CenturyLink: Channel Beat 2013 Expectations

The indirect sales channel exceeded CenturyLinks expectations last year, a senior executive with the nations third-largest telecommunications company said Thursday during the AllianceEXPO 2014 hosted by CenturyLink Channel Alliance.

We were able to deliver well above the revenue we asked this combined ecosystem to deliver for us in 2013,” said Kenny Wyatt, senior vice president of Business Solutions.

CenturyLink Channel Chief Blake Wetzel (right) on stage at the company's partner summit with Kenny Wyatt, SVP of business solutions.The Monroe, La.-based company has been gobbling companies in an effort to transform itself into a cloud and IT powerhouse that appeals to SMBs, government, large enterprises and global organizations. 

Wyatt was predictability bullish about being able to meet those diverse needs. Youve got the leading portfolio to meet any of our customers across all the segments,” he declared in his morning address to channel partners at the Grand Hyatt in the Mile High City.  

Channel “Seeing Incredible Growth”

CenturyLink is beefing up its channel staff by 10 percent to meet growth in the channel, said Blake Wetzel, vice president of the CenturyLink Channel Alliance. CenturyLink hired most individuals last month, including service managers and sales engineers, he noted.  

We are seeing incredible growth,” Wetzel said in an interview with Channel Partners magazine.

Amid such growth (CenturyLink does not disclose its channel revenues), CenturyLink has been adding a variety of IT and cloud services thanks to a slew of acquisitions, including its November 2013 purchase of Tier 3, a public cloud services provider in Seattle.  

Tier 3, which was immediately rebranded CenturyLink Cloud, can be sold today through the indirect channel, Wetzel said. Although no deals have been closed through the channel, Wetzel identified some large opportunities. They [channel partners] are actually promoting it very heavily,” he said.

How CenturyLink Acquired Tier 3

Jared Wray, Tier 3s founder and current CTO of CenturyLink Cloud, said his company had been growing like gangbusters before it was acquired by CenturyLink.  He explained how the deal first came up: over drinks in Seattle with a friend from Savvis and a CenturyLink executive, Bryan Taylor. Wray immediately discovered that Taylor (vice president of corporate development) was responsible for spearheading acquisitions.

The first thing that came out of my mouth is, I dont want to work for a telco so can I just have the drinks?” Wray recalled. The other men responded that CenturyLink was a rapidly evolving service provider. The sales pitch must have resonated with Wray because he hopped on a plane to Monroe to meet with CenturyLink Chief Executive Glen Post. The two men shook hands and Post immediately said this [acquisition] is going to happen,” Wray recalled. So it happened.” 

Channel Evolving Amid CenturyLink M&A

CenturyLink has kept itself busy following the 2011 mega-merger between the company and Denver-based Qwest Communications International. Other recent CenturyLink acquisitions include its $2.5 billion acquisition of Savvis in 2011; the web hosting and managed services provider; the 2012 purchase of assets of Cibers IT outsourcing business; and the 2013 purchase of AppFog, a platform-as-a-service provider used by developers.

Wetzel said Savvis was fully integrated for CenturyLink channel partners early last year.  Wetzel described a channel that is evolving and proactive, no longer weighed down with complaints over commissions and channel conflicts but poised to lead outcomes for business customers through such solutions as the cloud and virtualization.

Still, he urged the channel to step outside its comfort zone like his eight-year-old son recently did when he joined a clubs national soccer team as a goalie. This is an eight year old who made a massive leap to do something very different He stepped out and did something very different because this was how he was going to excel so he evolved,” Wetzel said.

Channel Closes First Sale of Managed Office

CenturyLink executives expressed confidence that they possess the tools to excel, such as a Managed Office solution that was introduced last year and includes such offerings as connectivity, hosted voice, email, storage, and security.

By all accounts, its been one of the most successful products introductions we at the company have ever had,” declared Frank Grillo, vice president of Business Solutions Marketing.

The channel has joined the party. A CenturyLink partner, Denver-based Telecom Efficient, closed the channels first deal last week.

CenturyLink launched Managed Office with the intent of serving between 10 and 100 employees with a few customer locations. But Grillo said larger businesses have immediately shown interest in it.

Key Decision-Makers Changing

With CenturyLink rolling out more IT-centric solutions like Managed Office for businesses, Wetzel reminded the channel that the conversations with customers need to take place with key decision-makers. Increasingly, these executives are often with someone other than the technology geek: the CIO. 

Just ask Gartner. Although the research giant found that a CEOs closest strategic adviser is usually a CFO, leaders of companies often told the research firm that they would turn to another executive to head innovation.

The problem is when we ask CEOs, who is the person that is going to help them innovate’ CFO comes way down the bottom. Trouble is so does CIO,” Lisa Pierce, a managing vice president with Gartner, told CenturyLink’s channel partners.

Instead, CEOs are searching for an executive that understands technology from the perspective of analytics and digital marketing, she said. Enter the Innovation Director” or Chief Innovation Officer”. 

Engaging these high-level executives remains a challenge for the channel. Wetzel said a relatively small percentage of partners are equipped to identify these opportunities at the right time and advise executives about the kinds of sophisticated IT and cloud solutions that CenturyLink is increasingly offering.

But he stressed that partners who have made the leap from traditional telecommunications to services like collocation and cloud have been very successful. And he said CenturyLink has and will continue to allocate the resources to provide partners the coaching and support to enable such a monumental transformation.

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