TAG National’s Dale Stein moderates VoIP Toolkit: Part II.
The Fall Channel Partners Conference & Expo
in Chicago let agents, VARs, VADs and others dig into issues tastier than a deep-dish pizza. No matter how you sliced it, the show was topped with a range of exhibitors, vendors’ newly rolledout agent programs and fun, informative education sessions.
Attendee and exhibitor response termed this fall’s Channel Partners Conference & Expo a huge success. The fall event attracted the largest crowd yet with more than 2,000 participants.
FIRST ON THE MENU
The conference started with the first of many education sessions sponsored by Telegration Inc. First up were two concurrent tracks of T@G and vendor certification training conducted by PAETEC Communications Inc. and American Telesis. Pete Orosco, director of engineering for PAETEC West, gave agents the skinny on SecureTec MPLS VPN. He started out with an overview of SecureTec’s features, advantages and benefits before teaching agents how to qualify prospects for the technology. Instruction covered the gamut from VPNs to frame relay.
Co-sponsor Mpower Communications’ Rolla Huff.
American Telesis, too, shared its agent program setup, company philosophy and product training with agents from across the country.
Agents told Director of Operations Heather Selbert they’re concerned about scalability, having access to a national footprint, being able to offer unique products, avoiding ‘brutal’ service issues and more.
The session included a review of technologies such as frame relay and the advantages it holds, especially during emergencies or outages. “In a 9/11 situation, you don’t want to have to wait 30 days for your network to come back,” Selbert said, noting frame relay prevents that delay.
However, others in the audience pointed out the demand for frame relay is quickly disappearing.
Show attendees gather at the ITC^DeltaCom booth.
The technology is being replaced by IP VPNs and Cisco routers, they said. One long-time agent said 80 percent of his clients want IP VPN; the remaining percentage doesn’t know about the technology. American Telesis does price IP VPNs and VPNs, and is expanding in those areas. The facilities-based carrier serves a number of vertical markets, including health care, banks, education and broadcasters.
The official conference kicked off with a packed hall for keynote speaker Mike Ditka.
Khali Henderson, group editor of the telecom division for Virgo Publishing, set the stage for the highly anticipated speech by comparing the Channel Partners event to the Republican National Convention, taking place a few states away in New York. “They have Arnold Schwarzenegger who pretends to be an action hero. We have a genuine sports legend in Mike Ditka,” she said.
The folks at T-Mobile.
Master of Ceremonies Dennis Fioretti of X4 Communications, which co-sponsored Ditka’s speech with Mpower Communications, then introduced the former Chicago Bears head coach, who exhorted agents to reconsider the definition of success and aim for the top. “I think success isn’t what you accomplish, I think it’s sometimes what you overcome,” he said. Ditka earned several rounds of applause with mention of controversial political and social issues, and explained why he decided against entering politics.
“I actually decided to run from the senate,” he joked, before saying he did not want media and opponents to dig into his past.
The theme of Ditka’s speech was ACE - attitude, character, enthusiasm.
Telegration sponsored the education sessionsat Channel Partners.
Ditka’s standing ovation was followed by the general session, a panel titled, ‘VoIP Toolkit - Part I.’ Focused on the service models, technology and sales opportunities in IP telephony, the session set the tone of the conference: VoIP, panelists indicated, is the most important thing that’s happened to telecom since the breakup of Ma Bell. Addressing an involved audience, four panelists discussed how and why agents need to sell VoIP. Tim Gaines, vice president of field sales for Covad Communications Group Inc., said one of the many benefits of VoIP is that it costs less than traditional telephony.
“This is disruptive change that you’re involved in,” he told agents. “[VoIP] is truly better and less expensive.” Similarly, J. Sherman Henderson III, president and CEO of Lightyear Network Solutions LLC, advised agents to be users of VoIP before they sell it. Ruben Chapa, president and CEO of St. Louis Telecom, agreed, saying agents must always carry VoIP demos with them so customers can try the technology.
Invitation-only attendees listen to a presentation at theCovad Luncheon, held on the second day of the show.
Likely reflecting the sentiment throughout the room, Gaines summed up the emergence of VoIP by saying it represents “the new good old days of telecom. It’s been a long walk in the desert.” VoIP evangelist Mike Odenwald also took part in the panel.
After a nonstop Q&A session, the discussion spilled over to a follow-up look at hardware for VoIP. Dale Stein, co-founder and director of strategic planning and business development of TAG National, Dean DeGrendel, regional manager of Appia Communications and Jeff Veres, CEO at IPtimize discussed IP PBXs from traditional PBX vendors, data-centric systems from vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. and hosted options, along with endpoints such as softphones or IP desksets. “This is a complete 180 for most people in the room,” noted one attendee. Even so, agents would do well to get on board. “We will see as many VoIP providers as there are retail outlets,” said Veres.
Meanwhile, an interactive panel on ‘Hawking Local Service’ examined the many aspects of offering dialtone. After short presentations on their respective companies, the panelists opened the floor for questions. UNE-P regulatory changes were an elephant in the room and went largely undiscussed, despite the presence of BellSouth Corp. on the panel. VoIP plans, on the other hand, were the first thing attendees wanted to know. Tony Palazzolo, director of national partnerships for XO Communications Inc., BellSouth’s Vickie Rogers, senior AVP for third-party distribution, and ITC^Deltacom’s Jim LaBrec, vice president of dealer services, northern area, also tackled questions of local service stickiness, integrated T1 offers and the XO/Allegiance merger.
A session on wireless mobile services didn’t disappoint, with wireless data a hot topic. “A majority of the wireless data has come through the back door with employees,” said John Horn, vice president of T-Mobile USA LLC, whereas now that’s changing, with corporate policies offering an opportunity for a business sale. Kevin Packingham, director of business solution for Sprint Corp., and Mitch McCoy, senior director of marketing for American Wireless, rounded out the panel.
