Q&A With Lightyear Channel Chief Kevin Parker

Lightyear Network Solutions Inc.,
a reseller and VoIP service provider, announced the appointment of veteran industry sales manager Kevin B. Parker as its new vice president of sales with responsibility over direct, agent and MLM channels. Parker has more than 15 years of telecom sales experience at carriers, including CellularOne, GTE Wireless and Nextel Partners. During this time, he has managed organization-wide telecom sales channels direct, indirect, local and national consumer level.  PHONE+ interviewed Parker about his new role and his plans for the program.

PHONE+: What is your previous channel experience?

Kevin Parker: Back in the late 90s, I first started working with agents as market manager in Kentucky in rural wireless markets. Following this I had a great opportunity to develop an indirect channel of distribution for Nextel Partners. The model we used for the development of and strategy for this channel was ultimately used by other markets throughout the company based on the success experienced in the mid-south area of the U.S. I have also had the unique opportunity to work with agents in the insurance industry through some consulting work I did prior to landing at Lightyear. In all situations, I have really enjoyed working with channel partners and I recognize the tremendous opportunities presented by this channel.

P+: What about your experience at Nextel will inform the way you run the business channel at Lightyear?

KP: I learned a lot at Nextel. Selling in a B2B environment requires some extraordinary skills that are oftentimes difficult to find. Partners need to understand that selling in this environment requires the nurturing of professional relationships through persistent networking, a thorough knowledge of the cutting-edge technology associated with the industry, a selling frame of mind that is focused on the value of the product and not just the price, tremendous follow-up skills and a thorough understanding of the clients business from its operations to finances. That said, I have initiated a strategy to get our team in front of the Lightyear agents to ensure we are educating them about what we do and offer strategies for how our partners can be successful selling our services. We are also focused on the development of the channel to ensure we have a formidable selling force to meet our organic sales growth initiatives.

P+: Your experience is in a wireless entity will that be a major focus for the channel under your leadership?

KP: Wireless is and will continue to be an important focus for us at Lightyear and in the industry. I have found that traditional channel partners sometimes struggle in understanding the wireless arena and vice-versa. Our focus on educating our existing partners is, therefore, key! We are also in the process of developing some really neat initiatives that will bring our no-contract options to the marketplace. Additionally, our multilevel marketing division is experiencing explosive sales growth right now, and we are really focused on continued profitable growth with this channel of distribution.

P+: Has the program been changed in any way since you took over?

KP: We have reorganized internally with a stronger focus on organic sales growth. My two primary objectives are education and development, so I think it is safe to say that organizationally we are now better designed to support these two initiatives.

P+: How much revenue does the channel bring to Lightyear? Do you expect that to change in the next 12 months?

KP: Agents have traditionally generated large amounts of revenue for Lightyear. If anything, we expect the revenue dollars generated by agents to increase in the future.

P+: How many agents are in the Lightyear program? Do you expect that to change in the next 12 months?

KP: We currently have approximately 200 agents at Lightyear. We are actively recruiting new partners who would like to grow with us.  Moreover, we are focused on building an agent channel that is represented by high-quality agents, who truly desire a strong partnership with Lightyear. We have a solid history of close relationships with a number of partners and I intend to maintain that reputation and build on it. 

P+: What are your goals for the Lightyear channel program for the next 12 months?

KP: As we remain in an aggressive merger-and-acquisition mode, my primary goal is to remain laser-focused on organic growth. With all of the distractions around us, it might be easy to take ones eye off the ball,” so to speak. We will do this through seeking out channel partners who are committed to Lightyear, as well educating our existing partner base.

Another major goal is to provide tools to our channel partners to allow them to be more targeted in their marketing approaches. Through the formulation of a group at Lightyear called the Phoenix Team,” we are working hard to uncover competitive opportunities that we were not aware of in the past. Once we complete our work, we intend on sharing this information with our partners to assist them in aggressively attacking these markets. I believe this epitomizes a true channel partner” relationship. It seems that any company can offer spiffs and commissions, but I believe we need to help our agents find a way to get there!     

P+: What are your key partner-enablement initiatives for the next 12 months?

KP: We anticipate continuing the Agent Bonus League (ABL) program over the coming months. We believe our ABL program is one of the most creative bonus programs in the market. The enthusiasm surrounding this program has been tremendous!

Also, our new regional sales directors have been relentless in trying to get out to our existing agent base, while growing the base at the same time. Our partners can look for significantly more focus from Lightyear on education about our products, sales skill building, as well as help with administrative processes to better enable our partners to be more streamlined and effective in selling Lightyear products.

Finally, we are also working on a project to revamp our LightSource Web portal. Our agents currently use the tool today for quoting opportunities, as well as a source for company news, marketing information, etc. Our agents can look forward to a more user-friendly and effective tool in the very near future with this update of LightSource.

What products do you think will be successful/hot for partners?

KP: Wireless will get even more exciting over the coming months.  Through our arrangements with Sprint and Verizon, I anticipate some very cool new products to hit the streets soon. Additionally, we are testing a new bundled offering for small businesses, which includes local, long-distance and wireless, to name a few. The program is currently being piloted by a few select Lightyear agents. 

P+: Lightyear is looking to grow by acquisition and already has made one recently. How will this help or challenge your channel?  

KP: The recent announcement of the SouthEast Telephone acquisition is very exciting! We do not anticipate a significant impact on our existing agents as a result of this acquisition. SouthEast has a successful history working with the agent channel. We will work with them to reinvigorate that effort and success. They are a well-managed company, so we look forward to working with their existing sales leaders to assist where we can in the short term.       

P+: What will be the biggest challenge/opportunity for channel partners generally in the next 12 months?

KP: First, we must continue to diligently seek out and fully understand the true demands of our customers in an ever-changing marketplace. As simple as this sounds, companies oftentimes fail to truly understand what customers require to operate efficiently, drive revenues, decrease costs, improve profitability, and increase their competitive position.  It will be our responsibility to seek out the very best products to meet our customers needs and bring them to the marketplace swiftly.

Secondly, channel partners must be adept at introducing new technology to businesses. In a tough economy, businesses are looking at both cost savings and improved efficiencies. Newer technologies will allow businesses to have both. The wireless industry has been very successful at getting the markets attention when a new technology is introduced. We should follow suit with this mission. 

Finally, it is important for both channel partners and end-users to understand the delicate balance between price and quality.   We all need to work hard at ensuring that our customers understand that the lowest price may not result in the intended results for a quality, dependable product. Oftentimes, cheap” leads to quality issues, resulting in service-related problems and even catastrophic failures for customers. Those channel partners that are in this business for the long-haul will learn to balance price AND quality for customers. Those who resort to seeking only the cheapest service will find themselves in a reactive posture, diminished referral, and, ultimately, a reduction in sales and revenue. 

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