Telecom agents are becoming increasingly interested in alternatives to the telcos as suppliers. This is not only because of less-than-friendly and inconsistent channel policies issued by certain large carriers, but also because their customers would welcome a diverse network option. Cable companies have emerged as the logical choice.
Over the years, telecom agents’ overtures to the cablecos have been met with degrees of interest by the leading cable companies — from open arms to cold shoulder. In general the relationships between cablecos and agents are warming up; most cablecos will work with agents. What that means in practice varies widely. And, agents remain frustrated by cablecos’ inabilities to support them in the manner in which they are accustomed. A lack of centralized systems, pricing and processes as well as slow quoting are common complaints. There is a blanket acknowledgement from the cablecos that this situation must be rectified if they are to be successful building an indirect sales channel, but their commitment and progress on this point is anything but consistent or certain.
In fall 2008, Channel Partners took a look at the major cablecos’ partner programs or lack thereof. A spring 2011 review of those same initiatives raises hopes that cablecos will become a true telco alternative.
Cablevision Systems Corp. is the pioneer among the cable channel programs; it added an agent program in summer 2006. The cableco learned some early lessons, changing its upfront bounties to a recurring commissions and spiffs within the first year of operation to better attract telephony agents that expect residual payments. In 2008, Cablevision reported having nearly a dozen master agents and about 80 direct agents. Joe Magliulo, director of alternate sales channels for Cablevision, told Channel Partners that number has grown over the past two years, but he did not specify by how much.
Magliulo told Channel Partners that the company’s strategy and commitment to the agent channel remain constant. “We utilize the agent channel to obtain customers that we could not influence or reach without the products, services or relationships the agent channel brings," he said.
The Cablevision partner program operates under the Optimum Business brand name, which the cableco uses to market its communications services to small businesses. The Optimum Business offering includes Optimum Online and Optimum Voice. In 2008, Optimum Voice included up to 12 lines. Today, the product suite includes up to 24 lines, SIP trunking and PRI products. In 2010, the division introduced Optimum Business Benefits membership program, which offers discounting and third-party perks for customer who subscribe to both Optimum Voice and Optimum Online. “The agents are communicating with customers about the program and the added value it presents. In many cases, the savings realized from this benefit program actually pay for the customer’s communications costs," Magliulo said.