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Michael Brennan previously was EarthLink's director of strategic partner development and joined Windstream in March.

Edward Gately

October 23, 2017

7 Min Read
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Edward Gately

Since its acquisitions of EarthLink and Broadview Networks, Windstream has filled the gaps in its service portfolio and its bundle now is resonating with both partners and customers.

That’s according to Michael Brennan, Windstream’s new head of national and strategic programs. He plans to make it easier for partners to do business with the company.

He previously was EarthLink’s director of strategic partner development and joined Windstream in March.

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Windstream’s Michael Brennan

Brennan’s position is newly created and he will work with Olen Scott, Windstream’s vice president of channel sales. He was instrumental in EarthLink’s successful channel transformation, specifically in its master agency program.

This summer, Windstream unveiled an enhanced SD-WAN offering it says includes the best of its technology and that of EarthLink. It also updated its UCaaS portfolio by adding Broadview’s OfficeSuite paired with its SD-WAN.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Brennan sizes up Windstream’s channel strategy and shares his plans to improve the partner experience.

Channel Partners: What is your take on Windstream’s current channel strategy? Are changes needed?

Michael Brennan: I think our channel strategy is really aggressive, being a program that partners are proud doing business with. We’re seeing a strong emphasis on cloud-based solutions and managed services. Customers are more knowledgeable than ever, and the conversations that sales used to have were more network-centric and it’s evolved into an application-centric discussion. And at Windstream, I feel we’re enabling our partners to make these transformations in their customer engagement and we’re empowering them to be successful.

CP: How will your channel experience with EarthLink come into play in your new role?

MB: At EarthLink, we had to make a similar transformation when moving to managed services, and I lived through that. We made mistakes, but we developed some ahead-of-the-curve practices, and having insight into how these organizations work gives me the unique opportunity to be able to pull best practices from both of the programs and blend them together for a superior partner experience. That’s what I’ll be bringing to the channel.

CP: What would be an example of a best practice from EarthLink that will be useful to Windstream?

MB: Ease of doing business is probably the best practice that bubbles to the top. One of the things that we did at EarthLink was empower our partners to be able to quote our services and therefore being able to get them to turn around and …

… engage back with their customer in an expedient manner. And that’s really the ease of doing business that we were able to bring to the partner community and that’s one of the things that we’ll be bringing forward [in] the Windstream strategy.

CP: Windstream has been busy rolling out new services along with its recent acquisitions of EarthLink and Broadview. What does all of this mean for its partners?

MB: The partner community as a whole, they’re fired up. As Layne Levine (president of Windstream’s enterprise business unit) would say, “they’re digging our chili.” We had a couple of gaps in our solution portfolio no doubt, but with the SD-WAN and Broadview, they’re absolutely cheering for us. We’re excited about it because since the acquisition of EarthLink and the acquisition of Broadview we’ve got a bundled solution that’s really resonating not only in the partner community as a whole, but in the customer community as they transition more to the cloud-based solutions.

CP: What sort of feedback have you received from Windstream partners? Are there things they like, don’t like about the current partner program?

MB: We’re leveraging the community’s feedback and applying it where it makes the most sense. And one of the things we’re hearing from the partner community is that we have a strong leadership team; we’re heading in the right direction and they’re excited to hear we’re open for business from what we call zero to infinity. And what that means is everything’s available on the truck for the partner community to sell, from SMB all the way up to the full-bore enterprise solutions.

CP: What are the biggest issues facing Windstream and what will be your role in addressing them?

MB: I think with such an offering in huge demand, it will be keeping pace from a solution-development perspective and a quote-velocity perspective. We’re going to pressure-test our own ecosystem, but we’re getting in front of that right now in preparation. In addition, we need to continue to do what we say we’re going to do. We’re making changes. It’s not going to happen overnight. But we have a road map that I feel the leadership team is in full support of and we’re addressing it on a daily basis. We need a strong Windstream and I feel we owe that to the partner community to deliver. And the purpose of my team and my role will be to make sure that that message is heard across all elements of our national and strategic partners, and reheard from the executives all the way down to the subagent community.

CP: What do you hope to accomplish in your first six months to a year?

MB: At Windstream, internally within our channel organization, we have a hashtag that is really relevant to this question — #channeldomination. My team, I’m holding them aggressively to dominating our key relationships. From the bottom to the top, I expect my team and our partners to …

… be intimately aware of who we are in the industry, what our right to win scenarios are and where we should be winning in the space. And that’s my go-forward strategy, to make sure we are ringing the bell and it is echoing through all elements of the community. On a day-to-day basis, it’s championing that message, taking that message to the street. It’s getting the word out of where we’re winning business, how we’re winning the business and how we’re differentiating ourselves to the partner community through our solution-based selling and engagement, and some of the value services that we bring into the conversation. That’s the expectation I have of my people as well, to be doing that on a daily basis with their relationships. The partner channel, it’s all about the relationships. So it’s going to be leveraging those relationships and capitalizing on our mutual successes.

CP: How is the competitive landscape changing for Windstream and how does it remain a leader?

MB: Ultimately I think for any provider, and I think Windstream has identified this and has moved in that direction, access is truly a commodity-based solution. The margins are aggressively going down, but in order to survive, you have to have a solid solution offering, which I think we do. If you look at our SD-WAN go-to-market strategy layered in with our OfficeSuite – our UCaaS platform – that’s a really robust offering that’s I think unparalleled in the industry. But on top of that is the experience. That’s how a provider needs to evolve in order to differentiate themselves in the market space, and that’s how they capitalize on or how they support the customer experience.

And some of the key things that we do differently with our SD-WAN offering and the UCaaS is truly to the benefit of the customer experience. Embracing the concept of managed services would be the best way to look at it, and making sure that the customer experience is not jeopardized through all aspects of not only the sales process, but the life-cycle management of the customer. And that I think is key and critical to our ongoing and continued success.

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About the Author(s)

Edward Gately

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

As news editor, Edward Gately covers cybersecurity, new channel programs and program changes, M&A and other IT channel trends. Prior to Informa, he spent 26 years as a newspaper journalist in Texas, Louisiana and Arizona.

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