AT&T Calls Up New Allies

New certification program will emphasize partnering over products.

AT&T today will take the covers off a new cer-tification program that emphasizes business solutions and partnering rather than selling specific products or services.

While companies like IBM and Microsoft have taken similar steps in recent months, they have been talking about pushing in this direction for the better part of a year. In contrast, this represents a radical departure for a giant telco like AT&T, whose partners have grown up in the world of very specific network integration projects rather than soup-to-nuts data solutions.

"The trend is for customers to look for a single source for solutions, which includes everything from pre-consulting to design to life-cycle management," says Keith Olsen, director of global channel management at AT&T. "What this means is our channel partners have to become more consultative, pitch more solution sales and focus less on components."

AT&Ts goal is to certify 50 "Solution Providers" throughout the country. The emphasis will be on skill sets rather than specific geographies, which was the approach taken by SAP. But AT&T executives say this program will provide nationwide coverage and that some of the players also will be able to provide solutions on a global scale.

Getting into the program and staying in it wont be easy, however. AT&Ts goal is to greatly increase its reach, and maintaining Solution Provider status requires a minimum of 100 new customer deals annually. The net worth of those sales has to be at least $5 million. In addition, Solution Providers also will be required to certify a minimum of two field engineers as data network consultants, as well as 10 salespeople in a portfolio of technologies that includes DSL, frame relay, asynchronous transfer mode and virtual private networks.

Jim Kaus, who will head up AT&Ts new Solution Provider program, says partners have a six-month window to get their salespeople certified in all of those technologies so theyre capable of pitching broad back-office to front-end solutions. That means theyll need to know hardware, software and integration, and business issues. In addition, all Solution Providers will be required to retest every two years to keep their certification active.

AT&T will provide pre- and post-sales support, an educational curriculum that focuses on solution-selling and solving a broad range of customer business problems, financial incentives and early access to AT&Ts product development.

Olsen contends that complete newcomers that become Solution Providers will see a return on investment within two months, while existing partners pushing into this program could see a return in as little as a couple of weeks.

"The overarching goal is customer satisfaction," says Olsen. "Were going to provide a formal set of criteria and incentives to make that happen."