Earlier this week, Verizon announced that is focused on simplifying its relationship with indirect sales channels and the companies that form its extensive technology ecosystem. What this translates to is the company is keeping it simple and organized for its partner ecosystem serving the SMB community. It consolidated several existing business channel programs to form one umbrella of services that is now known as the Verizon Partner Program. This was designed, according to the company, to make it easier for its current SMB partners to expand their business, as well as creating new opportunities for their respective end users.
So how does a Fortune 500 company, such as Verizon, manage to take several different programs and consolidate them into one cohesive program that is both effective and beneficial to tech professionals who are serving small and midsize companies? It’s simple: They bring in Janet Schijns.
Schijns, who is someone that I have known since I began my current tenure within the channel, beginning in 2007, could be labeled a “channel guru” in our industry. Of course, I am probably being partial, because she taught me so much about an industry I admittedly knew very little about when I became editor of another channel publication, Vertical Systems Reseller (VSR) almost six years ago. At the time, Schijns was the owner of her own New Jersey-based channel consulting firm, The JS Group, which she started back in the 1990s.
The first time Schijns and I met was over lunch at a local Italian restaurant here in New Jersey. Albert Guffanti, VSR’s publisher, who was my boss at the time, suggested we all meet; he had seen Janet speak at a distributor conference the month before, and he was very impressed by her knowledge, candor and ability to engage a crowd. “Janet (Schijns) is someone we need to have on our radar and get to know,” Albert had said to me.
During our lunch, Albert and I talked to Janet about everything from the industry, life in New Jersey, family, partner programs, and then she brought up the word “Kindle.” I thought to myself: “What in the heck is a Kindle…it sounds like some kind of musical instrument!” Schijns said that she recently purchased one of these devices (remember now that this was 2007), and she said that it was amazing that when she had to travel, she didn’t have to lug around all of her favorite books in her carry-on. She told Albert and I, that through the Amazon Web site, she just simply downloaded all of her books to this tablet-like device…again remember this was when Amazon had only developed the black and white reader version of its now-famous tablet line.
I realized that Schijns was a forward-thinker in 2007; she was already discussing how tablets and mobility were going to be the way the world and that of the SMB industry would gravitate toward. It’s no surprise to me, that Verizon hired Schijns in 2010, to help develop their SMB channel program. After all, when she was the owner of The JS Group, Schijns had clients such as Intel and Motorola, both of whom tasked her to help build out their channel programs. In fact, Motorola was so impressed with her, that they hired her in the fall of 2008 to be their channel chief on a full-time basis.
Schijns stayed with Motorola until Verizon offered her the position of VP of their Business Solutions Group in 2010. Shortly after that, she became the company’s VP of Vertical Solutions and Channels. Her title was changed to the position of VP of medium business and channels for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, following Verizon merging other departments and companies to form Verizon Enterprise Solutions.
Schijns lives and breathes SMB, and she also understands the importance of the channel partner to our community. “SMBs are the lifeblood of us economy,” she told me as we spoke via phone from Las Vegas where Schijns was about to head into a session at the Channel Partners Conference. “At Verizon, we therefore make investments into our SMB partner program, by giving our partners the right tools to simplify their experience, and so they can better-serve their end users.”
Aside from merging all of Verizon’s current partner programs into one strong focus, Schijns said that another part of her strategy was to of course steer the program toward the essential item that partners depend upon: leads. The program now also includes cloud solutions from Salesforce.com to collaborate with Verizon sales teams for managing marketing development funds, deal registration and joint go-to-market opportunities. “Leads are the partners’ ‘nirvana’,” she proclaimed. “We have invested millions of dollars in lead generation and how to help our partners obtain those leads and protect those leads...we will work with our partners on this, because we want them to own the SMB space.”
Schijns says that since launching the program, it has already produced around 11,000 successful leads for SMB partners, and that is just the starting gun for Verizon. Her goal is to continue this momentum for the company’s SMB partners, as well as making things simple, easy and affordable; this also extends over to training and education for partners, as well as sales and marketing. “We really listened to our partners, and invested into what they wanted,” she said.
According to Schijns, part of this was that Verizon agreed to honor partners’ current certifications, for instance from vendors such as Avaya, or educational associations like CompTIA. “I won’t ask partners to get certified again, if they already are trained on certain products and programs,” she said. “I don’t want to push them through duplicative certifications, and also won’t charge any additional fees including the testing component of the educational content. Our goal is to make this affordable and automated for our partners so that they can continue to help America’s small businesses get back on track with technology.”
Before ending our conversation so she could get to her next meeting at the Channel Partners Conference, Schijns, said that unlike some in the SMB space, Verizon is not trying to be an enterprise level company that’s going to offer a “scaled-down,” cheaper version of its services. She also noted that both her (and Verizon’s) goal is to recruit quality partners that share both she and Verizon’s vision for the SMB space. “I’m not someone who is going to get up on a stage at an event, and say: ‘We have the biggest partner program in the channel…that’s not our goal’,” she said. “I would rather have a smaller group of great, quality partners that are really going to tip the scales for our customers so that they can help them take their businesses to the next level.”
For additional information on how Verizon is continuing to capture the SMB space, take a look at Harrybbb's review of the company's Mi-Fi product, which we published last month.