Earlier this year, as reported in Technology Reseller, BT Wholesale launched an enhanced three-tier partner programme for Wholesale customers. BT Wholesale Partner Plus builds on existing services for the partner community and formalises previous offerings, making it easier for partners to collaborate and integrate with BT Wholesale’s suite of experts and services. Each tier provides an expanded range of benefits, including commercial support, sales and marketing resources and learning tools delivered through BT Wholesale’s new Partner Plus Hub. This provides an end-to-end digital experience and gives partners control of their account through a range of self-serve tools. To discuss this new programme and other developments at BT Wholesale, Technology Reseller caught up with Gavin Jones, Head of Channel at BT Wholesale
Technology Reseller (TR): To provide context for the BT Wholesale Partner Plus programme, please can you give me a quick overview of the different types of product that are available through BT Wholesale and the types of partners you work with.
Gavin Jones (GJ): BT Wholesale is split into three primary channels: there’s the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) channel, which basically sells white-label mobile services; there’s the mobile network operator and hyperscaler segment, which addresses the infrastructure requirements of UK mobile operators and some of the newer hyperscalers; and then there’s my area, the classic wholesale space.
We deal with about 3,000 customers and if I was to categorise them you’ve
got facility-based operators, which are basically other telcos, including global operators like AT&T and Verizon, European ones like Colt and UK-based ones like Talk Talk, Sky and Neos Networks.
Then we have a range of resellers – we would call them communication partners – that generally sell into specific industry verticals or corporate sectors. These might include companies like Exponential-e or Redcentric that have a turnover £100 to £200 million and sell into large and mid- market corporates in the southeast, plus others that might focus on the hospitality or leisure sectors or education.
Then we have a tail of smaller resellers that tend to be either very niche or regionally organised and which are often rolled up by private equity into larger organisations.
So there’s a pretty good mix and a pretty interesting mix. At the top end,
we’ll be selling 100 Gigabit point to point circuits, whereas at the bottom end we’ll be selling managed internet links to be resold on to corporates. It’s a broad church.
TR: Who is the Partner Plus programme targeted at? Is it mainly for smaller resellers or does it cover the whole spectrum?
GJ: It’s geared to the bottom to the mid-end and, combined with the digital investment we’re making, it’s about making us easier to do business with and about bringing us closer to our customers.
Instead of selling products, we’re trying to sell propositions and help our customers sell, so we offer things like campaign-in-a- box, white-label collateral and marketing development funds. It’s really meant to create a deeper affinity with our partners and help them and help us to be successful working together. It’s about creating a sense of loyalty and a sense of belonging and recognising and rewarding that.
TR: Does this represent a new approach from you?
GJ: It’s been a new approach for the last 18 months to two years. Before that, we had a generic website which you had to come to to find stuff. Now, we’re creating a specific hub for partners that actually has content, collateral. It’s tiered, so there are different levels of access, but it’s really about making life easier for our partners and allowing them to have greater interaction and allowing them to help shape our business for the future as well.
TR: What prompted you to make this change?
GJ: We had a number of disparate businesses before, but we recognised that the market was changing. There is a big event happening in terms of all-IP and
the 2025 switch-off and solutions were becoming more IP-based, more cloud- based and more complex. Selling products was very transactional and we wanted to help our customers create more value.
We set up a propositions team which wasn’t just selling you something from
A to B but was selling you a proposition with white label collateral, helping you
to go and sell that, and actually creating campaigns in a box that you could use to reach your customers. So the change was really to enable support and to really work with our customers so that together we could drive value.
TR: I think in this time of digital transformation that sort of approach is essential and certainly helpful for your customers who need that more strategic involvement from their suppliers in terms of facilitating digital workflows.
GJ: APIs for broadband and for our voice services and working digitally are super important and super critical, and the amount of information that partners can transact between our systems and theirs and the speed at which they can transact and the accuracy of the information is just unparalleled compared to swivel chairs, spreadsheets and phone calls.
What we are seeing – and this is part of the digital revolution – is customers wanting to transact far more seamlessly, as opposed to traditionally filling things in or sending off orders and stuff like that. If we can get rid of every single piece of paper and everything like an order form that would represent success for us in terms of digital evolution.
If you look at Amazon, and I know it’s a well quoted example, in theory you can sign up, you can contract, execute and do everything on a single page. That’s part of our strategy and our ambition for the future.
TR: You’ve been pursuing this approach for 18 months or more. What sort of feedback have you had so far?
