Fees vs. Commissions: The Double-Dipping Debate

By Kelly Teal Comments

Kelly TealOne of the growing debates within the channel is whether telecom agents should charge for pre-sale and post-sale support such as needs assessments, telecom management, help desk and the like. The issue has arisen as more partners take on consultative roles, moving past their transactional roots. The shift means many agents are spending more time and effort helping customers, although few seem to be charging for that extra help. The dominant argument against charging is that residual commissions from carriers cover such support; making clients pay would amount to double-dipping, say the unconvinced. But proponents say commissions only compensate for a transaction, not a partner’s expertise; charging forces clients to evaluate how much they rely on their agents and assigns true value to those relationships.

Channel Partners readers seem to lean toward the latter view. In early May, Channel Partners conducted an informal online poll (see chart, "Should Agents Charge?"). As of May 31, two-thirds (69 percent) agreed that partners need to charge for their expertise. A third (31 percent) said partners should not add fees for supporting clients. Among those in the minority view, the most said carrier commissions pay for the support agents should provide but some said customers will not pay for advice and support.

But times have changed. No longer are agents earning the huge commissions they once did; as prices for network services have come down, so, too, have agents' commissions. Plus, technological advances and service delivery changes (e.g., managed and cloud services) are causing agents to venture into new territory — certainly past the carrier demarc and into the customer's IT and communications environment where the complexity of unified communications, multivendor solutions and bring your own device reign. The challenges agents face today weren't here a decade ago.

These are reasons proponents cited for charging their customers for the support-related services they now must provide, regardless of also being paid carrier commissions.

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