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Channel Influencer of the Year Patterson is the sum of all the influencers he’s worked with during his career.
March 9, 2023
When Craig Patterson made the big jump from his employer of nearly two decades, the people he needed came with him.
For Patterson, now senior vice president of global channels at Aryaka Networks, leaving Lumen Technologies meant a chance to make his own mark on the channel. It also gave him a chance to put into practice years of observing and modeling a deep bench of leaders.
And in the early days after he joined Aryaka, the biggest validation of his leadership skills was seeing individuals pack up and join him at the SASE provider.
“For people to leave these secure jobs they’ve had for quite some time just to make this leap of faith and follow me to where there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot unknown was a major inflection point,” Patterson tells Channel Futures.
Recently promoted from leading Aryaka’s North America channel strategy to leading their global channels, Patterson has his work cut out for him. One might have said the same thing when he joined Aryaka in late 2021. Important relationships with TSDs had fallen apart. On the recommendation of consultant Curt Allen, Aryaka decided to select a new channel leader.
Patterson was working as division vice president at Lumen Technologies when the opportunity arose. He was already pondering a new venture, anxious to revamp his brand.
“I’d been known for a long time as this Lumen telco dude. I wanted to start rebranding my own personal brand in the market into more of a technologist around new and emerging trends, products and solutions,” he says.
Patterson found himself leaning toward Aryaka’s market opportunity. He also felt that their employee and partner experience would lend itself to the recruitment efforts he would be doing.
“I wanted to find a company that had an unbelievable and unrivaled experience I could stand behind,” he says.
But the opportunity came with its own uncertainties — in part from joining a vendor whose channel footprint needed serious retooling.
He spoke with some of his closest partner contacts, including Bridgepointe’s Brian Miller, about what they thought, and they agreed with him about Aryaka’s market opportunity.
Although the opportunity would take him out of his corporate home of nearly 20 years and lead him into uncharted waters, Patterson decided he was ready to embrace change.
“If you’re not uncomfortable, you’ve become complacent, and you’re really not moving forward in life,” Patterson said.
Patterson started identifying Aryaka’s North American channel gaps upon his arrival at the company. The company needed to establish itself as truly channel-centric, and it needed to reposition its sales team.
The channel investment started with people — national channel managers and directors and an operations director who brought credibility in the TSD channel.
The company invested to brand itself in the TSD ecosystem where Patterson said the goal was “creating as much noise as I possibly could” on social media and at events.
“We needed to put all of our resourcing, all of our marketing dollars behind really reigniting our channel strategy,” Patterson said.
Patterson’s changes also included a POD model that aligned partners with channel sales directors for day-to-day interactions and solution architects for technical support.
Most recently, Aryaka has started offering lead generation to 20 technology advisors selected by four of its TSDs.
Perhaps most drastically, Aryaka created a new line of positions called strategic sellers. The company repurposed some of its most successful, most senior direct salespeople to help partners take on key customer accounts.
Patterson said those investments and changes are paying off. The number of selling partners has increased approximately 60% increase over the last 12 months.
“The pipeline is almost 10 times what this company had prior,” he said.
Every channel origin story starts with a person who didn’t intend to work in the channel. Patterson entered college with aspirations of a legal career. After taking undergrad courses at Ball State, he interned at Delaware County’s prosecutor’s office where he came to a stark realization: He didn’t like it.
Fraternity brothers suggested Patterson look at a technology-focused graduate program at Ball State. The specialized degree in information and communication sciences seemed to have set his friends up well for life. They were making solid money straight out of school and their careers seemed exciting.
He decided to give the program a shot, and it did not disappoint. His studies immersed him in the world of telecommunications, a space where he would later build his career.
“I was writing 35-page papers on frame relay and all these different technologies,” he said.
Then came the call from AT&T.
After graduation, Patterson moved to Tucker, Georgia, to cut his teeth on technology sales at the AT&T College Hire Sales Center. AT&T had launched the program, years later known as the Business Sales Leadership Development Program, to meet its need for more affordable salespeople.
“The whole premise was to take a bunch of college kids who didn’t know anything about business sales, give them the foundation to be successful and take a gamble on them,” said AT&T’s Chris Jones, who ran the program.
Specifically, Jones was betting his graduates could compress three years of experience into six months through a highly structured program.
For half of the day, participants learned about AT&T offerings. During the other half, they’d sell them. If they made their sales target by the end of sixth months, they could continue to a field sales job. If not, game over.
For Patterson and his young colleagues, the strict quotas for the number of calls and proposals made presented a learning opportunity of its own. First, there was the chance to experience the corporate world in all of its rigor and rush.
“A lot of the rude awakening was figuring out how you actually do this type of job coming out of a college environment,” Patterson said.
Secondly, trainees were learning about themselves and their capacity to thrive in a fast-paced sales environment. They were making outbound cold calls on their first day.
