The EarthLink and Broadview acquisitions have helped Windstream start to get back its SMB base.

Edward Gately, Senior News Editor

April 23, 2018

8 Min Read
Skinned Elbow

Windstream‘s channel chief has been on the job now for five months and has spent much of that time working to restore partners’ faith in the company’s commitment to the channel, particularly its legacy partner base.

Curt Allen took over as Windstream’s channel chief, replacing Olen Scott, who nabbed the position in February of last year after Windstream completed its acquisition of EarthLink. He previously was president of X4 Solutions, the master agent that was acquired by fellow master agent Sandler Partners, and became Sandler’s president of channel before leaving last September.


Windstream’s Curt Allen at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, April 19.

At last week’s Channel Partners Conference and Expo, Windstream Enterprise unveiled its new “Our Size Fits You” campaign for partners, adding master agent TBI to its National Partner Program, enhancing TBI’s portfolio of cloud, collaboration, connectivity, data center, mobility, networking and voice providers.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Allen talks about the goal behind “Our Size Fits You,” what he’s done to strengthen Windstream’s commitment to the channel and his plans moving forward.

Channel Partners: What’s the goal of the “Our Size Fits You” partner campaign?

Curt Allen: That’s a promotional program that we created that’s basically designed to induce our partners that haven’t worked with us or have worked with us in the past – but have gone inactive for whatever reason – to come back to us. The phrase stems from the messaging since I came on. Coming from the master-agent side, at X4 I represented 100 carriers, and you had AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink at one end, and the local cablecos on the other, and there were all these plays in the middle that the agile CLECs did … With the collapse of the CLEC marketplace in all those acquisitions and mergers, there [are] really not a lot of faces in that middle spot, and I feel like our business fits in that spot … as that agile provider to help your customers move to SD-WAN and UCaaS right there between AT&T and Verizon, and the local cablecos.

And secondarily, we sit right there as a financial hedge from a commissions perspective. We’re a company that has paid legacy residual commissions forever and we’ve always been committed to that model, and so … we again sit right between AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and those local cablecos as a perfect fit financially for your business. So that’s where the Our Size Fits You stemmed from.

The actual campaign is a 5x spiff on our strategic products – SD-WAN, UCaaS, distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) mitigation – for partners who either have never worked with us, or haven’t worked with us in about a year or are minimally active, and that goes all the way even to subagents … We’re selling newer applications so we want to kind of grease the skids for you to give you financial inducement to come back and give us a try.

CP: Has that been an issue, with partners not working with Windstream or going dormant?

CA: Absolutely. The decisions that we made back in 2015, which were necessary at the time, where we kind of walked away from the SMB marketplace, certainly weren’t well received by the channel. And I was in the channel at the time and it was difficult. But now due to the acquisitions we’ve made since, through buying EarthLink and Broadview Networks, [those] gave us …

… the product sets to be efficient in that marketplace. So we’re back; we want your SMB up through your enterprise today. But certainly there [are] still some skinned knees and bruised elbows from the decisions back then, so we fully recognize that we have to do some things. I made a huge commitment to care for our legacy base while we migrate to these more advanced solutions. We’re publishing a report card every month that shows our improvement hopefully, and when we slip back, we publish that too. Our influencer forum gave us a list of things from a service-delivery standpoint that they thought we should improve at … and we measure those every month and publish those for our partner base to continue to improve on that side. So we’re inducing you to come to us because of the things we’re moving to, and to let us guide you to SD-WAN and UCaaS solutions, but we’re recognizing that we’ve got to do a better job of caring for those legacy customers.

CP: Also, TBI has been added to your national partner program. What’s the significance of that?

CA: Our national partner program is designed primarily for those large two-tier master agents that maybe exist in a marketplace, like TBI in Chicago, but they have partners all over the country. We have a group of partner-development directors headed by Michael Brennan – so there’s another layer of sales management that’s strategic with that national partner – and then they also have access to local channel managers in the marketplace, so wherever their subagents reside, we’ll align with them. There’s a national partner help desk that’s an extra level of support for that master agent to go to someone who can quarterback to our organization and get things done. So to have TBI, and a few weeks back we added PlanetOne and became a premier partner for them — to have two of the largest long-term master agents turn and say, “Hey, we think Windstream’s on the right track and we’re committed to doing business with them,” we think that will make a significant impact.

CP: You took over as Windstream’s channel chief last November. It sounds like you’ve been very busy since then.

CA: It kind of mirrors that path that the business has taken. My rear end’s been attached to an airplane seat the entire time, and it’s getting out and talking to all of these partners about what we really want to be. If we go out and tell the partner community, “Hey, come back to us,” and their expectation is this is PaeTec 2.0, they’re going to be disappointed. But if we can go out and explain to them that while we’re going to continue to honor our obligation and focus, and put resources toward that legacy base – that this is where our business is headed – and if you look at where our business is headed, it’s no coincidence; it mirrors where the marketplace is headed, so let’s partner together. So I’ve spent most of my time changing hearts and minds about what we are and what we want to be, and aligning with partners that way, and then doing that same thing internally. I’ve done significant work realigning skill sets within our organization. The business unit from top to bottom doesn’t look anything like it looked a year ago.

CP: Has it been tough to convince these partners that Windstream is changing, and has new and different things to offer?

CA: It has. It’s a hybrid scenario. So the partners who don’t have a large legacy base with us, those folks have been …

… incredibly receptive because, quite frankly, they know where the marketplace is headed. So they look at the key differentiators in our cloud SD-WAN solution, they look at our full stack of UCaaS — and that’s attractive to them. And by the end of next month, we’re going to have a single-pane-of-glass dashboard where you’ll be able to manage your UCaaS solution, your SD-WAN solution and you’re underlying network. So that’s super attractive to everybody. Where the hesitancy has been is with partners who do have large legacy bases that still are a little stung from some of the decisions we made, so with those folks we’ve just got to explain, “Hey, we’re now committed more than ever to our obligation to care for those customers.” And we’re showing them by measuring what we do in all those performance metrics around the business. They’re now seeing, and what we’ve heard over and over this week is that [they’re] seeing the results. In a lot of cases they’re saying, “We don’t think you’re where you need to be, but relative to your competitors, you’re doing pretty [well].” And when we share the details … 90 percent of the partners who are here are seeing the positive change in results. They may have an area where they say, “Hey, we need to fix this,” but the proof is in the puddling.

We had a tremendous first quarter; our channel hit our numbers for the first time in a long time, so the results are there. The number gets bigger and bigger as we plan to grow this thing.

CP: Sounds like you’ve already accomplished a lot, but there’s still a long way to go.

CA: I’ve said we need to take this channel and make it 3x, and we’re nudging up against 2x, and that next leap, 50 percent growth, that’s going to be a challenge. A lot of that will be how we handle and care for all of those businesses that sold in [the first quarter]. But I’m very happy about where we are progress-wise, and very happy about the response. Layne Levine (president of Windstream Enterprise and Wholesale) is here [at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo], our CFO Bob Gunderman is here, and our CMO Joe Harding’s here. So the commitment’s there and it’s well received.

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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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