First of all, VARs come to the telecom world with a bevy of long-time clients, of whom they are fiercely protective. These VARs are apt to have a "captive customer base that will trust them as the network adviser," said Dana Topping, co-owner of Intelisys. The thing is, those captive customers make VARs "cautious and slow to adapt" to selling network services, said Ken Mercer, senior vice president of TBI. "They require a lot more training and they don't forgive very easily. These trusted advisers are risking their relationships to offer our services. It has to be well planned out. Expectations have to be clear."
Thus, some master agents and carriers are adjusting their internal operations to best serve and support their VARs. That's because, although many VARs know how to deploy a data-centric cloud job, they remain iffy on network services cloud offerings such as hosted VoIP. "In many cases, the VAR does not have the expertise to sell these carrier solutions, and this is where we come in to help," said Brad Miehl, president and CEO of master agency MicroCorp. For example, MicroCorp has a direct salesperson present the carrier piece of a VAR's more comprehensive sales pitch. "This way, we share in the joint responsibility of presenting, selling and managing the total solution, with the key separation being the core disciplines of each party," Miehl said.
CNSG, meanwhile, developed its back-office platform with support for project management of large, multilocation sales. Intelisys has customized training and support for VARs new to network services. WTG has different options, complete with "teaming arrangements," depending on how involved VARs want to be, said Vince Bradley, CEO of WTG. In the same vein, Venture Group Enterprises Inc. (VGE) lets VARs choose whether to be full-fledged agents or referral agents who earn less commission, or even act as one or the other, depending on the deal. From there, VGE helps VARs complete paperwork, process orders and track status updates. Finally, for Telarus, matters are a little different. The master agent works with some VARs directly; those partners all have full-time employees who focus on carrier sales. But other VARs are paired with Telarus agents, who compile quotes and contracts, and track provisioning and project management. "In this three-way relationship of Telarus-agent-VAR, we do everything possible to improve the agent's and VAR's chances of success together," said Patrick Oborn, vice president of marketing.
When it comes to carriers, VAR enablement also is a priority. TelePacific and XO Communications both have included systems and education that help VARs. MegaPath provides training. And CenturyLink is putting some of its marketing and advertising budget toward VARs "and will look for ways to continue to improve our program," said Blake Wetzel, vice president of the CenturyLink Channel Alliance. Windstream makes sure its channel managers are available to VARs, who often rely on those folks more than agents do, said Dan Sterling, vice president of dealer sales. The same applies over at Level 3.