Yesterday’s flagship general session, "Point/Counterpoint," brought together some of the top names in the industry to trade thoughts on bundles, product and carrier diversity and who owns the customer’s heart, mind and account.
Moderator Ernie Kelly, senior advisor to the KDW Group, kept things lively with a series of thought-provoking queries to the panel, made up of three partners and three vendors. Refreshingly, the participants found much common ground on both sides of the distribution model.
Bundles and product diversity have come to the forefront in both business models as a way to remain viable in a world of unchanging commissions and an under-2-cents-per-minute long-distance rate. "Offering more services per customer helps us with the flat line in compensation," explained Michael Emanuelo, president of sales and service for Reignmaker Consortium Inc. "It drives success." In a similar vein, becoming all things to all customers is a popular strategy: "Offering conference calling, IP phones, wireless and security helps when we go see the customer," said Emanuelo.
To the point of adding more services into an account, BellSouth and Sprint noted that wireless soon would roll out to its channels. "The only way to win is to sell more things," said Harry Campbell, president of emerging and mid-markets for Sprint Business Solutions. "When you meet customer needs in bundles, churn goes down, revenue goes up and we’re all better off," he added, drawing applause.
Agents’ need for carrier diversification was a point even the RBOCs granted.
"We would like agents to offer only BellSouth in their portfolio, but we know that’s not realistic in today’s society," noted Estelle Conover, vice president of indirect channels for BellSouth Corp. Pat Lewis, senior vice president of business markets for Qwest Communications International Inc., also said it was clearly understandable why agents cultivated relationships with more than one carrier.
"We must expand the basket of goodies available," said Douglas Boyce, vice president of sales and finance for Spring Valley Marketing Group. "We must protect ourselves," he added, referring to the recent era of carrier bankruptcy that left some agents with deep losses.
Small pockets of controversy did appear during the discussion, most notably around customer ownership. Conover and Campbell agreed that customers drive the decision on who is the first point of contact and who does the most support. But Rob Goble, president of Venicom Inc., said agents can’t afford such an approach.
"If you lose touch with the customer you open a door — the direct side will show up when they move a location or circuit, and we risk losing our commissions," he said, to murmurs of deep agreement from the audience.