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Agents: Level 3 Wants to Be Your CLEC Partner

Level 3 Communications Inc. is shifting gears on the sales front – moving away from its strict stance on big bandwidth sales to embrace its national CLEC status. The company’s Business Partner Program execs have been evangelizing the new approach – along with reductions in off-limits accounts — with partners over the last few weeks.

“What it basically says to the partners is they have another viable alternative to sell than the ILECs and they can sell to a lot more places than they used to with us,” said Craig Schlagbaum, vice president for indirect channels for Level 3.

Last November, the carrier extended enterprise voice products to the channel, but Schlagbaum said this is different — a “fundamental shift” in the way the carrier looks at its market opportunities. The change was precipitated in part by the recent change in leadership at Level 3. Jeff Storey, the new president and COO, is not only a former WilTel Guy (read wholesale veteran), but also worked in enterprise sales for Cox Business. Together with Jeff Tench, president of Level 3’s Business Markets Group, Storey has decided to expand Level 3’s addressable markets and make the Level 3 brand more attractive to customers, Schlagbaum said.

He said the carrier will be targeting midmarket companies with enterprise voice, private data networking and Internet connectivity. “The big difference between this year and last year is we are selling both on- and off-net,” he said, noting the pricing for off-net will be competitive whereas previously it was not. The result was that customers would pass up Level 3 unless the on-net portion was a significant part of the deal.

“Effectively, this strategy changes our addressable market in the cities we are going to be in from being able to go after maybe 25 percent of business in those cities to closer to 90 percent,” Schlagbaum said.

He added that Level 3’s Business Partners generally are enthusiastic.

“I think this will position them to do much than they were with the pure bandwidth play as they can now be a one-stop shop for their customers,” said Vince Bradley, president and CEO of master agency World Telecom Group. “They have a huge network due to their recent acquisitions. They obtained this primarily for reduced access charges to their original network, but expanding into CLEC {and}more voice enables them to truly leverage that huge network.”

Level 3 acquired CLECs Broadwing, ICG, TelCove and others over the last few years, giving it a local footprint in 30 markets.

Protected Account Reductions

Level 3’s channel execs are counting on the shift to change the perception that Level 3 is only a niche player instead of a primary carrier.

And they are sweetening the pot even more by reducing off-limits accounts. All enterprise (with a handful of exceptions), all federal and all regional service provider accounts are fair game, said Schlagbaum. “Last year, where partners couldn’t sell into them without permission, now, effectively it’s an ‘ink rules’ policy if you will,” he said.

Level 3 relaxed some of these restrictions last year, extending its channel integration policy to wholesale and content markets (ISPs and Web 2.0 companies), which previously were only accessible to agents on a permission basis. The Wholesale Markets groups, which includes federal government, systems integrators, service providers (telcos and cablecos), also was opened to partners on a teaming basis with the direct sales force.

Level 3 also had been working to recruit agents certified under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program to compete in the federal procurement market to help the carrier sell into the federal government. That invite-only program was in a pilot mode in fourth quarter 2008 and was officially launched at the end of January 2009.

The company also is trialing a partner program for its content delivery network services with planned rollout to partners in second or third quarter of 2009.

Provisioning Changes

Level 3’s new approach may be well-timed as agents are looking for more channel-friendly incumbent alternatives, but as with anything, it depends on the execution – something sales partners know all too well.

“Service delivery is something they still struggle with. I know this from personal experience,” said agent Tim Dawson of DRIVE Technology Group. “If they are going to be a serious player in that market segment, they have to make the customer the center of their focus and hold up to the service delivery metrics they communicate — 25 days has to mean 25 and not 45.”

Due to the integration of so many companies in the last two years, Level 3 has taking a beating on its provisioning performance levels. Schlagbaum said the company has reduced its provisioning intervals, however. He said they are not at the desired level, but they are getting closer and improving quarter over quarter. “From a corporate standpoint one of our top priorities this year is focusing in on having a positive customer experience,” he said. “As you know, we have been challenged with that over the last two years because of the integration we have been doing. This year is when we think we are going to break out and do a fantastic job on that.”

In addition to reducing provisioning intervals, Level 3 has started issuing trouble tickets every 30 minutes instead of every hour and it also has brought its customer care center back to the states from India, he said.

On the partner front, the push is all about automation. The carrier’s quoting tool, MasterStream, is now capable of quoting off-net loops as well as on-net. Schlagbaum said they are on track to quote all services through MasterStream by July.


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