Level 3 Gives Agents A Go, Again

Level 3 Communications Inc. is taking aim at the agent world once again; the wholesaler in late October was set to launch the Level 3 Business Partner Program, mainly targeting master agents who will sell the companys metro Ethernet, private line, dedicated Internet access, MPLS, VPN, disaster recovery and business continuity services.

This is the companys second foray into partner programs; in late 2003, Level 3 rolled out and not long after bid adieu to 3Tone, its VoIP reseller program. It was an interesting experiment, says Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of partner development, but it really wasnt the foundation of a true agent model, which is what this is. Level 3s acquisitions of ICG Communications Inc., TelCove Inc., Progress Telecom LLC and Looking Glass Networks Inc. all enabled the carrier to build its agent program, Schlagbaum adds.

Like Level 3, ICG is a Colorado-based phone company. TelCove, headquartered in Pennsylvania, specializes in local and long-haul route miles, thanks to its nearly 4,000 on-net buildings. Progress Telecom is a wholesale network services company out of Florida. And Looking Glass specializes in metro Ethernet services the very products Level 3 hopes to capitalize on by using agents. The ICG transaction, in particular, naturally lent itself to Level 3s introduction of an agent program because the company came with agents, who will become indirect sales agents for Level 3. Plus, buying each of those carriers also meant Level 3 inherited a number of enterprise customers.

Those circumstances combined meant it was time for Level 3 to build its indirect channel program, says Schlagbaum. The wholesaler took the best elements of ICGs setup and melded them with its own ideas so agents can sell the entire Level 3 footprint in that enterprise space. He says Level 3 now is able to offer 5,800 lit buildings to its agents.

Executives are looking for eight-to-10 master agents that fit specific criteria. The masters must have solid back-office systems. They must be able to answer questions and provide support for any problems that crop up. They must have informative, useful portals. Most importantly, they must be focused on selling IP and data services in metro footprints, says Schlagbaum. Were going to be looking for agents that are, in many cases, in secondary markets, even though we deal with many of the primary markets, he explains.

In turn, Level 3 hopes to provide tools such as online commissioning and the ability to order services or identify lit buildings via the Web. The company also was mulling over how to extend marketing development funds to master agents, says Dalyn Wertz, director of partner marketing. Further, there will be inside support specialists available to agents during business hours, and master agents each will have a partner account manager located near their operations. As with many of the new programs particulars, details still were not fully formulated at press time.

Contract information remained hazy at press time as well. Schlagbaum indicates, though, master agents will make commissions in the higher double-digits because they have to support what they sell, while the direct side will make figures in the lower double-digits. Bonus incentives are under consideration, too. Level 3 also promised, when it informally introduced its partner program at the Fall 2006 Channel Partners Conference & Expo, a favorable and noncomplicated partner contract, as well as clear rules for channel partners teaming with direct sales people. We have policies in place to make it clear where the agents can play and … where they would work together with our direct sales force in closing opportunities. He says this marks yet another way in which Level 3s agent program will differ from those of other companies.

Were really using the channel as an extension of our direct sales force, instead of more of a competitive environment where the agents are essentially fighting against our direct sales force, says Schlagbaum. There will be certain instances where certain accounts will be off limits because weve already closed those accounts, or we already have them as customers, but where agents can find incremental business, thats where were going to be a lot more cooperative in terms of a teaming-type arrangement.

ICG Communications Inc.
Level 3 Communications Inc.
Looking Glass Networks Inc.
Progress Telecom LLC
TelCove Inc.

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