You need to put yourself in your partners' shoes if you want to run a successful channel program, he says.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

November 7, 2019

6 Min Read
Channel Partners Top Gun 51 logo

You need to put yourself in your partners’ shoes if you want to run a successful channel program, according to Craig Schlagbaum.

Schlagbaum, vice president and channel chief for Comcast Business, joined our first class of Top Gun 51 winners this year.


Comcast’s Craig Schlagbaum

The Level 3 and Qwest alumnus led the formation of Comcast’s partner program in 2011 and continues to lead the program. Schlagbaum has worked hard in 2019 to promote his company’s ActiveCore software-defined networking (SDN) platform and encouraged partners to adopt next-generation technologies.

A panel of masters, distributors and analysts picked the Top Gun 51 list, which includes top channel chiefs from the IT/telecom industries.

Check out our “Top Gun 51,” a list of today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

Schlagbaum fielded questions from us about his company, career and channel program. The answers have been edited for clarity.

Channel Partners: What are your top highlights and achievements from leading Comcast’s channel?

Craig Schlagbaum: The real highlight for me has been building our multimillion-dollar, award-winning channel program from the ground up, with hundreds of partners selling for us on a monthly basis. Further, it is helping mentor, grow and develop my team as leaders. We have an outstanding team with many top channel professionals in operations and sales and marketing who support all our partners nationwide. I remember in the beginning we only had a small team of less than 10 people and just three master agents and a dream. Fast forward to today and those numbers are much larger. It has been a pleasure watching our partners grow their businesses as well as our team’s development.

Moreover, we are fast moving towards a channel world of “everything as a service,” and that revolution is probably the most exciting partner development in the last 10 years for me. Our program, team and Comcast Business are at the epicenter of that major shift towards software and recurring revenue services.

CP: How does Comcast’s approach to the channel differ from the competition?

CS: Our approach to business in this space is “the partner is our customer.” Our program is unique because we always start with the partner experience (Px) in mind, and then design our tools and support systems to improve our overall ease of doing business. We hold ourselves highly accountable using a Net Promoter Scores (NPS), and we use our partner-experience metrics to validate the job we are doing with our partners.

In addition, in a time of uncertainty for some competitors with M&A and more, our program is very stable and consistent with no changes in our channel leadership team for many years. That is not the case with many other programs in the space, so our partners feel confident knowing what to expect from us. We have a significant amount of resources in Denver that support our partners operationally and with their marketing efforts. In addition, we have an entire inside channel sales team that supports the 1000’s of partners we have nationwide along with our field channel sales team.

CP: How did you get into the channel?

CS: I had my own small company out of college making and distributing posters, and I decided that I wanted more stability and a new career track in a very hot and high-growth industry.

My father Paul was a…… pioneer in the channel world at IBM in the late ’80s, and he helped them launch what is now the I/T channel of 150,000-plus partners nationally. I was looking for a sales position and he encouraged me to look at his space, and so he introduced me to one of IBM’s partners called Businessland, which was in Southern CA. I started selling PCs to large Fortune 500 companies in Orange County working with many vendors such as IBM, Compaq, HP, AST, Microsoft and many others.

I then moved to Denver for an opportunity to work for a distributor (now called Ingram Micro) as a vendor manager for NEC and then on to Sony, IBM, and now many years later the network communications space. It was the best business decision I ever made!

CP: Do you have any advice for someone looking to make a career in channel leadership?

CS: My advice for someone looking to make a career in channel leadership is to spend as much time in the field with your partners and truly look through the lens of the partner to understand how they view their business, what they need to be successful and what their core metrics are to be profitable while driving revenue.

Throughout my career I have always tried to put myself in a partner’s shoes and to be in their places of business to build those relationships. You cannot do that from your office and behind your desk, so I have logged nearly 3 million miles on various airlines over 30 years in order to do that. I have visited partners in every state in the U.S (except Alaska) and visited partners in other countries including Europe, South America, and Asia. People do business with people who they know, who they trust and who they feel treat them with respect and that has been my true north over my career.

CP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CS: Our industry is rapidly morphing into a recurring revenue service model, with the shift from physical hardware to virtualized services like SDN, security, routers, UCaaS, DaaS and many more. The old, on-premises model is being replaced by the cloud and what we’re experiencing with AWS, Azure, Google and others is only the beginning.

Partners who once focused building a business on top-line, one-time revenue now must adapt to a world of recurring revenue. If they don’t, they may cease to exist… think Blockbuster vs. Netflix or Uber vs. taxis. The channel needs to sell to customers the way they want to buy, not the way they want to sell. Success and growth will require a pivot to create a digital transformation map for their survival.
Companies now want one provider for their desktop apps, storage, communications, networking and security needs. Partners that can fulfill and deliver all those needs for their customers will survive. The Comcast Business team is here to help educate our partners on how to make that switch.

We cannot wait for what 2020 will bring, and it may very well be the most exciting year ever in the channel in my last 30!

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

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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