'I love our partners… they take risks' - Vodafone's channel chief

Trevor Treharne
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'I love our partners… they take risks' - Vodafone's channel chief

As her first year as Vodafone's director of partnerships and alliances approaches, Helen Freestone reflects on the firm's changing partner programme and working with risk-taking resellers

It takes a certain type of person to relish the role of handling a major firm's channel partners and by her own account, Helen Freestone is such a person. "It's my dream job," she told CRN as we met in London to discuss her first 10 months in the channel hotseat.

"I have always loved technology and being in the technology space," she said. "When I came to Vodafone four years ago, I always looked at my current role and said ‘that looks really interesting, I would love to do that'. I spent eight years at Microsoft and I have broad technology industry knowledge and partner knowledge.

"So when the [channel] role came up [at Vodafone] I jumped at the opportunity to apply and almost could not believe when I got it. Stepping into the role I still did not realise how much I would enjoy it."

Freestone's journey to the channel started outside the tech industry, with her career launching in law. However, it did not take long for Freestone to rectify that by joining EMC in 2004 and then Microsoft in 2006.

In 2014 she joined Vodafone and in April last year she landed the director of partnerships and alliances gig, throwing herself into life handing the channel.

"I wanted to make a difference. I really believe in the channel," she said. "Partners can do amazing things and Vodafone's business has been built on partners. There is still loads we can do.

"Our partners are great; they are never short of feedback. I have been amazed by it since I have come into the channel. When you take on a new role, you are never sure what you are going into.

"It is just a privilege to spend time with really smart, bright people who takes risks and who have built their businesses from absolutely nothing. They are so free with their time in terms of talking to us and telling us what they need. It is really exciting that we have done a few workshops with partners and we have asked ‘what can we achieve together?' That has produced some great initiatives," she said.


Size doesn't matter

Vodafone rolled out a new partner programme in January 2017, with an emphasis on "rewarding capability and customer experience", rather than volume. This resulted in Vodafone replacing the traditional Platinum, Gold and Silver partner programme tiers with four capability tiers: Approved, Specialist, Advanced and Total Communications.

To achieve the status it wants, a partner must meet a set of requirements, comprising the capability within their business and certain customer experience and operational standards. Depending on the status a partner achieves, they will receive benefits such as commercial reward, business support, partner services and marketing support.

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