Sprint has divided its channel into wireline and wireless segments and is improving resources and processes for partners. So far, so good, agents say.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

October 18, 2011

10 Min Read
Is Sprints Channel All Together Now?

If youre a Sprint Nextel partner, you know the carriers indirect channel program has been a little disjointed over the past couple of years. Wireline and wireless partners had to share resources and processes, operating as if their business models were similar. Sprints channel leadership saw significant turnover. Over the past several months, however, the upheaval has started to settle as Sprint has put new executives in charge to remodel the channel. All of the modifications should be completed by January, but already they have led to more streamlined operations and, for wireline partners, the elimination of one very unpopular policy.

Sprint has spent the past 12 months reinvigorating its business indirect channel with new leadership, initiatives and operations support. We really are in the process of a pretty terrific turnaround story and, in the journey of that turnaround, weve had to make significant organizational changes,” said Judy Train, vice president of small business and alternate channels.

Thats because the Nextel acquisition of late 2004 brought about a wireless emphasis for which many people in the wireline channel were not prepared. On top of that, more end-users dropped wireline services in favor of mobility. To try and accommodate the shifting environment, Sprint decided about two years ago to manage its partners based on geography. That didnt work as well as hoped and late last year, the operator determined it would be best to oversee partners based on their business models wireline or wireless. The entire indirect channel is overseen by Paget Alves. But the wireline program is run by Monnie McGaffigan, vice president of wireline, international and strategic alliances. The wireless unit falls under Train while Callie Merritt-Jones, who reports to Train, works as director of channel development and business indirect.

McGaffigan, Train and Merritt-Jones have used much of 2011 to redefine Sprints channels to better reflect the companys desire to work with partners. Particularly on the wireless side, full evidence of that work wont be apparent until the new year. Still, for both groups, renovations are underway.

Wireline Woes and Revival

In fall of 2010, Sprint was reorganizing its business units to trim operations and costs. Amid the restructuring, Alves recognized the need to attract more wireline sales. Wireline may be a shrinking segment, but it promises plenty of growth for Sprint. In fact, it makes up a $4 billion business for the company and produced about $1 billion in free cash flow in 2010. So, late last year, Alves put McGaffigan in charge of the wireline channel, which comprises enterprise, wholesale and call-termination revenue. In turn, McGaffigan and her team have spent 2011 reconnecting with agents. For example, theyve created a Partner Advisory Council and just wrapped up the most recent partner summit at Sprint headquarters in Kansas City. Through it all, the loudest message McGaffigan is hearing from partners is that they want working with Sprint to be easier.

And she is listening.

Big news, wireline agents: that dedicated care model you didnt like because you had to pay for support? Gone. Were cleaning that up right now,” McGaffigan said. In other words, by the end of the fourth quarter, interaction with Sprint customer service reps no longer will cost you. About two years ago, Sprint upended its dedicated care policy, charging partners who had to opt in by the hour for help with everything from pricing to prequalifying Ethernet customers. That did not go over well,” said McGaffigan, who was not part of the team that instituted the practice. Without a doubt, the switch slowed partners selling efforts and put a sour taste in their mouths,” McGaffigan said.

But soon that will all be in the past. Sprints dedicated care personnel should once again be available, free of charge, to agents by the end of this year. Its important that we do teach our partners and channel managers how to fish, how to become independent,” McGaffigan said. However, charging for support was the wrong way to go about that. We need to do whatever it takes and the last thing I want to do is make it punitive for us to work together,” she said.

Chris Palermo, CEO of master agency GCN Solutions, approved of the eradication of pay-for-support. Because of the cost involved, we were one of the few that never opted to take it,” he said. Well be very happy when its gone.”

Meantime, McGaffigan is carrying that ethos of being open to partners perspectives into other areas of the wireline channel as well. For example, executives have created a Partner Advisory Council. Several agents said they had not heard of the effort but liked the idea. Sprint did say the council is comprised of just six partners who meet semiannually and who will rotate each year. The carrier would not disclose the names of those agents.

Overall, Sprint partners seem pleased with the providers renewed emphasis on the wireline channel. I like it because last year they were so focused on just driving wireless sales that it was really tough to get wireline support. Now that theyre focused on wireline, we have the exclusive wireline support we need,” Palermo said.

Agreed, said Stacy Conrad, director of sales for master agency MicroCorp, who attended Sprints recent partner summit in Kansas City. It was nice to see Sprints recommitment to the channel,” she said. From the top down, you could tell they have refocused and want their partners engaged in wireline again.”

Steve Latos, vice president of sales for GCN Solutions, also was at the event. Were optimistic, cautiously optimistic” about Sprints channel transformation, he said. We anticipate that everything will be positive and were looking forward to those good results.”

Perhaps the most encouraging indicator was that Sprint sent some of its top executives to that conference. Most companies dont send people with that high a ranking to these meetings, and Sprint did,” GCNs Palermo said. That showed how much they care about seeing the wireline division start to grow again.”

