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Top Gun 51 Award Winners Talk Next-Gen Leadership

Pictured above, left to right: Trustwave’s Suzanne Swanson, Cox Business’s John Muscarella and Comcast Business’s Craig Schlagbaum discuss leadership in the channel with panel moderator Diane Krakora of PartnerPath.

CHANNEL PARTNERS EVOLUTION — Advocating for your partners, increasing partner profitability and advice for future channel leaders were topics of discussion among the Top Gun 51 award winners during a panel discussion at Channel Partners Evolution.

The three special award winners are:

  • Lifetime Achievement — Craig Schlagbaum, vice president and channel chief at Comcast Business
  • Channel Innovator — John Muscarella, senior director of sales at Cox Business
  • Rising Star — Suzanne Swanson, vice president of worldwide channels at Trustwave

The winners are being recognized during a Top Gun 51 Awards Dinner at the Washington, D.C., conference.

When asked about creating trust with partners, Schlagbaum said it ultimately comes down to delivering what you promise. Building trust is “what this industry and channel are all about,” he said.

In terms of increasing partner profitability, Muscarella said you have to start with your business model, and what partners are trying to accomplish and their challenges. Cash flow is “king” to partners so Cox tries to cater to partners’ financial needs to help them get where they want to go, he said.

As for advocating for partners internally, Swanson said it requires commitment to channel, investment in dollars, people and time, and then patience because “those relationships don’t get built in a short amount of time.”

“You can’t be half in the channel, you have to make that commitment,” she said. “For me it’s constant reiteration of those messages.”

Schlagbaum has trained and mentor many individuals who have become channel leaders, and said there are multiple traits channel leaders need to continue to hone over time.

“If I had to put it succinctly, it’s creating a vision and motive of what your team’s all about so you can show where you’re trying to get, the true goal and bigger purpose,” he said. “It then is back to the relationships, building those relationships. And ultimately promises made and kept, and execution.”

When asked about the innovative initiative he’s most proud of, Muscarella said it’s all about making it easier for business owners to work with Cox.

“We created an agent program that’s consistent and unified across the country, so customers know what to expect and how they’ll be treated,” he said. “[Agents] love working with us because they know the customers are going to be treated extremely well. If we can’t do something, we’ll tell you that as well. It’s all about how do we make it easier for the businesses.”

Swanson is initiating Trustwave‘s channel-first strategy and said it involves thinking about channel as a delivery system. It also takes the involvement and commitment of everyone in the organization, from R&D to marketing, and ensuring channel is part of the company’s overall strategy, she said.

“For us, in 2020, it looks like channel revenue will be close to 50%t of our company revenue,” she said.

Muscarella said 2020 will be about taking the investments Cox is making, such as its acquisition of RapidScale, and continuing to be channel friendly and making solutions available to the channel.

As for that next generation of channel leaders, Schlagbaum said “it’s being out in the field, in the face of your partners, pulling up your sleeves and getting dirty, and hopefully you’re friends along the way.”


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