TBI, CenturyLink and the Art of the Big Deal

By Khali Henderson Comments
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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.

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