GJ: The feedback, particularly in relation to the APIs, has been absolutely fantastic. They sit inside and outside the Partner Channel – they’re with all our customers – and it’s really about making those as seamless as possible, not only for the provision or ordering journeys, but for the repair and other journeys that people have as well.
The feedback from the partner programme is also really good. Probably about 400 or so partners have signed up; we’ve got people using marketing development funds; and we’ve got people feeding back to us about how we shape stuff, how we do stuff, which is really important.
Our job is to continue the exponential growth in that partner programme and
to make it one of the primary points of interaction between us. That isn’t because we don’t want to see people or talk to people; it’s because it is the easiest way for them to work with BT and self-serve with BT. We’re not Amazon yet. We’ve got work to do but it is a major focus for us.
TR: What sort of metrics do you use to measure the success of your programme. Is it just the amount of business you’re doing or is it the number of touch points in each transaction?
GJ: Business is obviously an easy one. We also do a net satisfaction survey, which we run every month. There are about eight sub sections on that programme so we can tell how our billing’s doing, we can tell how our partner programme’s going; we can tell how good our provide and repair is.
In addition to those metrics, we run specific feedback sessions on the partner programme. When we’re looking to develop things or create ideas, we will take a subsection of partners or ask for volunteers from the programme. We’ll take vox pops and feedback from partners on an ongoing basis: what is it you want to see? Does this work? We have a multi-faceted approach.
TR: Is BT Wholesale working with the same types of partner that you’ve always worked with or are you broadening your approach?
GJ: We are definitely broadening our approach to customers to capitalise on current trends in the market. The rise of Hosted Voice is definitely one; and there’s a new set of bandwidth-hungry people out there that want 10 Gigabit, 100 Gigabit connectivity that criss-crosses the country to link up data centres and to link up cloud, so we’re seeing new opportunity there.
We’re also seeing new opportunities with VARs that are slightly more IT-centric than telco-centric. We recently launched a hosted Teams service (WHC Teams Direct Connect) that obviously plugs into Microsoft Teams. So you’re starting to see people that were on the LAN or the WAN or the desktop work with us because they want to create a voice capability for Teams and everything else. So we are widening our base.
We’re also seeing an increase in people wanting what we would call machine to machine or mobile data. There’s more interest from companies around how to create those capabilities, how to share data without necessarily using fixed infrastructure.
And there’s definitely growth from what we would call brand extenders – companies that have a good brand that would like to go to market with some form of IT or telco service that they think complement their brand or that their brand can add value to. For example, we recently announced the launch of MVNO services with plan.com, which has a suite of services that they run on other people’s infrastructure.
We are seeing pockets of growth in a variety of different areas, a lot of it around bandwidth, high bandwidth for cloud usage, or just the merging of IT and telco services.
TR: In your experience what are some of the difficulties newer resellers might encounter in addressing the connectivity and telco demands of their customers?
GJ: When you move into the telco world and you move into, for example, Teams, you’ve got to suddenly start looking at number ranges, you’ve got to start looking at porting, you’ve got to start looking at end user devices and stuff like that. And I think there’s an element of complexity to that. Is it harder than what they do in the IT world? No, but it’s a new skill for them to learn.
This goes back to how we help people, how we do campaigns, how we train people, how we support people on this journey? People moving into new areas have got to learn new technology, new acronyms and new ways of doing things.
You could work with an IT distributor that wants to sell telco services – and they can add a lot of value because they are shipping equipment on which you can add services – but in essence the world they work in is more product-based where they might just ship something out. With a service you’ve got an element of configuration, you’ve got an element of liaison with a customer and then you’ve got things like number porting that you have to pre-plan, that you have to arrange, that has to happen on the right day. There’s an element of coordination to telco that can be new to people who operate in other environments.
TR: Presumably these new partners would also benefit from the professional services that you offer.
GJ: Our professional services can do many things. They’re designed for people that either don’t have the capability, don’t have the resource or are constrained at certain points in time.
You might have a customer that wins two or three big contracts but doesn’t have the resource in place to do all of them at the same time. Instead of having to hire extra resource or find people to up-skill, we offer a range of services that fit around the products we sell. It could be audit, it could be doing investigation beforehand, it could even be placing orders for them and actually managing that process. It could be delivery of those orders. It could be taking equipment out or configuring equipment.
