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Unified Verizon-XO channel program set for June debut

Verizon is bringing in resources and assets from XO Communications, as it unifies its channel program and rolls out a new business unit for small businesses and government markets.

Verizon Communications Inc. is in the process of integrating its channel program with that of XO Communications LLC and plans to formally roll out the combined Verizon-XO program in June.

Verizon in February 2017 completed its $1.8 billion purchase of XO's fiber optic network business. Janet Schijns, vice president of solution and sales channels at Verizon, said the company is now working with channel partners to get their feedback to create a program that is "built by the channel for the channel."

Verizon in April will review its program strategy with partners in preparation for the combined channel initiative's June launch.

New unit combines Verizon, XO teams

While Verizon readies the integrated Verizon Partner Program, the company is also providing more detail on Verizon Business Markets, a business unit that launched in January 2017. Verizon Business Markets will focus on the SMB market, including startups, as well as the state and local government and education sectors. The business unit combines teams from Verizon's SMB and enterprise groups along with XO teams and resources pursuing those markets, according to Verizon.

Verizon said the first services on offer from Verizon Business Markets include its FiOS voice, broadband and TV service; IP networking; voice products; security; and managed IT services. Schijns leads Verizon Business Markets unified channel and distribution strategy and also serves as the overarching channel executive across all Verizon business units, including those working with larger enterprise customers.

Opportunities for Verizon and its partners within Verizon Business Markets' scope include cities looking to invest in networks and startups that rely on technology as the backbone of their operations, Schijns noted.

"We are seeing a heightened interest in major cities, as well as most of the larger states where they know they have gotten a bit behind in technology and need to move quickly to get things restructured and geared toward reaching their constituents," she said.

Governments are restructuring their networking infrastructures to support smart city and internet-of-things initiatives, according to Verizon.

And to help partners work with startups, Verizon will provide a "startup track" as part of the combined partner program, Schijns said. Resources will include sales training, marketing leads, market developments funds and access to special digital services, Verizon said.

Integration challenges

Diane Krakora, CEO of PartnerPath, a channel consulting firm in Menlo Park, Calif., said mergers and acquisitions create specific kinds of challenges for partner programs. She said M&A activity always involves change, and change can prove unsettling to channel companies aligned with the vendors involved.

"Change brings uncertainty to the channel-partner ecosystem and leaves room for fear to creep in," Krakora said.

She said partners build a business around a vendor's vision and business model, investing in sales and technical resources.

"Anytime there is an acquisition, they have a little uncertainty about those investments they have made in the past and those they are planning on making," Krakora said.

Because of the uncertainty factor, vendors shouldn't dawdle on their post-acquisition channel program strategy.

With the added assets and resources, [the Verizon-XO combination] is an enormous opportunity for channel partners.
Mike Onystokvice president of sales, support and training for the Omni-Center business unit at Telecom Brokerage Inc.

"You need to move quickly. Decide what you are going to do and move quickly on it," Krakora said.

In addition, vendors must communicate their channel plans to partners, Krakora said, adding that there's no such thing as over-communicating in that regard.

In the case of Verizon-XO, "the more they communicate ... the more likely they are to retain or re-engage the XO partners," she said.

Krakora said she has high expectations for Schijns' success. Prior to her role at Verizon, Schijns was a channel executive at Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions and also ran her own channel development consulting business.

Mike Onystok, vice president in charge of sales, support and training for the Omni-Center business unit at Telecom Brokerage Inc. (TBI), a technology services distributor based in Chicago, said he "strongly believes in the capability of the Verizon team."

He said Schijns and Bill Hooper, vice president of the partner channel at XO, will contribute best practices from their experiences as channel executives. TBI is a Verizon master agent and an XO national distributor.

In addition, Onystok said XO brings to Verizon a strong fiber offering and an environment conducive to channel partnering.

"For Verizon to inherit, that is very ... powerful," he said. "With the added assets and resources, [the Verizon-XO combination] is an enormous opportunity for channel partners."

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