AT&T Brings More Focus, Bigger Investment To Its Channel Partner Program

AT&T is standing behind its newly revamped channel strategy and is ready to go big with partners in 2018.

After three months on the job, Zee Hussain, channel chief of AT&T Partner Solutions, told CRN that the carrier spent the end of 2017 restructuring its channel organization to make it quicker and easier for solution providers to work with AT&T. The company also made a long-awaited change to its compensation model, which now allows Channel Alliance partners to be paid out in a monthly recurring fashion.  

"We've made a lot of announcements over the past three months, and hopefully it's evident to all of our partners that they are central to our strategy," Hussain said. "Our focus is on amping growth in the channel in a big way."

[Related: AT&T Channel Leader Brooks McCorcle To Retire As Carrier Brings Channel Programs Together]

AT&T in October said it would realign its indirect channel program, bringing its three solution provider models under one roof for the first time, including AT&T Partner Exchange, ACC Business, and AT&T Alliance Channel, an independent program run by Vice President of Alternate Channels Kevin Leonard. Leonard previously reported directly to Anne Chow, AT&T's president of National Business. Under the new partner structure that includes Alliance Channel, Leonard reports to Hussain, who reports to Chow.

Partners, especially telecom brokers and integrators, had been asking AT&T to revamp the compensation model with the Alliance Channel, so the carrier spent the last six months of 2017 running a pilot program for a select group of partners. In addition to giving these partners access to monthly recurring revenue, AT&T added more presales and post-sales support for partners, opened more customer accounts to partners, and removed the complexities associated with onboarding customers by simplifying contracts, Hussain said.

"Solution providers are pivoting to the recurring revenue model, and that part is really critical to where they see themselves going," he said. "We've been able to add more support, and essentially have made almost all of our accounts available for partners to sell into. We also simplified our agreements [which were] over 100 pages to about 20 pages."

AT&T is also seeing a lot of momentum within its ACC Business, an alternate brand from the carrier that includes only core networking offerings -- essential data and voice services -- to SMB customers through channel partners. Managed service providers in particular, Hussain said, have been drawn to this channel program.

"One of the first things I did [as channel chief] was to ask for increased investment in ACC, and we got it," he added. Hussain plans to use that extra investment to increase ACC's channel sales staff headcount by 50 percent in 2018.

"As you ramp up the number of partners in any group, they have support needs. Within ACC Business, we've seen some really strong volume growth and we believe we can get even more, which is why are investing in more staff to better enable solution providers." 

AT&T's Partner Exchange program, the carrier's flagship reseller model, focused on self-service and enablement tools for solution provider partners, is mostly staying the same, save for some new resources and offerings being made available through partners. Solution providers in the Partner Exchange program today can resell AT&T's IoT and UCaaS offerings, along with its intelligent networking edge platform, Flexware. Flexware lets solution providers configure and run multiple virtualized network functions from a single premises-based appliance, simplifying network infrastructure management for their end customers.

Intelligent, flexible networking solutions will be an essential area that partners should be placing their bets on in 2018, Hussain said.

AT&T's Partner Exchange Program began as a "startup" within AT&T and launched by former channel chief Brooks McCorcle. It's rare that a partner program within a large corporation still has that startup feel, but AT&T's new channel chief Hussain is keeping to that tradition, said Chris Hill, CEO of DataXoom, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based solution provider and AT&T Partner Exchange member that specializes in mobility services.
 
The new channel organization, under Hussain's leadership, is helping partners make deals happen, Hill said.
 
"Without a doubt, we've seen positive changes. Merging the [partner] programs has been helpful, both from pricing and availability of products for partners, as well as interaction between solution providers and AT&T," he said.

The three channel programs, now included within one organization, each has more of a clarified purpose when it comes to supporting the different subsets of partners that work within each program. And partners aren't restricted to only one program. Solution providers can work across Partner Exchange, Alliance Channel, or ACC Business, depending on their needs, according to Hussain.

The restructuring, coupled with the investments that AT&T is making to its indirect sales business, illustrates the carrier's plan to "double and triple down on the channel" in 2018, he said.

"We're not just making statements out there, we're actually backing it up with investment and focus," Hussain said. "We are looking forward to a tremendous year, together with our partners."

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