It was a terrifying proposition for a newcomer to sales, but for AT&T’s Jones, it was important to introduce them to that fear as quickly as possible. In a past job as a swim instructor, he had discovered that students learned best by starting in the deep end.
“If you tell anyone, ‘Here’s a list of 100 people. Call them and sell them something,’ they panic,” Jones told Channel Futures. “The goal was to make them panic as fast as they could so they realized that they could succeed.”
Many of the program’s members have gone onto deeply successful sales careers. One such graduate, a Miami University alumnus who left the center just as Patterson was starting, went on to lead a practice at CDW and co-found Avant: Ian Kieninger.
For some of Patterson’s peers, their sales careers ended in Tucker. But Patterson found himself picking up momentum.
His first sale: managed internet T1 for $1,250 per month. He was elated, but an even bigger celebration came later when he sold a 25-site frame relay network. When the fax came in detailing his $25,000 sale, Patterson strode from desk to desk showing his peers his big win.
With more than one deal to celebrate he thought perhaps he had found a career.
“I remember calling my then-girlfriend (now my wife) and saying, ‘Shay, I think I can do this,’” he said.
Patterson made his sales target three months in and earned a position in the field. He picked Denver out of a list of destinations AT&T offered for a job. Today he, his wife and their twin children still live there.
He called his experience at the center a pivotal moment in his career — indeed, a lynchpin for his entire career in the channel.
“Had I not gone to Tucker, Georgia – had I not met Chris Jones – I don’t think I’d be sitting here today,” Patterson said.
Patterson spent two years in his new direct sales role before deciding to make a change. He says indirect sales had captured his interest.
“I never quite understood what they were doing, but it always piqued my interest,” he said. “So as I got going in my career at AT&T as a direct salesperson, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get to this channel side. I’ve got to make this pivot somehow.’”
That pivot came in 2003 when Patterson moved to ICG Communications. The Colorado-based CLEC’s channel organization had faded in the marketplace. And as in the case of Aryaka, he was taking on the task of fanning the fire back into its partner relationships.
One of only a handful of people driving channel, Patterson’s task came down to a grit-it-out ground game. That meant setting up meetings with partners and following up multiple times to build the relationship. A relentless pursuit of those relationships, paired with time, spelled success.
“You can’t just have one single meeting and then expect them to sell something,” Patterson said. “Number one, you’ve got to get to their trust. Number two, you’ve got to build a relationship with them and actually find a way to connect.”
Patterson made it into the spot as ICG’s top channel manager, as well as Presidents Club, in 2005 and 2006.
Working at ICG brought Patterson into contact with another key influencer: then president and CEO Dan Caruso, whose financial planning acumen Patterson took to heart.
ICG in 2006 sold to Level 3, kicking off a new round of learning and growth for Patterson. It was at this organization — which later merged with CenturyLink and ultimately became Lumen — that he brushed shoulders with a powerful group of channel leaders.
Among those channel leaders were Craig Schlagbaum, Zane Long, Lisa Miller, Garrett Gee, John DeLozier and Jim Glackin. Patterson calls himself a mixture of all their influences, having observed their different leadership styles.
An emphasis on charisma and sales skills that he got from Long. An emphasis on data and analytics that he got from Gee. An emphasis on people and relationships that he got from DeLozier.
As for Miller, “The thing I really learned from her was that you’ve got to be absolutely relentless in caring for your people. And you can never waver on that.”
Patterson learned how to build a channel program from Schlagbaum, who oversaw Level 3’s first indirect program. Patterson, responsible for some of Level 3’s key strategic partnerships, helped build that program.
“We grew that to more than $500 million over the course of 12-plus years,” he said.
Zane Long, then Level 3’s national vice president of indirect channel, promoted Patterson to his first-ever leadership position as a regional sales director for the channel. Patterson admits he had to learn the ropes of leadership as he went.
“I would say I was probably more like the boss, just barking orders and telling people different tasks to do and then following up to see if they achieved the task,” Patterson said.
But as he climbed the ranks from regional sales leadership to regional leadership to vice president, Patterson grew in his leadership skills. That evolution has taken him from a barker to a collaborator.
“Instead of just telling people what I think they need to do, I say ‘let’s work together on what we should be doing and build this strategy together,’” he said.
For Janet Schijns, Patterson represents a generation of new channel leaders who are trying to replace the traditional leadership mold with one that promotes inclusivity and talent, not just tenure.
“Craig really wants to work in a teaming environment. And you just don’t see that very often at the top of the pyramid,” she said.
The French revolutionary Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin wrote, “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Schijns sees this in Patterson.
“Craig is able to capture the power of the crowd, see the trend and drive the momentum from the power of the crowd versus from his own will. And that’s why he’s had such great success.”
Read more about:Agents
Senior News Editor, Channel Futures
James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.
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