It's not often we get someone with experience as a partner, with direct sales, and as a channel chief on Meet the Channel, so we were happy to sit down with Mike Kopp, VP of indirect sales at Colt Technology Services. Read on to get his take on how the telco channel has changed and how today, agents are more important than ever.
The VAR Guy: Given the various roles you've played within the channel, including an agent, how do you approach building and managing your channel program that differs from other vendors?
Mike Kopp: I really see the industry from many different perspectives, but from a direct perspective I understand goofy things like why the direct teams for many carriers are suspicious of us and the channel. I understand the paranoia that exists between the two. I understand the things that keep up the agents at night. I know how difficult it is from a channel chief perspective to build a channel, not only from the outside, but building the relationships with the master agents and the key partners out there and driving your products and services through the channel. To me that's the easier part. The harder part is evangelizing your channel internally with inside of your company. I think that's where it takes somebody who really understands the industry from all perspectives to be able to talk internally to the finance teams and the legal teams and the procurement teams and the provisioning teams, so that they understand the channel internally at Colt.
TVG: You've been in the telecom space for nearly 25 years. What are the big technological shifts you've witnessed, and how did they affect how partners do business?
MK: Back in 1994 when I first was involved in the channel, it was long distance and calling cards and a lot of companies that had very specific routes from point A to point B, but it's evolved. What's really happened in the industry from a channel perspective is that the quality of the channel partner over the years has gotten so much better. The value that a channel partner brings to their end user customer has become so much more important.
To me the greatest thing about working in the channel is working with those partners now today that are really, really high quality partners because there aren't a lot of what I used to call "Circuit Slingers" out there anymore. That's just the dying breed of telecom agent, if you will. Just give me three quotes for this one circuit and I'll take the cheapest one. Does that still happen? It sure does, but the technologies are so much more advanced and so much more involved and the cloud has really just made the channel partner even more important because a lot of times there's so many vendors involved in the end users solution.
The term we used to hear a lot was "one throat to choke". I never really like the term, but clearly understood what it was and what it meant: the idea that you could go to one carrier for everything. That's just no longer the case. The value the channel partners bring now is bringing best-in-breed services to their customers. Quite frankly, it was a little bit of a lazy approach in the past. I use that not as an offensive term, but it was more "Hey, let's just do everything with XYZ carrier. They can do everything from your voice, your data, your conferencing, you name it." Today, that's just not the case. Today the partners need to be very, very much more involved and very much more strategic thinking because the cloud has changed everything for them.
TVG: It's much less likely for a service provider to utilize all one vendor because of that need to provide end-to-end solutions. VARs used to be, for example, a Cisco shop. How are vendors approaching this kind of paradigm shift within the channel, where they may not be a partner's only OEM?
MK: It's actually forced vendors, in my opinion, to raise their games because you want to be considered best of breed in your particular space. It used to be a little bit of an insecure feeling with that mentality of "one throat to choke, one vendor for all" for those of who are a little bit more niche in what we do. To me it's very, very exciting that the best of breed thinking, best of breed mentality is out there today because I feel we excel at what we do and where our footprint is in our ability to service and deliver to our customers.
TVG: Drawing on your experience as an agent, what are the biggest differences in the wants from the partner side versus the wants from the vendor side? How have you taken your experience in the past and make those two align both at Cogent and at Colt when you're building those new programs?
Listen to Kopp's answer below
TVG: What's your approach to handling conflict between your direct sales team and your channel partners?
MK: Channel conflict is the four letter word of our industry. Honestly and how you handle it and how you resolve the issues are critically important to me to give the partners a level of comfort in working in the channel. It comes up all the time. I'll tell you how we do it. All right? First of all, I don't think you could have a black and white policy because at the end of the day if you're doing the right thing you're doing what the customer wants to do. In my humble opinion, you're doing what the customer wants to do and how the customer wants to buy.
In Colt's case, our channel program is new, but our company is not. We've been doing business for 25 years now, so there are a lot of U.S. headquartered companies that have at one time or another purchased something from Colt. Now, because Colt has launched a channel in the U.S., and our focus is going after U.S. headquartered companies with requirements in our footprint, the last thing I want to do is shut an agent and a customer out of the channel because perhaps two or three years they made a purchase from us.
What we do is we take each case individually. Take it back to the business. Make a business case for it. If it makes sense, we do it. If it doesn't make sense, we don't. I'll tell you what. I'm knocking on wood, but we win them all the time because, at the end of the day, if common sense prevails, you work how the customer wants to work and that's the way I think they should all be done...Partners shouldn't be nervous or scared about working with Colt because they feel the customer's an existing customer of Colt's.
TVG: Now we get down to the question I like to ask everyone on Meet the Channel. What gets you excited to work in this space?
Listen to Kopp's answer below