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All for One


IF YOU SAID A TELECOM AGENT

was like a man without a country, that would have been true a decade ago. There was no professional association and no networking event for up-and-coming indirect sales organizations. That began to change in 1997 when a group of agents got together to discuss the need for such a support infrastructure.


On the cover: The Agent Alliance 1. Greg Praske, ARG; 2. Bill Power, ARG; 3. Jim Butler, TeleCHOICE; 4. Ted Schuman, PlanetOne; 5. Gene Foster, CMS; 6. Jim Gledhill, CarrierSales.com; 7. Kenny Wilder, ECT; 8. Brad Miehl, MicroCorp; 9. Daryl Heller, Premier; 10. Ben Humphreys, Comtel; 11. Lyndi Foster, CMS; 12. Jay Lewis, VisionCom; 13. Rick Ribas, PlanetOne; 14. Karin Fields, MicroCorp; 15. Mark Solomon, Global Systems Telecom Not pictured: Paul Silicato, Global Systems Telecom; Tom Sullivan, VisionCom; Ron Bohm, SelecTel; Mark Koon, CarrierSales.com; and Ernie Kelly, executive director

The meeting, held in the spring in Atlanta at the Telecommunications Resellers Association conference, was patterned after a dealer meeting format common in the automotive industry. We had about 40 or 50 people and we talked about whether there would be interest in getting together and doing caring and sharing, recalls Greg Praske, CEO of Association Resource Group. At the meeting, about a dozen companies agreed to form the Agent Alliance, carving out their own place in the vast telecom value chain.

In its early years, the Agent Alliance served as a forum for peer networking and knowledge sharing. The group helped launch PHONE+s AgENt Show (now the Channel Partners Conference & Expo) to facilitate broader networking and education among agents and their carrier suppliers.

Over time, the alliance expanded its role to include collective buying. It inked its first joint contract with UCN Inc. in 1999 and has secured three additional deals to date.

In 2006, however, the Agent Alliance is embarking on an even more ambitious agenda. If you look at where we are headed today, its still leveraging our collective distribution power, but its not limited to that, says Brad Miehl, president and CEO of MicroCorp Inc. The members of the coalition, which now number 12 companies, have spent the last six-to-12 months on strategic planning.

We have been together as a group for many years now. We do have a level of trust between us that time provides, says Agent Alliance President Bill Power, who also is president of ARG.

We are all very interested in how we might be able to work together in creative ways to improve the profitability of our companies.

At its February 2006 meeting, alliance members signed off on an aggressive plan including efforts around collective buying, branding, industry trending and research, knowledge sharing and benchmarking, resource sharing, recruitment, and management and operations. The initiatives are separate but depend upon each other.

The management and operations category, for example, refers to the groups government. It is the framework that makes all the other initiatives possible. We are not shooting from the hip, says Mark Solomon, partner with Global Systems Telecom Inc. We have set up the committees and the commitment to resources both time and money to really make the initiatives happen.

We are going to be a little tighter as we move forward to make sure we have accountability to follow through, adds Executive Director Ernie Kelly, who is known for his seven years as head of the Telecommunications Resellers Association (which became ASCENT and later was merged with COMPTEL). Kellys contract is among the early changes the organization made in anticipation of executing on a larger purpose.

The groups charter now includes the identification of best practices and metrics for benchmarking alliance members against each other and other companies in the industry. Discovery will be only part of the agenda, says Miehl, noting this data will be used to support the alliances resourcesharing efforts. [We are] looking at ways we can take what we do individually and discover best practices and apply them to back-office resources, back-office automation, and even extend that to the carriers, says Miehl.

As a first step, the alliance is beginning to look at what systems its members use and whether its feasible for them to operate on a unified platform. This multiyear task is in the beginning stages, but alliance members say they are eager to find ways to take the costs out of their businesses, and are hoping to make headway on this plan by the end of the year. Its a way we can serve our members better, quite frankly, by reducing our support costs and giving us ways of running our business that a few of us dont have, says Miehl.

Shared resources also might include a common lead-generation system, notes ARGs Praske. Between the two efforts, the group says it not only expects to reduce individual members costs but to increase its collective value to suppliers.

If we can leverage what we do as a group on many levels whether it be in terms of doing the heavy lifting where it offsets some front-end costs or back-end support then we certainly expect and deserve a bestin- class agreement, says Ted Schuman, president and CEO of PlanetOne Communications Inc. Thats ultimately the win-win, the value proposition that we are hoping to deliver for our vendors and members.

The alliance is articulating its value with a branding campaign initially aimed at suppliers and new recruits. We are really looking for organizations who can bring value to the alliance, says Power, about adding new members. We are looking to recruit several new members this year and to continue that pattern over the coming years. The alliance is not seeking size and will hand-pick potential associates, such as Bell agents, data VARs and others that might offer different perspectives or competencies, Power says.

The consortium counts two recent additions Communication Management Services (CMS) and Premier Companies LLC among its ranks. Gene Foster, president and CEO of CMS, says he has watched the alliance over the years and decided that its traction among the carriers now makes it an attractive proposition. The carriers are truly looking at the Agent Alliance in such a positive way, I couldnt see not being a part of it, he says.

Qwest Communications International Inc. signed a contract with the Agent Alliance in 2001. We are finding it more effective for us to communicate with one entity and effectively get feedback from all of the agents in their organization, says J. Thomas McGrath, senior vice president of Qwests Business Markets Group.

The latest carrier to sign on with the alliance is Global Crossing Ltd. We find value in working with the Agent Alliance primarily because their member agents have the scale to bring us profitable revenue in the short term as well as some key members that focus on longterm MPLS offerings, says Edwin Watson, Global Crossings sales engagement director. These members bring a refreshing, longterm strategic partnership approach to all our dealings.


Up Close & Personal

Organization:

Agent Alliance
Web:
www.agentalliance.net
Established: Spring 1997
2006 Executive Committee: ARGs Bill Power, president; Comtels Ben Humphreys Jr., vice president; CMS Gene Foster, secretary; TeleCHOICEs Jim Butler, treasurer; and Ernie Kelly, executive director
Committees: Public Relations, Membership, Ethics and Business Opportunities
Annual Billings: Approximately $200 million
Customers: 25,000
Subagents: 1,000
Group Contracts: Qwest Communications International Inc., Global Crossing Ltd., MCI Inc. (now Verizon Business) and UCN Inc.
Member Companies: Association Resource Group, CarrierSales.com, Communication Management Services, Comtel Communications, ECT Telecom.com Inc., Global Systems Telecom, MicroCorp Inc., PlanetOne Communications Inc., Premier Companies LLC, SelecTel Corp., TeleCHOICE and Visioncom Inc.

Links
Agent Alliance www.agentalliance.net
Association Resource Group (ARG) www.myarg.com
CarrierSales.com www.carriersales.com
Communication Management Services www.cmstelcom.com
Comtel Communications www.comtelcommunications.com
Ect Telecom.com Inc. www.ecttelecom.com
Global Crossing Ltd. www.globalcrossing.com
Global Systems Telecom Inc. www.gstpartners.com
MCI Inc. www.mci.com
MicroCorp Inc. www.microcorp.com
PlanetOne Communications Inc. www.planet1comm.com
Premier Companies LLC www.premiercompaniesllc.com
Qwest Communications International Inc. www.qwest.com
TeleCHOICE www.telechoice.net
UCN Inc. www.ucn.net
Visioncom Inc. www.callvci.com

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