. Jerich said the referral program will operative in a more reactive fashion, responding to needs for a commissioning program for leads provided to the direct sales force. The biggest change is that the commissions (1X upfront) will be normalized for all referral partners.

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