Q&A With ABi Channel Chief Justin Chris-Tensen

Signs of an economic rebound and pent-up demand spurred ABi to bring on a full-time sales and marketing professional. Part of Justin Chris-Tensen's role will be to build the companys indirect sales channel.

April 30, 2010

7 Min Read
Q&A With ABi Channel Chief Justin Chris-Tensen

By Khali Henderson

Former TelePacific Communications channel chief Justin Chris-Tensen has been named senior vice president of sales and marketing for Pennsylvania-based American Broadband Inc. (ABi) with responsibility for direct and indirect sales channels.

Chris-Tensen was previously the vice president and general manager of telepartner sales and marketing at TelePacific, a CLEC operating in California and Nevada. Before that, he held posts at various telecom companies, including Telegate, GST Telecom, ICG Communications and MCI.

ABi Channel Chief Justin Chris-Tensen

Chris-Tensen is filling a new role for ABi, a broadband aggregator and managed network service provider. While founded in 2001, the company in 2009 transitioned to a new management team led by CEO Thomas Grundman. COO Richard Ellsworth took on the sales management hat. Signs of an economic rebound and pent-up demand spurred the company to bring on a full-time sales and marketing professional. Part of this role will be to build the company’s indirect sales channel.

PHONE+ interviewed Chris-Tensen about his channel plans.

PHONE+: It’s fair to say ABi isn’t well-known. Can you tell me more about it and what attracted you to go to work there?

Chris-Tensen: Yes, it is true [that ABi isn’t well-known] and that, frankly, was the main reason for my interest in joining the team, as opportunities like this don’t come along very often. ABi’s value proposition has much in common with the value proposition of an agent in so much as we both must ensure that the customer’s best interest is served for a fair price — and that is what we do every day.

ABi was founded in 2001 as an aggregation play, delivering high-capacity managed network solutions provided by underlying strategic partners (ILECs, CLECs and wireless providers in addition to service providers such as cable television operators, power companies and other providers), and our time is now. We have a true “anywhere to anywhere” reach that enables us to custom build every solution, ensuring best-in-class technology from the current best-in-class providers.

As I reflect on the history of the industry, a company without a bricks-and-mortar network, even five years ago, would have been received with eye rolls from competitors and prospective customers alike. Now, due to rapidly changing technologies, this perceived deficiency is suddenly a strength. Facilities-based providers seem to emerge and fade on a daily basis — they bet the farm on their best guess at customer appetite for a given technology and innovation that results in a hugely expensive race to market — where many slip and fall down. In 2010, as in years past, that can equal a lot of risk for investor dollars.

At ABi we don’t have massive capex budgets to keep a rapidly depreciating asset base at the ready; therefore, we are not married to yesterday’s technology or a network vision that may be obsolete by end of year. Rather, we can invest in selectively helping our clients expand their technology options while developing valuable applications. We leverage our wholesale relationships with the best-in-class providers to custom build enterprise solutions for clients with 10 or more locations. Further, we bundle apps such as VoIP, managed firewall and even hosted video security to users of our connectivity. This approach allows us to remain aligned with our customers, providing superior customer service with proven technology, while we monitor their network from one of our three NOCs — all the while having the freedom to migrate clients from one provider to the next as best-in-class ability evolves.

To sum it up, we made the Inc. Magazine list of 5,000 fastest growing private companies … and we’re about to make it faster!

PHONE+: Since you have responsibility for direct and indirect sales, how much of your time will be focused on the indirect channel?

Chris-Tensen: I will spend from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on one, and then the second half of the day on the other! Seriously, I am blessed to walk into a well-organized team of professionals that are teaching me the history and reasons for that history that are quickly helping me get up to speed. Coming up on the end of week two, I have already been out on two appointments, which has been very beneficial. After all, if I can’t roll up my sleeves and get in the trenches to understand what direct and agents sales professionals face, then I have no right to lead the team. At ABi, we have no ivory towers. Every level of employee (from the CEO down) is often in front of our customer base (new and existing). Customers want accessible relationships that suit up, show up, and execute on their promises to the extent that they may focus on their core business while relying on their long-term strategic relationships that have a shared interest in the outcome of implementing a critical service.

PHONE+: How many agents does ABi have?

Chris-Tensen: ABi’s channel strategy has been fairly casual to date, and that is one of the things that I am here to focus on. I would describe it as almost a “greenfield” opportunity.

PHONE+: What is the structure of the partner program?

Chris-Tensen: My vision is for a master agent-only program that enables us to provide a quality experience to the partners that share our vision, so that we can enable a positive experience for them as well as the clients they work with on a daily basis. The complications with scaling a back office to service hundreds of agents eventually end in disappointment and frustration for all. I believe in the master agent model as it enables me to provide leads to the agents I do work with — as our story becomes more well known.

PHONE+: What are the levels, if any?

Chris-Tensen: Once we complete our master agent agreement, there will be no need for our partners to ask for changes. We are dedicated to being open, transparent to the extent that we will have no “favored nations” agreements — we will treat all of our partners the same.

PHONE+: What resources are dedicated to the channel?

Chris-Tensen: To date, our sales teams have been blended working direct leads as well as agents (with the promise to never take an agent lead and work it direct). However, as you know, the skill sets are completely different — and for that reason, I expect to hire my first agent manager within the next few months.

PHONE+: How much revenue does the channel bring to ABi? Do you expect that to change in 2010?

Chris-Tensen: I am still sorting through the historical numbers, but I would say that while we have always been agent-friendly, the focus has shifted over time. To that end, I expect a substantial uptick in agent production as we truly have an “anywhere to anywhere” reach.

PHONE+: What are you goals for the ABi channel program in 2010?

Chris-Tensen: Let me tell you what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to create an environment where we are constantly funneling/pressuring agents. I feel strongly that our dedication to excellence is self-evident, and the agent community will pick up on that from their first deal they sell with us. So, ours is a very realistic program, with a healthy ramp, earmarked with quality and attention to detail regarding on-boarding, training, responsiveness, and access to the executive team.

What are your key partner-enablement initiatives for 2010?

Great question. All relationships start with an introduction and we have several opportunities to do just that — with our first get-together planned for May 13 in Orange County, Calif. Additionally, we have a rebranding campaign that will more closely align our brand with what we offer, with a new Web presence, collateral and key business-enabling programs to support the overall effort.

PHONE+: What do you think will be hot product/solution opportunities for partners in 2010?

Chris-Tensen: Although we are working with industry leaders on offerings that uniquely position ABi, I really feel that it will not be the products in and of themselves that are “hot” to customers. It will be the solutions (regardless of sophistication level) that eliminate the customer frustration factor, and we feel we do that better than anyone. Why? Because, ABi provides custom-built, technology-enabled, solution based on need and price, reflect all of those services (wireline, wireless, broadband, and/or satellite) on a single bill, while we monitor and service the heck out of our clients. Some claim it, but we really are the one throat to choke (minus the choking).

PHONE+: What will be the biggest challenges for channel partners generally in 2010?

Chris-Tensen: My view is not a complicated one. I simply feel that there is a lot of risk from the agent perspective relative to choosing their provider partners as technology and financial strength continues to shift in a challenging market.

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