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At its annual analyst summit, held in January 2020, CenturyLink executives discussed wholesale and channel initiatives that will support CenturyLink's overall growth strategy. Geographic expansion of the channel program and simplifying partner interactions are key drivers for the wholesale and indirect channel. CenturyLink is also considering other creative options to meet partner needs.


Thinking outside the box for wholesale and indirect channel growth

Global expansion and simplifying services through automation were recurring themes throughout CenturyLink's 2020 Analyst & Consultant Forum. These themes underpin its wholesale and indirect channel & alliance organization's plans for growth in 2020. In 2018, the wholesale and channel group delivered $5bn in revenue, nearly 30% of the $17.35bn annual business segment revenue, making it an important contributor to CenturyLink's business.

CenturyLink's wholesale and indirect channel organization encompasses US-based resellers, agents, and wholesalers; international wholesalers are managed by the global account management (GAM) organization. In a perfect world, the channel complements direct sales efforts, although in practice this is often easier said than done. CenturyLink noted success in working with channel partners to reach SMEs in US markets outside its local territories where the provider had no direct sales presence. Internationally, CenturyLink's new Global Partner Program in EMEA serves master agents that have moved into international markets, deepening CenturyLink's international opportunities. CenturyLink is currently working with partners in Latin America, laying the groundwork for a channel program in that region.

Making it easier for wholesale and channel clients to do business with the provider is an important initiative for the organization. CenturyLink has streamlined the contracting process, and portal enhancements focus on improving self-service options. CenturyLink has implemented analytics tools to track partner performance and is using these insights to manage the program more efficiently and identify areas where partners may need additional training. On the wholesale side, CenturyLink is adopting robotic process automation (RPA) to automate routine tasks and reduce costs. For example, CenturyLink is using RPA to monitor contract terms, which reduces the number of disputes and consequently reduces resolution costs.

CenturyLink is also trying to be flexible and creative in meeting partner needs. For example, a wholesale customer such as a data center operator may have an enterprise customer that wants to include some network services along with co-location services. CenturyLink can support this by establishing an agent agreement with the wholesaler using retail rates for the transaction, helping the wholesaler to meet its end user's needs.

Omdia believes that when service providers work with channel partners effectively, they can use that leverage to enter markets and increase revenue. A clear strategy and consistent focus will be the key to success to stand out with master agents that can choose from dozens of suppliers. Omdia plans additional research into service provider channel strategies in 2020, analyzing program structure and differentiators and the effectiveness of these programs.