Comcast Business Services and its designated master agents have added systems and staff to handle the increasing volume of quotes and orders from agents since Comcast launched its national solutions provider program in mid-March.
Both we and our partners are starting to optimize to handle greater volume,” said Channel Chief Craig Schlagbaum in an interview with Channel Partners at the end of May.
As part of a controlled rollout of the indirect sales channel, Comcast contracted with three national master agencies Intelisys Communications Inc., Telarus Inc. and Telecom Brokerage Inc. (TBI). Comcast began processing orders from subagents March 22. Agents are able to sell business-class Internet and voice services, including PRIs, said Schlagbaum.
Most of the channel doesnt realize that they can sell cable PRI. We are starting to see significant uptake on it,” Schlagbaum said. Later, he said he hopes to allow the channel to sell Comcasts new metro Ethernet products at least on a select basis later this year.
While we thought our products and services would be well received, the level of interest is more significant than we originally anticipated,” Schlagbaum said, attributing the demand to Comcasts brand, aggressive pricing and ability to provide agents with a financially stable, facilities-based alternative to the telcos.
Comcast chose a controlled introduction of its channel program in order to optimize its ability to support partners with quoting and service availability checks before opening it up more broadly to the channel community.
For the first month, we intentionally ratcheted down the volume, so that artificially reduced the amount of orders,” Schlagbaum said. We saw a five-times increase in orders when we lifted the restrictions” in the second month. Schlagbaum predicted those volumes would be outdone in June and throughout the summer.
Comcasts master agents confirmed that the increase in orders has been significant.
Mike Saxby, chief strategy officer for TBI, said the master agency has completed literally thousands of service-availability checks plus nearly 100 orders for Comcasts service in the first two months. However, he said the volume is not just in orders, but in partners signing up to sell the service. TBI has had to create a new position, an internal channel manager, just to field requests from potential partners (more than 500 inquiries) and to process new ones, Saxby said, noting more than a hundred partners have signed with TBI to sell Comcast.
I dont think anybody on either side understood the demand for Comcasts services,” he said. Saxby said a lot of the early activity is from agents going back into their accounts and selling a low-cost disaster recovery solution.
Telarus also is seeing traction and a change in mindset from cable solutions as backup or cheapest.
Now that we’ve got almost two months under our belt, we’re seeing more agents start to have more faith in the program and moving Comcast to a lead-in carrier as opposed to the carrier-of-last-resort,” said Patrick Oborn, vice president of marketing for Telarus. We’re still not where we want to be in that regard, but we’re confident that agents will continue to gain confidence in the program and focus more of their selling power on it.”
He added that Telarus is seeing pickup on lower-end products like POTS lines primarily because Telarus online ordering system makes it easy to order. With these new tools, agents are just a few clicks away from ordering a few POTS lines revenue they used to ignore due to the lack of commission and/or headache involved in ordering POTS from the ILECs,” he said.
TBIs Saxby said the Comcast rollout is not without its hiccups. ”Comcast has all the same problems the other cablecos have,” he said, noting for a company of the size and scale of Comcast to roll out a nationwide program, its going well,” and that Comcast has been swift to respond to resolve problems.
To manage the increase in order volume and to become easier to do business with, Schlagbaum said Comcast is investing in its systems and people.
Comcast uses an extranet to do service-availability checks and process orders; presently partners do not have direct access via API to Comcasts back office. The system is not fully automated, but Schlagbaum expects to make progress announcements later this summer regarding enhancements.
Weve put more horsepower into that system to make it easier to work with,” Schlagbaum said. The goal is turning around service availability checks more rapidly. In the beginning, it was taking around 48 hours; now its getting down to less than a day.”
Schlagbaum said Comcast also has stepped up training with agents on its systems and products, educating hundreds” of partners, in particular, on service availability. Service availability is still our largest challenge. If its not on our footprint, obviously, we cant service it. If we cant build to it, we cant support it. Turning that [information] around is the biggest challenge that remains. In the telco world, its selling the local loop and the port. In our world, its all on-net. That nuance is something we are trying to get partners familiar with.”
Weve also increased the manpower inside of our operations team here to handle more volume of orders,” he added, noting the inside sales support team was tripled. In addition, Comcast added channel managers to support its 19 regions. We didnt have any field based channel managers before,” Schlagbaum said. He declined to be specific about the number of channel managers, but said it was in the high single-digits.
Comcasts channel also added personnel to its leadership team. Scott Mull, who formerly worked with Schlagbaum to build the indirect sales channel at Level 3 Communications Inc., joined the Comcast channel in April as senior director of partner operations and support. The other team members are Matt Wilson, director of program management, and Kevin Conmy, senior director of partner sales.
Mulls arrival was noted by Comcasts master agencies. Almost every week he is doing something new that improves the process,” said TBIs Saxby.
Comcasts master agents also have reported beefing up their systems to support volume orders. TBI, for example, hired eight people and formed an internal cable team” to support Comcast as well as Time Warner Cable and Charter. Because the volume is so high, some of them are devoted to Comcast,” Saxby said.
Telarus Oborn said his company has hired two additional support staff members to help with manual qualifications, order processing, order updates, and general support questions asked by agents.
Through the Telarus back-office website, agents can configure and create signature-ready PDF documents all on their own, without any involvement from Telarus support staff,” Oborn said, noting that agents are producing dozens of PDFs per day. Agents like it because they can create contracts any time, day or night, weekend or weekday. Telarus staff now only focuses on order placement into the Comcast system, tracking orders, and dealing with issues on the back end.”
Telarus also has hosted training sessions in Salt Lake City and Denver with events in Portland and Seattle scheduled for June.
These meetings have been hugely beneficial in exposing local agents to the Comcast Business Class product suite, pricing, rules of engagement and, most of all, to our automated tools that makes selling Comcast simple and easy,” Oborn said.