TBI, CenturyLink and the Art of the Big Deal
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Khali Henderson
Posted on: 02/27/2013


Khali HendersonWhen Geoff Shepstone was presented with a check for $1 million amid a shower of balloons, it must have felt like winning the lottery. But there was no luck involved in this windfall. The president of master agency Telecom Brokerage Inc. was cashing in on his company's investment in people and processes needed to serve the business and technology needs of large enterprises billing hundreds of thousands and, in one case, millions of dollars a month in network services.

In so doing, TBI became the first indirect sales partner to meet the challenge made by carrier CenturyLink (then Qwest) in summer 2010 to increase sales by $2 million a month within five years. TBI accomplished the goal in half the time.

At the awards ceremony, Blake Wetzel, vice president of sales for the CenturyLink Channel Alliance (CCA), said TBI had a record year in 2011, but "obliterated" that record in 2012. As examples, he said that the master agency had six deals that were more than $100,000 per month in billed revenue. In addition, he said that TBI had sold the third largest and the largest deals in CCA's and CenturyLink Enterprise Market's history last year.

It's that largest deal — billing several million dollars a month among two providers —  that has captured the fascination of the telecom and IT channel community. Cracking the code for the Fortune 500 level clients is a dream if not a dogged pursuit for telecom channel partners, who have been working to penetrate ever larger accounts over the past 20-plus years of the competitive communications marketplace.

In his remarks at the awards presentation, Shepstone underscored their mutual struggle, calling TBI's achievement "a validation of our industry." "If you think about where we came from over two decades ago, it's pretty amazing," he said. "The industry has changed. [Carriers and customers] are more accepting of us."

Today, TBI claims revenue in excess of $30 million a year and monthly billings of more than $10 million.

TBI is quick to acknowledge the roll its partnerships have played in its recent success. Ken Mercer, TBI's senior vice president, said 80 percent of its sales come through its network of more than 2,000 subagents. And three of the four large deals closed in 2012 came to the company through agents and consultants who were able to get executive buy-in through understanding the business and technology needs at an executive level, working with CIOs and vice presidents to outline business goals and architectural approaches to achieving them.

Additionally, the sizable growth in business placed with CenturyLink is no accident. Mercer said CenturyLink is providing the channel with considerable resources including engineering, product and marketing support as well as the backing of senior CenturyLink executives in customer meetings. In addition, the indirect channel isn't competing for these resources or accounts with CenturyLink's direct sales team.

However, TBI's success with large deals can be attributed primarily to its ability to execute. The company has built a platform, including people and processes that can manage massive network migrations.

"The big deal was the icing on the cake," said Jim Glackin, CCA's area vice president for the Central Region and TBI liaison. "They were going to get this million-dollar check even without this big deal. That to me is the key. You’re lucky to close one big deal, but TBI knocked down big deals all of last year. ... It's a continued pace of large deals that we are doing because these guys have established some real competence around this."

Indeed, Shepstone said the tipping point for enterprise customers to sign on the dotted line was TBI's demonstrated ability to manage a rollout with thousands of locations. "Everybody wants to save money, but what often keeps companies from making the move [to another carrier] is the fear and uncertainty of what that move is going to be like," Shepstone said. Service interruption is high on the list of gotchas that can cost tens of thousands of dollars a day in reduced productivity and lost sales, plus the incalculable risk of damaging customer relationships.

CCA's Glackin agreed. "The big deal would have never happened without it," he said. "There's no possible way. ... I've never seen a 'rip and replace' like it, especially on that scale. I think it was because the customer felt comfortable that all the resources were in place to handle it."

Among its 150 employees, TBI has a team of people — project managers, engineers and administrative — that manage controlled rollouts, including processing LOAs, entering orders, validating inventory through customer service records, manually removing PIC freezes and more.

The team started three years ago with 10 people reallocated from the agency's call center after its first big deal billing more than $100,000 per month. With one large-scale deployment under its belt, TBI has continued to grow the team to handle increasingly bigger deployments and several at once. Today, the team includes 10 people full time and with the ability to reallocate 20 more from the inbound call center to achieve scale. In addition, the company continues to hire people to increase its capacity. 

While TBI is a proven post-sale powerhouse, it also had chops in pre-sales consulting and engineering, which it has put to use in helping its sales partners win and grow large enterprise deals. Case in point: TBI's second largest deal, which is billing $650,000 per month.

Mercer said TBI worked with the channel partner and the customer to review and revise the business technology recommendations, growing what initially was a $100,000 deal sixfold. What began as IP connections for a few locations became an MPLS network reaching across the company and out to its rural locations, Mercer said.

"We're talking about the entire scope of what the customer's trying to do," said Mercer, explaining that includes coaching sales partners on network design and road maps. That technical expertise extends to vendor selection; understanding the carriers' footprints, products, strengths and weaknesses helps TBI make the best recommendations to reach the customer’s business goals.

Ultimately, what sets TBI apart is its ability to deliver on both the consultative and scale requirements of large enterprise customers. And, that's a big deal.