Haini Whittington, vice president of operations for World Telecom Group, attended the summit, too. Sprints return to core wireline services not to the exclusion of wireless is crucial, she said. Plus, she added, international expansion and global service availability is great, especially on Ethernet and SIP.” And like GCN, Whittington praised Sprints clear message” that it needs the channel.

Still, there are some improvements partners would like to see from Sprint. In terms of the back office, WTG, for its part, wants integration with more CRM platforms and fixes to certain back-office processes, such as the order-entry focus on area codes. GCNs Latos concurred that the systems are a bit onerous to work with,” but said Sprint executives noted at the summit theyre aware of the problems and are working on them. Partners also would embrace more SPIFFs and promotions. Sprint used to pay those kinds of bonuses, Palermo said, but it has been a while. It would be a welcome change because it might drive more revenue from agents and subagents,” he said. 

If activity from Sprints wireline channel so far is any gauge, McGaffigans team will consider that feedback seriously. After all, agents are proving critical to the success of Sprints wireline business. We are seeing significant uptick from our existing partners,” McGaffigan said. It really tells a story that our partners are out there bringing us brand-new logos and opportunities.”

A Walk on the Wireless Side

As Sprint was doing its internal overhaul last year, it also separated the wireless channel into its own division, appointing Train as head and Merritt-Jones as second-in-command. From there, executives broke the wireless channel into niche segments. We were a jack-of-all-trades and now were looking at very specific verticals,” said Merritt-Jones. And frankly, it aligns better with our overarching strategy.”

Train agreed. We wanted to make sure we worked with each partner based on the best skills and expertise theyre bringing to the marketplace, and not through a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.

Here is the new composition of Sprints wireless channel:

  • Distributors Firms such as SYNNEX, Ingram Micro and CDW have their own OEM relationships and boast a far larger distribution network than Sprint. That means the service provider reaches new users for its wireless products and services, and doesnt have to oversee end-user support.

  • M2M The machine-to-machine (M2M) industry is booming, fueled by uses including fleet management (employers can track how fast a field technician is driving, for example) and digital billboards (requiring bandwidth and chipsets to enable real-time information programming think the local NBC affiliate announcing its most popular primetime show for that night). Indeed, M2M adoption grew 52 percent in the United States alone last year, according to Berg Insight, and Sprint plans to be part of that growth. M2M is a critical component of what we hope to achieve in 2012,” said Train.

  • Mobility Management These partners manage devices for mid-sized and large corporations that have service through multiple carriers. Sprint has started offering co-branding to asset-management partners, whose responsibilities include determining the type and volume of employees wireless use, as well as where the devices are located, and overseeing plan costs. Sprints Mobility Management platform spans all carriers.

  • National Sales Group A feet on the street” setup; most participants have Sprint stores and have agreed to specific revenue goals.

To be sure, a number of master agents sell both wireless and wireline services. When that crossover occurs, processes remain in place that partners indicate have served them well so far. For example, when a wireline deal with wireless components arises, someone from Merritt-Joness team works with the wireline channel to fulfill the sale. Its been somewhat of a seamless handoff,” she said, and agents agreed with that assessment.

Nonetheless, similar to its wireline counterpart, expect process enhancements from the wireless channel. Executives plan to roll out revamped back-end systems in January. Train and Merritt-Jones couldnt talk about those developments; they were started in September and will be ready in a couple of months.

Sprint also was reworking its wireless commissions but said details would not be available until about mid-November. We want to make sure partner incentives and compensation are aligned with the activity we hope to get out of them,” Train said. But, she added, We dont anticipate large changes.”

Wireless partners can look forward to more support in the form of lead generation and some other, unspecified additions, however. We know that if we dont think of [partners] success as our success, we wont be able to partner effectively,” Train said. So this is the business model that we think will enable them to be as profitable as possible, which helps us.”

Meet the Sprint Channel Leaders

Monnie McGaffigan

December 2010 Present

Vice president of wireline, international and strategic alliances

Oversees Sprints wireline services, including international sales and alliance partnerships (including Microsoft, IBM, Cisco and Intel). Coordinates wireline platform strategy, capital investment and responsible for sales and operations support of a $4 billion line of business.

June 1987 December 2010
Regional vice president of enterprise accounts

Was responsible for 22 states west of Illinois, accountable for all sales and retention efforts surrounding wireline, wireless and convergence products.

Judy Train

July 2010 Present
Vice president of small business and alternate channels

Works with wireless partners whose end-users include the small business and SOHO markets.

September 1998 July 2010
Various positions at Sprint, including vice president of sales operations, vice president of human resources and director of segment marketing.

Callie Merritt-Jones

October 2010 Present
Director of channel development and business indirect

Identifies and establishes new channels for Sprint Business. Manages Sprints indirect business partners.

August 2003 October 2010

Various positions at Sprint and its wireline counterpart, Embarq, including director of e-commerce, director of retail operations, and senior manager of retail customer experience and service strategy.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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