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Agent Programs on Auto Pilot

What was once a handy online method of tracking orders and commissions is now a range of comprehensive platforms to manage the entire sales and back-office workflow and drive efficiencies from quote to close, commissions to bill auditing.

Malibu, Calif.-based World Telecom Group finally moved from a piecemeal, in-house set of systems for online ordering and commissions to a holistic software platform for complete business management. The agency is private-labeling Masterstream Software’s MasterStream MX automation platform as PartnerEdge.

PartnerEdge provides pre-sales help in the form of Instant Quote. The system automatically gathers and updates rates for WTG’s portfolio items from its suppliers using the “Provider Assimilation System.” Agents in the field can thus simply plug data into the engine and retrieve a proposal-quality quote with all the details, including a supplier backgrounder. With a click of the mouse, the quotes/proposals can be e-mailed to the customer. “Agents expect to have access to a commissions and orders system, but this type of presales help really helps them become more efficient by taking hours of paperwork out of their jobs,” says Vince Bradley, president, founder and CEO at WTG.

WTG subagents can generate instant proposals from the online system.

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The need for such efficiency is driving partner OSS to take on a broader swath of agent activities, and to provide ever more automation. “The fundamental value proposition of the agent community to their customer base is cost savings,” says Dana Dwyer, president at RPM Software. “They’ll audit bills, they’ll find the best service at the best price, and they’ll manage the entire procurement and provisioning process so that the customer can focus on their business. To perform these activities well requires process efficiencies. Agents need support systems that manage this workflow, that tie the various steps together so that everything is automatically tracked and things are happening when they should.”

RPM, for instance, launched RPM version 3.5, featuring process and commission reconciliation: the automatic matching and comparing of commission items to process forms, verifying orders show up as commissions and are paid out correctly. The feature also can ensure end users are being billed correctly.

Jay Bradley, vice president of marketing and business development at Intelisys Communications Inc., a master agency based in Northern California, says a robust platform that provides a “whole business” viewpoint of their operations has radically changed the way Intelisys does business. “We now use the software for the opportunity life cycle,” he explains. “We customized the RPM platform around our business processes to track an account from quote to commissions and beyond, including action items, due dates, provisioning milestones - all linked and visible within the system, so we can watch it all unfold in one view.” That single-page look at an account allows Intelisys partners to manage their sales efficiently, and allows Intelisys to resolve or escalate any issues easily.

Such linkage of activities also was a selling point for WTG’s new system as well. PartnerEdge allows for relational content management. The subagent enters one set of customer data, which is then applied to all other processes in the system for automatic population of fields. Also, from quotes to commissions, billing to disputes, all information pertaining to that customer is linked to give the agent a simple way of managing all aspects of the account.

Similarly, Logicware’s i400 eMe offers an online portal-based approach that brings together supplier inventories, agent knowledge and customer needs for “collaborative telecom fulfillment,” from lead generation to service delivery. Online master agency Broadband.com is using Logicware’s platform to track leads, opportunities, quotes, orders, inventories, customer support and commissions in a single extranet environment. “Having all the functionality in one solution saves time and resources on integrating multiple disburse sets of software,” says Joel Sam, president at Broadband.com. “We then combine this functionally with our powerful Web site and have one streamlined system.”

Logicware’s consolidated information portals allow operational visibility for customers, sales agents and suppliers. “An integrated telecom workplace cannot be achieved unless customers, agents and suppliers utilize a common solution,” says Andrew Taplin, Logicware’s president and founder. “The i400 allows each player to efficiently interact with each other by using a portal designed for everyone’s process needs.”

RPM v. 3.5 provides detailed commissions summaries linked to billing data.

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RPM’s Dwyer says the need for automation goes beyond the large master agencies with lots of information to manage. For anything other than the smallest agents, software tools are becoming increasingly mission-critical. “In terms of an inflection point, perhaps the best metric is to look at its telecom service revenues,” he says. For example, a smaller master agent pushing $100,000 per month in telecom sales and still using spreadsheets to calculate subagent payments is taking a day or two every month to get everything done. “And even then, they’re usually not properly auditing their carrier reports or payments; they’re also missing special deals, commission adjustments due to special pricing, referrals and splits, making calculation errors, and providing no transparency to their partners,” says Dwyer. With automation, that same process takes hours, not days. “Now they’re fully auditing carrier reports, accounting for every special arrangement, providing full transparency to their subagents through a Web-based interface, offering rapid resolution to commission issues because all relevant data is interconnected, reconciling orders to commissions, identifying missing accounts or variances in expected payments, and they’re double-checking the customer’s invoice amount to ensure they’re not being over-billed.”

Beyond efficiency, comprehensive OSS has become a differentiator in the marketplace. “In this competitive telecom market, everyone is providing the same things, from the same sources to the same customers, and business is conducted across the barriers of office walls and different information channels,” says Logicware’s Taplin. “As a result, success or failure is based on how efficiently you manage interactions around the flow of goods, services and information.”

Being able to do that effectively can make a master agency highly attractive to subs. “We have never recruited more agents than we have since putting this in,” says WTG’s Bradley. “We had our own solutions for certain aspects, but this takes care of pre-sales, postsales, plus the ordering and commissions - all with an automation overlay, and that’s where the differentiation lies,” he says. “We’re now ahead of the game.”

Intelisys’ Bradley says online, automated software has widened its addressable market for recruitment of channel partners. The agency is targeting VARs, who he says are not used to having such a business resource. “As we look to expand our channels, we’ve found that one of the biggest obstacles for non-telecom service partners is tracking billing and how it relates to their compensation,” he says. “When they discover our system, it makes Intelisys that much more of an attractive partner for them, because they can have confidence and see for themselves how their accounts are doing and what it means for them.”

Links
Intelisys Communications Inc. www.intelisyscorp.com
Logicware www.logicware.com
RPM Software http://rpmsoftware.com/
Masterstream Software www.salestreamsoft.com
World Telecom Group www.wtgcom.com

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