TBI Corrals AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast for ‘Big Event’

The Big Event

By Art Wittmann

TBI Big Event panel

left to right: CenturyLink’s John DeLozier, AT&T’s Kevin Leonard, Comcast’s Craig Schlagbaum and Verizon’s Janet Schijns

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to attend a master-agent event. When editor-in-chief Lorna Garey asked me to cover this, my first instinct was to remind her how much better the rest of the content team is at doing this. But after seeing that TBI had managed to get John DeLozier of CenturyLink, Kevin Leonard of AT&T, Janet Schijns of Verizon and Craig Schlagbaum of Comcast to sit on the same panel at its “Big Event” last week, my curiosity was piqued. Master agents are good at getting competitors to appear together, but this was the first time I’d seen these four on a panel.

TBI’s Jeff Newton did a careful job of guiding the conversation, making sure that each panelist got a question that was tailored to them, and of course each did a good job of selling their company’s value proposition. But as much as they were there to push their brands, they also offered some key insights and advice to partners. After the panel finished, each of the four made solo presentations.

AT&T's Kevin Leonard

AT&T’s Kevin Leonard

AT&T’s Kevin Leonard made the point that resonated most with the panel and was revisited frequently. He talked about the need for partners to make a skills pivot as SDN, mobility and cloud supplant services like MPLS as the main source of connectivity revenue. He also noted that the channel has the customer relationships that would often be hard for AT&T as a company to build itself. He added that AT&T is dedicated to building complete solutions sets around networking and mobility to support the channel. The pace of change for the channel, he said, has so greatly accelerated over the past few years, that bundled solutions – which are then built upon by the masters and partners – are the best way to keep up.

Comcast's Craig Schlagbaum

Comcast’s Craig Schlagbaum

Each of the four panelists picked up on the idea of helping partners master the sale of these new technologies. Comcast’s Schlagbaum said that enterprise class SD-WAN solutions from the cableco are being tested in several markets and will be available to partners in the fall. He also discussed key agreements with other cable providers which allow Comcast solutions to reach virtually all markets within the U.S. Schlagbaum further talked about Comcast’s improving channel programs and how a recent survey found that 44 percent of partners found Comcast “extremely easy to do business with,” up from 25 percent a few years ago. That, and a growing portfolio of services offered by Comcast including Office365 makes the cable giant a much better partner than it was just a few years ago, Schlagbaum said.

Along with the news and tips that each of the four offered, it was a great chance to see the difference in approaches that each of these leaders takes to their job.

After being referred to as the “godfather of the channel,” Schlagbaum noted that he’s been a career-long champion of the recurring revenue model. He says that partners have a clear advantage over the direct salesforce in that they can pull together products and services from a range of vendors to provide a solution to customer needs, and that’s something that the direct team doesn’t do.

Verizon's Janet Schijns

Verizon’s Janet Schijns

Whenever Janet Schijns appears on a panel, you know she’ll make it lively, and she didn’t disappoint at TBI’s Big Event. While Kevin Leonard is comfortable as the elder statesman, Schijns can’t resist talking about key areas where Verizon is doing well and taking a poke at its chief rival in the process. In Gartner’s 5G magic quadrant, for instance, Verizon ekes ahead of AT&T. The reason, says Schijns — Verizon’s channel strategy, of course! While the jabs were good natured, Schijns reminded the audience of one key component to its channel strategy that makes Verizon (and others) great to work with. To wit: When partners make a sale, the direct sales team is also compensated.

While Leonard stayed above it all for the most part, he did mention that AT&T owns enough fiber to make it do the moon and back. I fact-checked him and it’s true. It’s 450,000 miles to the moon and back at its closest orbit; AT&T’s site claims 410,000 route miles of fiber in its IP backbone alone.

Schijns is confident that Verizon has the pulse of the channel, and that if partners will look, they’ll find a great set of products including some new ones, like using fixed 5G as an alternative to high-speed broadband. She sees competitive performance in bandwidth and latency, with very short install times and greater flexibilty.

CenturyLink's John DeLozier

CenturyLink’s John DeLozier

Schlagbaum, Schijns and Leonard all agreed that it’s a great time for the agent channel — and by extension, it’s not a great time for the VAR channel. CenturyLink’s DeLozier disagrees. Having spent years at distributor Arrow in its System Integrator group, he too sees the rise of services and revenue through monthly recurring revenue, but he also still sees plenty of companies who maintain an on-premises strategy for at least some of their IT strategy. And the integration problem is just as much of a challenge as it ever was, he says. The panel agreed that there’s value in partnering with VARs in the current market.

Still new to his job, DeLozier is excited about the channel opportunity that the combined Level 3 and CenturyLink can offer. He points to services built with the enterprise in mind that offer great opportunities — cloud, network and managed services.

In the end, the panel agreed on much more than they differed. And, it won’t surprise you that each had praise for TBI and the program that it has built for agents. The room at Chicago’s Westin River North was packed to overflow capacity, so it appears a good number of agents agree.

Art Wittmann is vice president with Informa, the parent company of Channel Partners.

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