We’ve shut down buildings for people where we’ve audited, taken the equipment out, decommissioned it. We’ve managed really large retail project delivery from cradle to grave. And we’ve helped companies that might have a bow wave of work but not want to recruit to get through that. Our services allow people to punch above their weight and take on projects and not worry about having to hire 20 or 30 extra people.
TR: As you say, you’ve got this broad business, with multiple routes to market. What challenges do you face in supporting all these different types of channel partner?
GJ: We are organised with a mixture of high value and high volume. One of the things that I keep asking myself is ‘are we trying to sell too much?’, ‘are we doing what we need to do to the best of our ability?’.
I think the challenges we face are making sure that my team is trained, that they understand the product, they understand the service and that they’re able to articulate that to a customer.
I think the second point is how do we create the knowledge and self- sufficiency in our customers to allow them to be effective and to add value to their businesses? Like everyone, we are permanently trying to up-skill the capability of our salespeople to be effective but also to be knowledgeable and to manage their customers in the optimal manner, in terms of getting the best for them and enabling them to compete.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that recruitment is tough at the moment. A challenge for all of us in the IT industry is how to find people that have the capabilities to take our customers on that digital transformation journey that we know is upon us.
TR: Presumably an organisation of your size is able to train people up quite well. Do you have initiatives for that?
GJ: We have lots of training for salespeople, technical people and commercial people, and we use a specific sales methodology that we take the account teams through that’s really around how to identify, articulate and share value with customers in a compelling way.
We have training that helps people manage large accounts. If you’re facing into the equivalent of BT, which could be Verizon or ATT, you’re in a very federated environment so we have training that helps people build networks, plans, contact points and understand their position.
We do loads and loads of solution and product training. We have formal training that people go through, and we also have quite a lot of lunch and learn-type conversations. Every Friday someone will talk through a specific solution or a specific service. It’s very interactive and very much about people asking questions: how do you do this? how do you do that? how did you approach this? The best feedback we get from those interactive Friday sessions is when someone, not necessarily the trainer, but someone who’s sold it, been there, done it and seen it from the commercial side gets to share the benefits of their experience.
Then, as you would expect, we have lots of corporate training around network security, around our commitments, around operating with integrity, but that external- facing stuff is really important.
We also encourage everyone to have personal development plans and to keep their PDPs up to date. And we encourage them to look at different sources of learning, be it learning from a colleague, taking LinkedIn learning or internal BT learning. What can you do? What skills do you need to seek out?
The latest one I’m looking at is negotiation training. One of the things about negotiation is people think because they do a lot of it they must be good at it, but it could be that because they do a lot of it they have become slightly lazy. How do we get people to do negotiation training so that we end up with the right outcome for both parties in the most seamless manner?
TR: What are your priorities for the next 12 months?
GJ: For us, it’s all about PSTN shutdown and all-IP. A lot of the work that we’ve been doing for the last 18 months is brought into focus by that. The fact that you’ve got to move to cloud voice, the fact that the connection is going to be IP-orientated is super-important for us, alongside services like Teams and everything that you put on top of that. That really is our number one focus. As a business, probably 65% to 70% of what I do is around data or IP. There’s very little that’s outside of that.
The next big chunk is probably voice services, and I include traditional voice which could interconnect with cloud voice. We see voice as one of the greatest growth areas in the market.
TR: It’s a big growth area for new entrants and IT resellers looking at this area, but that must be a risk for you and your more traditional resellers.
GJ: If you go back 10 years, there were a lot of people selling copper-based voice around local, national and mobile rates. Now it’s about what hosting or cloud platform you take: how does that work? how do you collaborate with that? how does that plug into a call centre if you need it to? There are large global operators here in our market and there are small UK operators, so I think you’re right to say it’s a growth area for many people. But the good news is it’s a massive growth area for everyone in the market.
TR: Are you optimistic about the future? There are all sorts of headwinds at the moment.
GJ: We’re really optimistic about the future. We’ve got a clear strategy; we’re developing some really exciting products and services; and we know that there’s a seminal point happening in terms of the move from copper to fibre. When you put all that together, the future looks really exciting.
The really pleasing feedback we get is that people have seen a change in
BT Wholesale. They see a much more externally focused business, a business that is genuinely getting a higher profile and that has a clear strategy. I know lots of companies use the phrase ‘reinventing ourselves’, but from our perspective, having really doubled down on the channel, having a clear focus and a clear strategy is really exciting for us in terms of the opportunity we see and the timing.