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CenturyLink Intros Federal Partner Program, Hires Former Westcon, Nortel VP to Lead It

**Editor’s Note: Click here for a list of August’s important channel-program changes you should know or here to see which channel people were on the move last month.**

Westcon Group’s Gahn Lane has joined CenturyLink to build a federal partner program from the ground up and beef up the telco’s alliances with ISVs.

CenturyLink's Gahn LaneLane previously was Westcon’s vice president of service-provider sales, and before that was Nortel Networks’ vice president of sales. He now is CenturyLink’s vice president of ISV and federal channels.

He will report to Bill Corbin, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and channel operations, and Westcon’s former executive vice president of global sales and partner management.

Lane has more than 20 years of experience in leading direct, channel and vertical sales organizations.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Lane talks about how he’s moving quickly to make changes that will help partners and open up more sales opportunities.{ad}

Channel Partners: Why did you want to leave Westcon and join CenturyLink?

Gahn Lane: I saw a lot of opportunity at CenturyLink for growth. There [are a] lot of weapons here with regards to network, hosting, cloud, our colocation capabilities, etc. And when I was offered the opportunity to come and be part of that, and not only enhance the existing go-to-market channel, which is obviously ISV, but also to start up a new federal channel from ground up, I considered that a really great opportunity and a bit of a challenge, and I thrive on that.

CP: You’re charged with building CenturyLink’s federal partner program. What are your plans to build it?

GL: I’m starting at ground zero so the status of it is in incubation. (Last week), I hired my new leader for that … and he’s got about 25 years in federal channels experience, and he lives in Northern Virginia right in the Beltway area. I provided him with a budget and a number of heads, and he’s already recruiting. He’s already approached me with six candidates that he would like me to consider approving him to hire, and all with that same background.

Federal is a very unique vertical and I always say it’s a tribal language; you really have to know the lingo and you have to know who’s who in town. And so it’s very important to me that we hire people that understand channel and federal, and in most cases I want them to be close to the Beltway so that our channels will be able to access them face to face. As far as the program itself, that kind of comes back to an overall strategy for all alliances, especially ISV and federal. We have hired two new directors … and both have an extensive amount of experience in partner programs, both building them and nurturing them, as well as partner communities. We are hoping to have that (federal program) solidified no later than …

{vpipagebreak}

… mid-January so we can publicly announce it.

CP: CenturyLink currently has partners that are working with the federal government. What sort of input have you received from them regarding what they would like to see in the federal partner program?

GL: (Based on feedback, they want) a consistent program that has the consistent rules of engagement between our direct teams, other channels and themselves, has a relatively reasonable low barrier to entry and is clearly outlined what they can expect with support and profitability, as well as what investment we’re going to expect from them.   

CP: You’re also charged with maintaining and forging alliances with ISVs. What are ISVs looking for in an alliance?

GL: I have a tremendous number of active channels that I’ve inherited in ISV already and I am very pleased with that. But it’s too heavily skewed to selling to them rather than with them. The channel program that we have for them is, again, a little too immature. It’s not really very consistent or solid. So I’m changing that and applying the same rules I described for federal for that. And I plan on announcing that publicly probably late January or no later than the early part of February, and that’s based on some events that we have on the horizon.{ad}

I’m working on it right now and I’ve already published internally a list of milestones of what I’m committing to do because I wanted to demonstrate accountability to the salespeople who support ISVs today. My goals include augmenting resources to help them build out not only the channel program, but also to develop a consistent path for those ISV channels to access our development teams and to have a direct pathway for back-and-forth consideration as we build out solutions; where an ISV channel can sell a solution to an end user with CenturyLink backing that up, whether it’s our network or our hosting, or management, and as well that other channels can sell each others’.

CP: CenturyLink is repositioning to appeal to IT shops trying to manage an increasing number of public and private cloud resources. With that in mind, what will be your role in terms of partner and channel strategy going forward?

GL: I’m committed, and I own this – the buck stops with me – to making sure that we deliver, and we will, a consistent, positive behavior that will create a world-class organization, an expectation that others can set the mark against, that will not only strengthen our existing channels that we have today because we have great partners, but will also entice others to want to work with us. I don’t want to …

{vpipagebreak}

… just recruit lots of channels for the sake of doing that. I want to recruit really good ones and do a really good job for the ones we have and recruit. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we deliver something that brings a lot of value to them. These folks invest heavily in their business; a lot of them are small businesses … and so if they’re going to spend money and effort to work with us, I’ve got to make sure we deliver the mail. 

CP: Do you see new opportunities for CenturyLink partners? How will you explore those opportunities?

GL: Bill Corbin has four paths to market in alliances. The first is SIs and there’s a vice president that runs that. The second one is strategic partners, which primarily are an OEM or a vendor, but they’re manufacturers typically of hardware and software. There’s CenturyLink Channel Alliance, which is our traditional partner organization, and then you have my organization, which is ISV and federal channels. Now all of that comes under the alliance organization under Bill and we already are reaching across different groups as we see fit. For instance, our public sector team in the Northwest out of Seattle had a state opportunity last week, and they reached out to myself and said, “This is a huge opportunity and can we work with you because there’s a lot of software.” I looked at it and said, “Yeah, there’s a lot of software, but I think there’s also a big SI (opportunity) in there, so I reached over to SI and he said, “Yes, it’s on my list, too.” So we connected our teams together internally to deliver a solution with both the ISV and the SI, and CenturyLink bonded together. That’s a new value proposition that we have not had in the past.{ad}

CP: How do you see CenturyLink’s channel strategy evolving in the next three to five years?

GL: I think in three to five years our expectation … is that we’re going to have a benchmark that is higher than most, if not all, and we will be by far the most aggressive partner organization in the space with ISV and federal, that also has a service provider behind us. We are not distracted by things such as mobility or content for our phones or anything like that. We’ve become laser-focused on cloud-managed, hosted and software. And we strongly believe that that’s the future … our channel partner, go-to-market and candidly, ISV. So I think that in three years that will be increasingly obvious and in five years that will be a de facto expectation.


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