Aligned Communications’ Dave Wallace: Not Your Traditional Master Agent

**Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of profiles featuring Channel Partners advisory board members. Meet Wallace and the rest of the board by attending Cloud Partners, a Channel Partners event, this fall in Boston. Register here.**

Dave Wallace sometimes likens his role in his business and his industry to two metaphors: “removing roadblocks” and “building bridges.”

The Aligned Communications president outlined to Channel Partners the hands-on approach he and his master agency take to achieve those goals in an age of increased competition and complexity.  

To start, Wallace says the Dallas-based company breaks the mold of a traditional master agent. Instead, he suggests the label of a “boutique regional master agency” that competes on the service and the ease it gives its agents.

“We’re not a traditional master agent that is looking to compete based on the number of points that we’re going to pay,” he said.

This “co-selling” model includes services throughout the sales process – ranging from a customer-needs analysis to acquisition of order documents to commission auditing.

“We’ve got service-coordination experience, and so we get in the trenches with those service coordinators and help remove roadblocks,” Wallace said.

Much has changed for Aligned, which began as “strictly a master agent.” That was in August of 2008, a month before external forces would dictate new strategies.

“We brought on a direct sales force about a year and a half into it because the economy was so bad,” Wallace said. “It was tough to get partners to sell ancillary products with a brand-new master agent in the marketplace.”

But he found that traditional partners still were interested in working with Aligned through the channel.

“They were happy to have us handle all of that business and take a smaller commission, in return for us being their telecom experts. So we built this outsourced telecom agency model from that,” he said.

Survival of the Smartest

Seven years later, the indirect sales channel continues to evolve.

Wallace serves as vice president of the Technology Channel Association (TCA), which develops education and certifications for partners. Wallace says the organization is more important than ever because of the increasing crossover between partners.

“There’s so much crossover. If we’re not figuring how to work together and establishing best practices and educating VARs that are getting into the telecom space or agents that are getting into the VAR space – if we’re not building that bridge – that hurts …

… the industry.”

Wallace notes increased competition in the carrier services marketplace as one of the biggest changes since 2008. That competition has led to higher demand for technical expertise.

“… The volume of competition has created a much more technically savvy customer,” he said. “Things that we used to gloss over that really didn’t mean much to a consumer get picked apart, because they may be the only differentiators [between the carriers].”

Take bandwidth, for example, which Wallace says is insufficient when merely marketed by its price per megabit. The customers know better.

“ … the only thing you’re going to compete on is price,” Wallace said. It comes down to being more “holistic,” he adds. Partners must be able to understand how their products and services deal with issues like SIP survivability, the relationship between WAN and LAN, phone infrastructure, dialing plans and mobile integration.

“You used to be able to make your money just selling bandwidth per megs and number of voice lines,” he said. “You can’t win in this business if that’s the only thing you focus on. You won’t be around long enough.”

A Triad of Changes

Wallace’s story begins in a classroom in 1995 where the 20-year-old version of himself taught professionals how to use the Internet.

At the time, he worked for the Internet Store, which sold dial-up accounts and offered classes on Web-based computing.

“This was back when Netscape first came out, so it was a pretty exciting time,” he said. “I had always been a computer nerd – the propeller on my nerd beanie spins pretty quickly.”

It spun quickly enough for the Internet Store to peg Wallace as the man to lead a class for employees of Texas Instruments and Perot Systems.

“They looked at me and said, ‘Well, this kid knows how to do all that stuff. We want you to design and teach the classes to Perot Systems and Texas Instruments and teach them how to use the Internet.'”

Not long after, he joined OnRamp (later acquired by Verio), where he commenced on the first major transition of his career: from engineering to …

… sales. The daily workload was drastically different, as there was no longer a daily stream of tasks to be “fed.”

“In sales, you were the hunter,” Wallace said. “You were the one that had to create the business. I can remember days of coming into the office and staring at the phone, thinking it was a snake that was going to bite me in the ear, and not wanting to pick it up and not wanting to make a call, but doing it anyway.”

He stuck with sales, however, and later moved to Nobel Networking to be a sales manager. Wallace worked at Cbeyond as the channel sales vice president from 2002 to 2008, overseeing as many as 40 managers in 14 different cities. Going into leadership was his second major transition, and it changed how he approached work. He says the fundamental difference was the dependence on others.

“I had to go from being the one that had to force myself to do the hard work, to leading by example,” he said. “I found where I made my people most successful was when I found out what their roadblocks were and removed them.”

Exhausted by his job’s constant travels, Wallace decided to start Aligned Communications and career transition No. 3: from corporate to small business. And he says that might have been the toughest transition yet. A corporation is staffed enough to have an expert in every necessary category – but Wallace says that expert often had to be him.

“If there’s a customer-care issue, you wear the customer-care hat for that day. If the office furniture needs to be moved, I hope you don’t strain anything while you do it,” he said. “Everything that has to be done is on your shoulders, and you wear all the hats.”

But Wallace says the difficulties of a small company by no means outweigh the advantages of entrepreneurship.

“Being able to change on a dime if you see an opportunity. Being able to go in that direction without all the red tape of bureaucracy and a big corporation. I could never go back,” he said.

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