One of the toughest challenges for any business is identifying other organizations that would make good collaboration partners, and then forging mutually beneficial relationships. Few companies can do it all; especially in the services industry where customer needs change rapidly and their solution requirements become more comprehensive with each passing year. The greater a providers’ network of partners, the more opportunities they’ll have to support new markets and to address the wide-ranging demands of their most complex business clients.
While the benefits of these partnerships are crystal clear, the mystery is how to identify the companies with the skills and knowledge to complement a provider’s business offerings. Rather than hire or train employees to provide specialized communications capabilities, it is often easier, faster and less expensive to partner with a well-qualified telecom agent to provide them.
With continual advances in convergence and unified communications technologies, as well as constant shifts in compliance and business requirements, the opportunities for strong alliance partnerships also continue to grow. The rise in specialized business solutions makes it more difficult for IT service providers to master and support everything themselves, so developing alliances with qualified and trusted telecom agents is a sure way to extend their capabilities. That principle applies both ways, also allowing communications experts to broaden their suites of solutions and clientele. With diverse expertise, IT service providers may integrate email, integrated phones, instant messaging, voice and video messaging, and wireless connectivity into their UC systems.
While they may also develop and deploy the networking infrastructure that these solutions run on, they don’t provide the critical carrier services that an agent can. A complete unified communications solution can truly benefit from the cooperative efforts of both communities, from design and implementation to configuring the system for peak performance. MSPs and SaaS providers make particularly strong partners for the communications specialists, with each following the monthly recurring revenue model with detailed service level agreements (SLAs). With the growth of cloud services, that interdependence is sure to increase as both communities seek improved delivery efficiencies and integration/customization opportunities.
That is truly the case when it comes to small businesses, where solution providers control between 60 percent and 80 percent of the technology investment, with telecom agents and specialty providers managing the rest. While the communications professionals may need a number of VAR and MSP relationships to build a significant business presence, IT specialists often succeed in UC with just a couple agent alliances. Those are just a few details included in the latest CompTIA Quick Start Guide, IT Partnerships for the Telco Agent; a professionally prepared and vetted paper that outlines the need for these relationships — as well as how to effectively develop them. This document serves as a valuable resource for solution providers and telecom agents who are serious about building and enhancing their UC partnerships. It can be downloaded free of charge from the CompTIA website.
Of course, the reasons for developing reciprocally advantageous relationships between organizations can be easier to understand than the actual process. After determining their own business needs and identifying prospective partners, providers and agents can move into the discussion stage and, if successful, the signing of formal business agreements. That process requires both parties to complete several essential steps, including:
- Establish the rules of engagement
- Determine who owns the customer relationship
- Agree on a revenue formula and who gets paid for what
- Understand each other’s business model
- Formalize these partnerships and treat them as you would any vendor or manufacturer agreement
The point where many partnerships succeed or fail is with communications. Prior to signing any agreement, each company must share its goals for the relationship and openly discuss their business philosophies. It is extremely difficult to build a solid affiliation without a thorough understanding of what drives both parties; from their target markets and capabilities, to their long-term business plans. Without heart-to-heart discussions on those topics, it may be impossible to build the level of trust needed for a solid bond between the organizations. Solution providers need to have faith that their telecom agents aren’t sharing information with their competitors or working with others behind their backs — and vice versa.
Communication should be frequent and not limited strictly to email and the occasional phone call. The partnership agreement should spell out expectations such as how often to meet and which organization takes the lead with their clients. When each company understands their responsibilities and is willing to review customer issue and opportunities on a regular basis, the relationship is more likely to succeed.
This is just one of the topics covered by the CompTIA Unified Communications Community. This collaborative group consists of IT service providers, telecom agents, vendors and other industry professionals looking to advance the solutions and training opportunities for UC professionals. Interested in learning more or joining the community? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Hunt, director of member communities, CompTIA, manages the association’s Cloud Community and Unified Communications Community, helping them identify and act on initiatives that will positively impact the entire IT channel. She has spent most of the past decade in the IT channel exclusively and previously served in various roles for VAR companies, channel vendors and channel training organizations.