Erik Thomson knows how to make things happen for channel partners.

Todd R. Weiss

August 7, 2020

5 Min Read
Channel Partners Top Gun 51 logo

Erik Thomson has only worked in the channel for 18 months, but he’s already making a difference for Zayo partners.

Thomson started out working for the communications infrastructure vendor five years ago in sales, then transitioned into channel operations. Zayo is his first job in the tech and data industry.


Zayo’s Erik Thomson

Yet here he is, selected as a Channel Partners/Channel Futures 2020 Top Gun 51 winner, recognizing channel executives who are driving partner success. Three criteria were considered for this year’s winners. They are channel advocacy; commitment to partner business success; and dedication to earning the channel’s trust. To come up with the list, we solicited input from those who know channel executives best — distributors, master agents and industry analysts.

Using his experience from the U.S. Marine Corps, Thomson knows how to make things happen for channel partners. At Zayo, he was recognized for his leadership and given the reins to the company’s channel program.

Thomson is senior vice president of partner channel and premier sales for parent company, Zayo Group. Zayo’s 133,000-mile network in North America and Europe provides a broad communications infrastructure for a wide range of businesses. The company is focused on data center connectivity and cloud offerings.

Before joining Zayo, he worked at Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City doing back office and data analytics work. In the Marines, he served as a captain and assistant operations officer for an infantry battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He also served as a scout sniper platoon commander, first lieutenant and intelligence officer in Afghanistan.

Thomson recently shared his story with Channel Partners about how he’s approaching his important responsibilities at Zayo.

Channel Partners: You started your career in sales at Zayo in 2015.  So how did you end up working with the company’s channel partners by 2018?

Erik Thomson: When I started, I transitioned to lead the marketing group. Marketing is an extension of big data. I went on to help build an inside sales division. My whole career has been taking parts of teams that work well on their own and bringing them together. But we needed something more.

CP: What else was needed?

Zayo’s Erik Thomson is part of Channel Partners/Channel Futures’ 2020 Top Gun 51. This program recognizes today’s channel executives who build and execute channel programs that drive partner, customer and supplier success. See the full list.

ET: We needed to figure out how partners could get better visibility into what Zayo does and how it operates. The company has done about 50 acquisitions over the years. A lot of our partners have worked with a lot of those companies individually before the acquisitions. But the partners haven’t worked with all of them, so they don’t know all the pieces that are there. My job was to figure out how we can do a better job supporting our partners and customers.

CP: What did you do to accomplish those goals for Zayo partners?

ET: I just had to help the two groups work together more seamlessly. Talking with our partners, they all talk about the assets that Zayo brings to the table. We added a dedicated partner support team for white-glove treatment for everything we sell. I started doing that kind of work for Zayo 18 months ago.

CP: Tell us more about your channel operations at Zayo?

ET: In organizations like Zayo, we want to be extremely close to the customer experience. We seek scores from customers and partners on surveys to ensure they are satisfied. And what we ultimately realized is that customers have close relationships with partners. So we take this information and it helps provide better solutions for partners and for our customer base. Most important is building trust with partners. At Zayo, we’re going to provide a good solution for them and we want to partner with them long term.

CP: How has that worked out?

ET: With that baseline established, we beefed up our team and …

… had five consecutive record quarters with the channel. As the numbers started to grow internationally, we threw more resources to channel partners and they brought in more deals. It’s a big snowball. As you add momentum, it creates momentum. We think we can double it again in the future.

CP: Can you tell me your philosophy about sales, the channel and Zayo partners?

ET: Sales is an interesting career because it’s so black and white and based on performance. I have several years on the team in sales. We’re hiring salespeople who have much more experience than me, and I’m listening to them. I try to hire experienced people and then listen and take their advice.

CP: Describe how you work with Zayo’s channel partners?

ET: I’ve learned from people. I’ve sat down with a few partners we have good relationships with. I told them I want them to come back into my office six months from now and I want them to tell me that Zayo is one of the partners they like doing business with. Then I asked them what we need to do to get to that position.

CP: What was their reaction to that bold statement?

ET: The first thing they said is that they didn’t like our business agreement. Instead of nodding my head, I went to the CEO and sat in his office and we rewrote the agreement. We changed the language, changed the payments, and added team resources to improve partner experiences. There’s not a whole lot of genius in the way we did it. It’s just taking advice from people who have experience and trying to follow that advice.

CP: What does leadership mean to you?

ET: I think that you manage processes and you lead people. I think about my time in the military. You take an overall mission and find a way to inspire people to accomplish things for themselves and their teams. People will work harder for themselves than they will for a company. The whole philosophy of people doing good things brings good results — getting an organization around doing the right thing, the right way, and not taking shortcuts. That can give you the faith of customers and partners.

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About the Author(s)

Todd R. Weiss

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist who covers open source and Linux, cloud service providers, cloud computing, virtualization, containers and microservices, mobile devices, security, enterprise applications, enterprise IT, software development and QA, IoT and more. He has worked previously as a staff writer for Computerworld and, covering a wide variety of IT beats. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies and collecting toy taxis from around the world.

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