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Qwest for Change New Channel Chief’s 2010 Strategies

If you want to take in the picturesque Denver skyline from atop a 55-story building, Blake Wetzel is your go-to guy.

“When I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something,” Wetzel said, in an interview with PHONE+ just six weeks after he was named vice president of sales for the Qwest Business Partner Program.

Qwest’s channel chief Blake Wetzel.

What Wetzel is going to do in his new post is the question on agents’ minds. So, I went to Qwest Communications International Inc. headquarters in the mile-high city to find out. First of all, he pulled some strings to get this reporter, her publisher and a photographer on the roof of the Qwest headquarters building for a photo shoot — a request that required an escort to help navigate the less-traveled maintenance corridors and stairwells. The extra time and effort were, in my opinion, worthwhile; the mountainous vista was a spectacular.

Agents are hopeful for similarly speedy and positive outcomes to their requests. High on their lists is rolling back certain changes to the 2009 compensation plan and channel integration rules, which they perceive to be at least disincentives and at most adversarial.

In our interview, Wetzel did not commit to a rollback of specific policies, but he did concede there would be some changes, particularly with the company’s approach to channel integration.

“We are evaluating things all the time,” he said. “The biggest changes in 2010 are, No. 1, coordination with the direct side to make sure we have a consolidated strategy on a go-to-market basis, [and], No. 2, really making sure that we have a good communicated strategy across the partners, so that they know what we want them to do, and we can work productively and make them efficient.”

And, agents may dare to hope. In part, that’s because Qwest has redrawn the org chart, assigning Wetzel to report directly to Chris Ancell, the executive vice president of the Qwest’s Business Markets Group, eliminating a management layer and potentially giving QBPP its strongest advocate yet. “It’s actually great for the partner program,” Wetzel said. “I now have an equal seat at the table … with the direct sales organization.”

Wetzel plans to use that voice to create greater alignment between QBPP and direct sales. “I want the partners to understand that it’s going to be very synergistic with our direct side,” he said.

In that regard, account tagging (assigning a direct sales representative to agent accounts) is going to continue. “At Qwest we have a general philosophy that we want to have a direct rep attached to every account,” he said. “Our hope, and my strategy, is to actually make sure they are working together, so there is a collective strength brought to our customers.”

However, when channel conflicts inevitably arise Wetzel is intent on speeding their resolution, noting Qwest has “not dealt with issues quickly enough” in the past. While QBPP’s newfound “seat at the table” will go a long way toward accelerating escalations, Wetzel believes his interdepartmental connections also will pay off for agents here. “Coming from the operational side, I have a tight relationship with my peers on the direct side,” he said. “I have been supporting them for the last three years, so there is a high degree of trust there.”

Wetzel has worked for Qwest for the past 10 years, most recently serving as the director of national customer care and sales support for BMG. Prior to this he served as BMG’s CFO.

While none of his experiences at Qwest so far has been in sales, Wetzel is undeterred, calling his role as much a general manager as a sales executive. In fact, he argued his experience is beneficial to the channel in ways that pure sales skills are not. “Being in finance, you touch every organization in the company,” he explained. “Because of that, I have connections with people that I have worked with in pricing, in capital decisions — all of those people I’ve worked with over the past 10 years. Now, if an issue comes up that I need to discuss to benefit the partner program, I know who to go to and I have a relationship.”

Cross-training executives, a hallmark of the Qwest regime under former CEO Richard Notebaert, is part of the culture of creating a more well-rounded (if not empathetic) workforce. “You really start breaking down the barriers that a lot of large corporations have. We work very productively together,” he said.

Wetzel’s operational post is where he was introduced to the channel up close and personal. He has been supporting QBPP and working with its Partner Advisory Council for the past three years. Agents told PHONE+ his performance in this capacity has been “impressive.”

This operational know-how also is expected to come in handy in improving partner tools. “As in all of my functions that I have had in the past, I look to be the most efficient organization that we can be, which means us growing and expanding our tool sets to be easier to do business with,” he said. “Right now, we are evaluating every tool we have — whether it’s pricing, opportunity management or communications. We are looking at everything we’ve got.”

Hardly the type to overpromise, Wetzel is anything if not reluctant to be specific about partner-enablement plans for 2010. However, he points to a fourth-quarter bonus program, which agents told PHONE+ offers an aggressive spiff for business sold October through December.

“I think it’s just a statement that we do want to invest in our partner program,” Wetzel said of the incentive, which was developed in concert with the QBPP Partner Advisory Council. “I think it shows that Qwest is a very partner-friendly corporation.”

It also shows that Wetzel is looking to post some big numbers for QBPP in his first 120 days on the job.


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