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Business News – Panel Heats Up AgENt Conference & Expo

Posted: 11/2000

Business News

Panel Heats Up AgENt Conference & Expo
By Tara Seals

Qwest Communications International Inc.’s (www.qwest.com)
vice president of sales Gordon Stark played the role of bullseye for agents
looking to vent frustrations during the Sept. 19 "Sounding Off"
Carrier Panel of PHONE+’s AgENt Conference & Expo in New Orleans.

The open-forum panel discussion is a popular event during the twice-per-year
conventions because it gives agents a chance to ask questions and challenge top
carrier executives. The September panel included Stark; Arthur Chaykin, vice
president of strategic development at Sprint Corp. (www.sprint.com)
Denise Boerger, vice president and general manager of Telegroup Inc. (www.telegroup.com);
Bob Loftus, vice president of partner programs for Cable & Wireless Inc. (www.cw-usa.net);
and Trudy Van Kirk, general manager of the independent sales channel at AT&T
Corp. (www.att.com).

But with rumors swirling around the conference and exhibit floor of potential
changes in Qwest’s agent relationship, Stark and his company became an immediate
target.

While the panelists stressed their companies’ commitment to the indirect
channel, which provoked howls of protest, one agent focused in on Stark and
asked, "How committed are you if you’re not offering evergreen
clauses?"

Another agent raised the rumor that Qwest plans to cancel six-figure agent
contracts.

Another agent challenged the panel saying, "You make it difficult for
the agent, whose job is marketing, because you’re constantly throwing out
roadblocks."

Remaining calm, but appearing shaken, Stark insisted Qwest will honor the
terms of all existing contracts. He said, however, that in the new space of
where the market is going, not offering an evergreen clause is not the point.
"It’s a matter of being competitive in the marketplace. The life expectancy
of a customer isn’t what it was at one time."

The fact that Qwest had announced the previous day that it would lay off more
than 12,000 people in the former US WEST, 14-state territory didn’t help Stark’s
position.

While he clearly seemed to be on the hot seat, his colleagues came to his
rescue.

"We’re in your camp," Van Kirk told the audience. "We are the
advocates in our organizations for you."

And Loftus interjected, "I need you guys. We can’t get into your
customers with the direct side. We cause people a lot of pain, because we’re
having growth pains."

Once the moment of controversy passed, audience questions turned to other
issues such as long-distance rates, order-entry, provisioning, branching into
other services, training, selling data services, legal issues, comarketing, and
technical support/customer service. The discussion did not always remain calm,
as some agents clearly were up in arms over the way they believe carriers treat
them.

The panel and the audience seemed to reach a consensus that voice sales will
not be enough to bring agents into the future.

Van Kirk and Chaykin pointed out that while agents must learn to do business
differently if they are to survive, as older carriers, their legacy systems also
are in transition.

This period of transition was even more visible Sept. 20, when a CLEC panel
convened to hear agents’ concerns. It was much more congenial.

That panel included Brad Bono, president of the eastern region at PaeTec
Communications Inc. (www.paetec.com); Keith
Kramer, senior vice president of IDS Telecom; Mike Newkirk, president and COO
for BTI Telecom Corp. (www.btitele.com);
and Charlie Thomas, founder and CEO of Net2000 Communications Inc. (www.
net2000.com
)

The panel discussed CLECs’ future and what agents should look for in choosing
to represent a CLEC.

Thomas said he is "bullish" on the sector, even in the face of
market shake-ups. And after Kramer predicted unprecedented growth during the
next two years, Thomas added, "When you’re competing with RBOCs who own 95
percent of the market share, and there’s a demand for broadband access, for
example, we will take market share away–every day."

The panelists stressed agents should be prepared for a "survival of the
fittest" battle among CLECs, which will weed out that community.

Other topics included customer acquisition, local number portability and
CLEC-to-CLEC conversion.


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