By Ron Dunworth
Over the past few years, a number of vendor CSMs have stated that we need to trust them when it comes to getting the orders entered correctly, installed correctly and billed correctly. My basic answer is “In God I trust, (it’s on our money), and with everyone else I want it in writing". More so, I believe that our job as agents and on behalf of our clients, has always been one of making sure that the vendors deliver as quoted and contracted.
Don’t get me wrong. Our vendor partners are solid professionals but they are also human. I have a lot of faith in them to do what they commit to. The problem is they have a limited amount of time to meet their commitments and things get lost, forgotten about, rescheduled to the next day, etc. So even with a lot of faith we need to provide a level of oversight on the opportunities we have contracted on behalf of our clients with said vendors. I believe that the value add provided by the agent/master agent in representing and protecting the interests of the client on a project is the most important part of the client/agent/vendor relationship.
In these days of high speed and expensive networking solutions it is really on us, the agent/master agent, to act as the client’s advocate during the complete life cycle of a service they order. To me that is new service, adds, moves, changes, disconnects and billing issues. When you buy a new car, the job of insuring that you are satisfied with the transaction and who keeps the car running is the dealer, not the car manufacture. They seldom get involved unless the dealer isn’t handling the client problems. In our business I view it as our job to insure that our vendors quote, contract, process the order and install as we have defined it to the client. The client is ours, not the vendor’s and we have to do a lot to insure that they remain ours. We may get paid based on orders and their value but it’s our level of service that insures that the client continues to work with us over the years.
So much has been made over the last year as to the need for agents and master agents alike to provide back-office support for cloud-based services. I would suggest to you that the need for complete support for the client in all of their networking needs has always been there. The issue is that some agents prefer to focus on getting the order and let someone else worry about the life cycle of the service. This approach to running and managing a networking agency has led some to be labeled as “circuit slingers." I hate what that term implies. The fact is, vendors are looking at people within our industry and applying that term. This label does suggest that we not capable in providing for our clients.
Our vendors are realizing that with the commission levels they pay, we agents need to be more involved beyond the initial “finding the client" process. Their resources (vendors) are being cut and stretched to the max. Between handling existing products as well as spinning up new service and cloud offerings, something has to give. Doing a lot of the back-office functions for our vendors greatly reduces the amount of work they are experiencing during the order life cycle. This is really what they all want. I believe that both our clients and our vendors need the same thing from us. More out of the agent in the beginning, helping develop solutions from their vendors for the client. More out of the agent in managing the delivery of the contracted services. More out of the agent in managing the life cycle of the services they help deliver. More out of the agent in migrating the client to services they will need in the future to maintain and grow their business.
The arrival of cloud services has brought a sharp focus to the client or VAR support issue and I don’t see any other answer than the agents providing the required back office support going forward. The next five years will determine the viability of our business models. I wish all of my peers success in whichever direction you take your business.
Ron Dunworth is co-founder and president of ADVODA Communications Inc., a Colorado-based telecommunications company that provides network services from a number of telecommunications providers to clients nationwide.