"One man's trash is another man's treasure." This idiom may apply to the term "distributor." Some telecom master agencies have adopted the moniker recently while some distributors have been trying to shed it — or at least expand it — for years.
For master agents, calling themselves a "distributor of telecommunications services" is much more descriptive than master agent. "The term master agent has some meanings that would be hard to understand if you were outside our particular niche," explained Ken Mercer, senior vice president for master agency Telecom Brokerage Inc. (TBI). In fact, "master agent" describes the contractual relationship with the carrier supplier, which is contained in a master services agreement, rather than the functions the master agency performs.
The more descriptive term "distributor" helps in talking to VARs, which master agents are keen to recruit, as well as end customers, who are familiar with distribution models in other supply chains, such as autos sold through dealers and groceries sold through stores. "Explaining how we offer many products from many carriers, our prospect can clearly see the advantage of working with a distributor," said Mercer. "We are less biased, more experienced and compensated in a way that motivates a long-term relationship."
Brad Miehl, president of MicroCorp Inc., agreed that the term "master agent" needs to be changed, but he isn't sold on using "distributor." "In the IT space, the term distributor does resonate, but may paint an inaccurate picture of all that we do," he said, noting that master agents are not only distributing carrier services, but managing the process as well. Miehl suggests adding a qualifier as in "value-added distributor."
The shortcomings of the word "distributor" have been bemoaned by distributors themselves. "The distributor label is not accurate when it comes to SYNNEX's role," said Reyna Thompson, vice president of product management for SYNNEX Corp. "Our role is to mask the complexity by having all details worked out in advance, so the reseller can go in and sell the complete solution without having to do the legwork."
SYNNEX is calling itself a "business process services company." Other distributors like ScanSource Communications have opted for "value added distributor" while Ingram Micro Inc. and Tech Data Corp. still use wholesale IT distributor as their primary identifiers.
As the value proposition for these middlemen evolve, it will be interesting to watch master agents and distributors redefine themselves with new names, and more interestingly still, how the market perceives them.
Editor's Note: You can read more about the convergence of IT and telecom technologies in Khali's article, " Is Channel Distribution Merging in the Cloud?" And you can hear more from leading master agents and distributors on channel enablement in the Keynote Roundtable, "The Future of Distribution in a Converged IT & Telecom World," at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo , Feb. 27-March 1 in Las Vegas.