Agents: More, More, More


Agents: More, More, More
By Tara Seals

More services, more training, more
value adds:
More certainly was the theme of an agent roundtable
hosted by TMC Communications during Septembers Channel Partners Conference
& Expo in Miami.

The participants, all East Coast-based master agents, included
John Gallagher, president, Gallagher & Associates; Bill Collier and Tripp
Hill, co-founders of Oasys Solutions Group; Louie Holmes, vice president at
TelCel Communications Inc.; and Jack Zoblin, president of Cory Communications

In the past, weve asked agents on the phone about how we
can do better, but here we sat them down for two hours to find out what their
problems are, what the challenges are, how we can work together, explains
John Marsch, founder, chairman and CEO at TMC.

We dont have any stance in the marketplace without our
independent agents, so the best thing to do is to ask them what do they want,
what do they need and whats the most important thing they need from carriers?
Marsch says one of the most important discussions at the gathering was on the
topic of service offerings.

The No. 1 thing we got out of this is that the agents will
select a carrier that has the type of products they need to sell for the market
that theyre in, he explains. These are not startup, new agents that are
trying to find their way around these fellows have been around a while and
they have a nice customer following, so they know what their customers need.
After products, they need the support and they need commissions.

Hot solutions for roundtable participants include Wi-Fi, VoIP
and dedicated voice, including T1 and DS3, as well as an increasing demand for
product integration with flat-rate bundled services.

Theres a lot of concern about the falling revenue per
minute. Its come down so dramatically just in the last six or 10 years, I
think our revenue per minute is about a third what it was even five years ago,
says Marsch. The agents have to keep selling, because when they renew a
customer, a customer that was doing $100,000 last year may, when they renew the
contract [and apply the latest rates], only be doing $80,000 this year. So the
commissions naturally start to come down again, so they need more products to
sell, and by integrating more products into a customer they can keep that
revenue up where it should be.

Participants at the TMC meeting say agents want to sell
dedicated long distance, local services, Internet access and data, all from a
single source or as few as possible. Roundtable participants noted that when
they can offer an entire package, it serves as a clear competitive advantage for
both the reseller and the agent.

The agents also say small and medium-sized businesses are more
focused on bundling than are large enterprises, and desire bundled local
services more often than not. Large companies, meanwhile, have the
infrastructure in place to support multiple vendors and they understand bundling
is not always realistic for their enterprises.

They think their customers want a singlesource provider for
the range of services that small and medium-sized businesses like to use,
says Marsch. And that gave our product development people some things to work

In fact, the switchless reseller has hired a CTO and is
developing a virtual network spanning the country, with plans to install a
switch in the next six months to provide more integrated services.

Customer support turned out to be a big differentiator for the
agents present. They want us to be proactive in servicing their best
customers, says Marsch, who noted TMC has a vice president of customer
service and kicked off a premiere customer program a year and a half ago for its
top 50 customers. They get a call from us once a month and we go and take
their officers or IT managers out to lunch a couple of times a year, and we
design the reports to be what they want to see, customized specifically for
those customers. Normally, the big carriers dont do that. So thats a
value-add a reseller like TMC can give to the agents customers, and the agent
appreciates that sort of thing.

Agent support was another hot issue. Specifically, the participants say they want to receive
messages through multiple channels, and prefer email and conference calls for
learning about new offers and products. Web support also is increasingly
crucial. They want all information, sales tools and contact information to be
accessible online.

Training factors into the scheme of things, but with a twist:
The roundtable participants say training should focus on vendors unique
strengths as opposed to the products offered. Most agents know the baseline products, they say, which are
all the same even if names differ from company to company.

Advanced solutions are a different story. The agents are
consolidating, and the strong will get stronger and the weaker ones will get
consolidated in with the stronger agents, says Marsch. The business now
isnt just selling switched services; its more of a technical job now than
it used to be. Agents that are really good now are the ones learning to sell the
larger dedicated services, data and integrated services, so they need to get
some training.

In all, the message seemed clear: the channel continues to
evolve and grow. Our industry has been through a nuclear winter, and us
survivors who have climbed out from under the rocks blinking, we look out at the
landscape and theres an awful lot of opportunity out there, especially with
data, and the voice services are still strong, says Marsch.

Cory Communications Inc.
Gallagher & Associates
Oasys Solutions Group
TelCel Communications Inc.
TMC Communications

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