**Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of profiles featuring Channel Partners advisory board members. Meet Jacobs and the rest of the board by attending Cloud Partners, a Channel Partners event, this fall in Boston. Register here.**
Master agencies have evolved to the point where telco sales no longer define them.
That observation comes from Bridgepointe Technologies’ Gary Jacobs, who has watched the common portfolio of a master telecom agency grow to include data centers, hosted PBX and cloud services. He says Bridgepointe projects 35 to 40 percent of its bookings to involve cloud. All of these changes reflect a convergence in technologies and a shift in partner clientele.
“We want to capture more of the managed service providers, the VARs, IT-as-a-service folks, that have realized monthly recurring revenue is a better future for them than month-in-month-out trying to chase a number [and] selling a box,” the vice president of channel sales said.
The line between master agent and distributor is blurring, and Jacobs suggests it may be a matter of semantics. His own master agency has undergone a rebranding.
“When we look at Bridgepointe, we really look at ourselves as a telco and IT services distributor,” he said.
The integration of telecom and IT has merged company departments and placed data and voice offerings on the same sales plate. Jacobs says it’s common to find people who sold telco now adding IT services, and people who sold hardware adding circuits. An overarching theme is that selling individual pieces won’t cut it.
“… Because when customers are approaching a solution, they’re looking at it holistically,” Jacobs said.
But in addition to adding new revenue, the technological shift has brought its own set of challenges. Jacobs identifies the learning curve for salespeople as a primary issue; they must familiarize themselves with entirely new products and services. He says Bridgepointe knew it had to support its agents with resources – whether through data or engineers.
“What are master agents willing to do to help those agents overcome that gap and get themselves more comfortable?” he said.
He says the informational bridge is worth crossing; the master agents who stick to traditional ways of selling network and voice services will suffer from diminishing revenue. If they don’t make the shift to cash in on better rates, someone else will.
“… If they don’t start having those conversations, then they will truly be left behind, and there will be more and more agents that are not only comfortable selling the network and the voice, but comfortable talking about the infrastructure, storage, disaster recovery, VDI and all of the other cloud services available,” he said. “Those are the folks that are going to win the business from the traditional agent, I truly believe.”
The Fork in the Road
Jacobs says embracing change is important not just for agents, but for …
… anyone in business.
“Don’t be afraid to learn new things, because that will only make yourself more valuable to the company you work for, people you work with, and the customers you’re trying to sell,” he said. “If you’re not changing, then you get left behind.”
Jacobs has seen plenty of change in his career. He joined Bridgepointe in 2013 to cement its channel footprint in Southern California. The New York native spent the previous decade at TelePacific, where he eventually moved into channel operations.
But before he filled out his successful résumé, Jacobs wavered on the brink of leaving the sales industry some 20 years ago. He graduated in 1989 from Ohio’s Franklin University, earning a degree in marketing and business administration. He trudged through the next seven years as a salesman at various companies, selling a hodgepodge of products – none of which interested him.
“I was to the point where I [thought], ‘I’m done with this. I hate it,’” he said.
He considered returning to school for an MBA, but a friend told him about LCI International, a telecommunications company. Jacobs decided to give it a shot and found himself “completely re-energized.” After three years, he joined Qwest Communications, where he became director of field support and account management.
The channel has been another welcome addition to his career. He had known about it for a long time, but he notes how its influence and revenue have grown over the past five years. Moreover, he has enjoyed the relational aspect that comes with being a master agent. Additionally, he says his desire to be knowledgeable in his field meshed well with the demands of the channel.
“You’ve got to be a trusted advisor,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to talk the different disciplines and technologies, and approach customers from a solution perspective.”
Now, he says he loves his job at Bridgepointe and can hardly imagine another career path – other than that of a rock star. He looks back gratefully on his decision to join LCI International.
“It’s one of the best things I ever did, because I look back now and [wonder], “’What would I have needed that MBA for?’” he said. “That was the fork in the road for me, and I’m glad I chose telecom.”