Ex-Carrier Sales Reps Dock at Agency Port
By Tara Seals
WHILE THE TELECOM MARKET WEATHERS the storm of the century, disenfranchised carrier executives and direct salespeople seeking refuge from the deluge of layoffs may find channel marketing a friendly port. These professionals, often with years of experience under their belts, are entering livelihoods as agents, while vendors and master agents unfurl recruitment efforts.
Nik Nesbitt, for example, left Qwest Communications International Inc. in 2001 and went on to form a high-end consulting and agency practice, MarketRace LLC. Nesbitt, the former vice president of Qwest's business partner program, was widely credited with bringing Qwest's agent channel back into focus.
"I really kind of backed myself into becoming an agent," he explains. "I intended to take what we developed at Qwest and all that knowledge and go out and be an agent advocate by transforming telecom and technology companies' channel programs."
However, the consulting-to-the-carriers play didn't work out as a stand-alone strategy in a fund-strapped economy. "What they really needed were partners that could sell for them in their existing program," Nesbitt says.
Therefore, MarketRace went out to find and recruit agents, VARs, integrators and other partners on behalf of their clients, using Nesbitt's contacts to start a business development arm of the company. That tactic, in turn, eventually evolved into a master agent role.
"These companies were paying so much to a master agent that we just raised our hands and said, you know, let's just become a master agent ourselves," says Nesbitt.
And, rather than recruiting companies to sell on behalf of the vendors, MarketRace began recruiting organizations to sell for them directly. "This three-legged strategy of consulting, business development and agency lets us get into any company," says Nesbitt. "We are an outsourced channel organization."
Opportunities abound for carrier employees. PartnerTel Inc. launched in August a turnkey ASP application, Virtual Telecom Consultant (VTC), designed to attract former telecom professionals interested in starting their own consulting businesses. The Web services platform gives members access to carriers' front- and back-office systems so participants can offer services to their customers on the fly without going through the process of signing individual contracts with all the vendors. PartnerTel performs back-office responsibilities like quote preparation, contract preparation, service delivery, and commissions and sales support. PartnerTel acts as a master agent and has arrangements with Sprint Corp., Qwest, AT&T Corp., Cable & Wireless USA and BellSouth Corp. After signing up with VTC, members upload contacts into telecom-specific CRM software and can access a complement of online closed-loop marketing tools and documents, including product training, order submission, customer support, current commissions, customer-facing portals, Web sites as well as tools for incorporation and organizational building.
"There are a growing number of telecom sales and technical experts who find themselves unemployed, either through downsizing, mergers or even a desire to change their lifestyle to a more consultant or independent employment role," explains Remington Reynolds, a PartnerTel founder. "We are finding that these individuals offer rich skills and a strong desire to succeed."
More traditional agent opportunities also exist for ex-carrier professionals. "There have been so many layoffs in 2002, but we have a growing staff and have picked up some fabulous carrier expertise as carriers downsize their workforce," says Ted Schuman, president and CEO of master agency U S Telebrokers Inc./PlanetOne Communications Inc.
"There is a huge pool of carrier talent out there," agrees master agent Brad Miehl, president and CEO of MicroCorp Inc.
MicroCorp, in the process of expanding its reach, is actively recruiting these salespeople as agent managers for regional "pods" of agents, VARs and systems integrators. "We offer them residual compensation, but also we pay a base salary, 401(k), dental, vision, tuition reimbursement...it's a hybrid."
Williams Communications Group has seen the trend in its agent program, a wholesale opportunity for select agents that it started ramping up in January 2001. "Probably about half of our agents that we work with have come from carriers in the past year," says Amy Reiber, director of alternative channels at Williams. "For us, it helps because they have that deep database of customers that have bought from them at the previous carrier.
"And it's plug and play," she adds. "They're familiar with the products so they sign the agreement and they can immediately start doing business."
AT&T Corp. www.att.com
BellSouth Corp. www.bellsouth.com
Cable & Wireless USA www.cw.com
MarketRace LLC www.marketrace.com
MicroCorp Inc. www.microcorp.com
PartnerTel Inc. www.partnertel.com
Qwest Communications International Inc. www.qwest.com
Sprint Corp. www.sprint.comU S Telebrokers Inc./PlanetOne Communications Inc. www.planet1comm.com
Williams Communications Group www.wcg.com