Channel Partners: Survival of the fittest
You don’t need me to tell you that the partner channel is undergoing massive change. That’s nothing new, but the pace of change feels faster than I’ve seen in my 25 years in the business. New technologies, growing security risks and dramatic changes in customer expectations are demanding rapid transformation. Only the best will thrive; will you be one of them?
By Bill Hooper, Managing Director, Verizon Partner Channel
The partner channel has always been fiercely competitive. And in the last four to five years, we’ve seen an enormous number of mergers, consolidations and acquisitions in the telecommunications industry. Many of the smaller, niche companies are being absorbed by larger ones. Meanwhile, customers are demanding lower prices than ever, reducing profit margins.
While competition is a perpetual challenge, I’ve found the biggest thing affecting the partner channel is the speed of technological evolution. I’ve seen many channel partners struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Some are determined to stick with selling their dated product sets and older network elements—but this can make it harder for them to stay ahead of the technology curve. Products like SD-WAN are in high demand, and if you don’t have the capability to offer these advanced solutions then your customers will look elsewhere. And they will take all their business with them.
Several years ago, you might have sold an internet connection and voice services to a business, and that would have been fine. Today things are very different. Customers want to work with someone that can provide data networks, voice services, advanced security solutions and 4G LTE wireless backup solutions—to name just a few. As a result, Partner Program Members need much deeper technology expertise to stay relevant. And achieving that is no easy feat.
Train to stay ahead of the curve
There’s no simple answer to these challenges, but there are steps you can take to improve your chances of staying competitive. One of my key recommendations is having a robust training program. Your employees need to be informed about the latest technologies and services—so they can anticipate your customers’ needs, instead of reacting to them.
Verizon is investing enormous amounts of time and resources into training our Partner Program Members. Each week our product specialists run two-hour training classes which our master partners and their sub-agents are encouraged to attend. These sessions delve into the specifics of our products and services, so the people out selling in the field can spot opportunities and provide useful advice and guidance to their customers.
We invest so much in this training because our channel partners’ success matters to us. When our partner channel does well, Verizon does well. And we know that great channel partners are hard to come by, which is why we’re willing to put in the hard work to attract and retain your business.
To put it simply—we’re in this together. And we’ve found that ongoing training is the best way to stay ahead of the technology curve, which is evolving so rapidly. It gives our channel managers and partners the toolset they need to solve challenges their customers face on a daily basis.
Innovate or be left behind
Innovation is also incredibly important. Take security, for example. Even just five years ago, you didn’t really hear most carriers talking security services. But that’s changed dramatically. Now security solutions are an essential offering for any telecommunications provider.
Earlier this week, I was watching the news and I saw that another major retailer has been hit by a data breach. Millions of consumers’ credit card details have reportedly been stolen and are being sold on the web. I don’t know what kind of security solution this company had in place, but if the tale follows previous ones it’s likely we’ll find out that the breach could have been prevented—and damage to its reputation and finances avoided.
And it’s important to realize that it’s not just large corporations at risk. Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report found that 58% of data breach victims are categorized as small businesses. Unfortunately, some channel partners are still stuck in the past in terms of security and technology—and not surprisingly they’re being left behind. If you fail to innovate, your customers will soon suffer for it.
Learn from the success of others
It helps to look at the channel partners who are doing it right. I once worked with a relatively new company which had decided to branch out on its own and become a channel partner. They already had a number of strong relationships with customers. Despite this, it took a long time to get their business going.
Over the next few years they worked hard. They looked at customer billing problems, service issues, and how to improve their customers’ existing networks. It wasn’t glamorous work, but focusing on their customers’ needs and tackling these basic IT problems was a sensible starting point. They also invested a lot of time in getting their customers up to speed with the fundamentals of the new technology. Today, this company is one of the largest channel partners in their region—so all that hard, gritty work has definitely paid off.
It might sound clichéd, but the truth is that success doesn’t happen overnight. You need to stay ahead of emerging technology, continually train your employees, offer innovative security and use your knowledge to deliver real benefits to your customers. You can’t afford to rest on your laurels—change is a constant.
Work with a supportive vendor
I’m a firm believer that technology vendors should provide both solutions and support to help their channel partners grow. Your success is key to our own, so let’s help each other out.
Verizon has recently announced a new package that will address their customers’ biggest telecommunications and connectivity needs. This new solution will enable channel partners to provide a data network installed entirely on Verizon’s facilities. It will also have advanced voice communications services and security solutions as part of the package. And on top of that, Verizon will provide 4G LTE backup for the data network.
With all-in-one solutions like this, we can help our Partner Program Members to meet their customers’ needs in the most efficient way possible. This means both parties get the best results and can focus on growing their business. I’m very proud to be involved in this new initiative and can’t wait to see the impact it will have on our partner channel.
Bill Hooper, Managing Director, Verizon Partner Channel North American Agents, has over 25 years of sales and operations management experience leading both indirect and direct sales organizations. Prior to working at Verizon, he led the channel at XO, and before that sales organizations at Qwest/CenturyLink for over 15 years in Houston Texas and Atlanta Georgia. While there, Bill led his global account teams to work collaboratively with channel partners to win large enterprise accounts increasing revenue annually. At Verizon, Bill continues to drive significant enhancements for the Business Partner Channel with investments in automation, innovative sales programs to strengthen relationships with channel partners, and other key initiatives designed to create an excellent experience for the Verizon and former XO partner community.