An overview of Microsoft.NET and how service providers can help agents from a back-office standpoint was the message of a session on operations systems, featuring Greg Taylor, director of marketing, Access Point Inc., Jim Lazeroff, director of marketing, Info Directions Inc., and Jan DeRobertis, vice president and principal, NBC Solutions Corp.
Meanwhile, ACC Business was busy leading its T@G certification training track, showing agents how to sell its prime local service and how to provide SMBs with frame relay networking. ACC repeated its training on Tuesday as well.
The second day of the conference got off to a great start with a continental breakfast sponsored by Optivon and Sprint Corp., and a special address by PAETEC COO Brad Bono about hawking total packages. “If you’re selling only one part, it’s as if you were selling switched access long-distance in 2002,” he said. “If you aren’t out there providing a complete solution, you won’t be here two years from now. … IP is here, and it is going to be the next thing. So, specialized knowledge is the first thing we need to get.”
Bono’s address paved the way for a look at another burgeoning opportunity in telecom: Wi- Fi. The general session, “It’s in the Air:
TNCI President Brian Twomey named the winners of the TNCI Mercedes-Benz promotion, at left, Chuck Jeffries, at right, from back to front, Chris Galen, Bill Mansfield, Geoff Bazegian, Bob Potterfield, Kent McMillon, Twomey, TNCI Agent Manager Ted Geary, Susan Kinney Mantione, Paul Solomon, Corky Webb, David Pratt, Daryl Heller. The prize was two-year lease on a Mercedes-Benz. The model of Mercedes depended on the level of new sales submitted to TNCI during the promotion period. The company also awarded a Mercedes-Benz C240 Sedan to Geary for the number of sales he brought in during the promotion.
Opportunities in Wi-Fi,” featured moderator Betty Cockrell of Billing Concepts Inc., and panelists Mark Trotter of Nationwide Wireless, Rob Haviland, systems architect with 3Com Corp. and Jeff Manning of Airpath Wireless Inc.
Together they examined what they called the huge, untapped potential for hotspot growth, while warning the audience that Wi-Fi still has some bugs to be worked out. Trotter said when he travels and needs to conduct a sensitive phone conversation, “I just don’t do it. People are very creative. Use VPN if you have it. Otherwise, don’t,” he said.
Panelists also encouraged agents to work with venues where hotspots are installed so they can revenue-share.
“There’s tons of money to be made in Wi- Fi and the time to get into it is now,” Trotter emphasized.
Channel partners disbanded then to attend concurrent sessions on new business opportunities and marketing tips. For “Lockdown: Securing SMB Information Networks,” Ted Albritton, director of channel sales for Privacy Inc., noted businesses want to protect their brands, people and bottom lines, all while controlling costs. “Despite regulation and best practices, financial fraud and ID theft are escalating at astronomical rates,” he said. “It’s the world’s biggest crime today.” Jay Jacobsen, founder and CEO of Edgeos Inc., recommended agents approach companies prepared.
“When you go to a CTO or CIO and show concrete proof that we’re exposed, getting funding to bring in a product to address those things is easy,” he said.
Total Call had a red phone booth on hand where curious attendees could test the company’s dial-up VoIP solution.
Next door, agents filled the room to listen to J. Scott Levy and Charlie Gillette talk about how to be a buyer’s advocate. Levy is director of channel sales for Telecom Solution Center, while Gillette is president and CEO of e-learning company Knowledge Anywhere Inc. Both encouraged partners to put themselves in the buyers’ shoes. “Enron changed everything for everybody,” Levy said. Gillette spoke to the ways elearning can help agents work for their clients, especially by boning up on their listening skills and ability to ask good questions.
The subsequent tracks, “Partners Hit Home: Residential/Consumer Opportunities” and “On Target: Vertical and Affinity Marketing” also showed agents more areas where they can profit. The first of the concurrent sessions was focused on residential opportunities. Ken Rotman, president of Allianex LLC characterized these opportunities as akin to the Wild West. “If you’re an agent that has a way to tap into this market, it is more than long-distance or cellular,” he said. Similarly, Rob Wunder, vice president of marketing for Sipmedia, pointed out that as opportunities expand, “Master agents should insist on a privatelabel relationship. If you have your own brand you will look no smaller than any other service provider. You will own the customer.”
American Telesis booth.
Simultaneously, Greg Griffith, vice president of marketing for New Edge Networks, and John Petrakis, vice president of Access2Go, were focusing on retail as a key vertical market. Griffiths said agents can help retailers replace their dial-up with broadband, which increases revenue, improves the customer experience and provides a quick ROI. He said agents can reach retailers by attending their trade shows, reading their industry publications and penetrating their associations. Access2Go spends 20 percent of its time on vertical markets, Petrakis said.
The show floor opened on Tuesday afternoon to great fanfare, packed from wall-to-wall with participants. Exhibitors raffled prizes including signed sports paraphernalia and handed out spiffs to help people remember their companies.
PAETEC passed out branded harmonicas, for example, while InfoHighway Communications Corp. gave away streamlined clocks with the company’s logo.
On Wednesday morning, the wrap-up of the show floor coincided with another installment of roundtable discussions, a chance for channel partners to ask industry experts about issues such as consultative selling, the loss of UNE-P and agent agreements. Peter Karoczkai of InfoHighway drew a consistently full table of agents hoping to guard against revenue loss with the predicted disappearance of UNE-P.
Throughout the show, like the side of fried mozzarella sticks one can never turn down with pizza, Channel Partners attendees took time out for some fun and partying late into the night. The last night of the show featured a rock ‘n roll blowout on the roof of Navy Pier, co-sponsored by PAETEC and PHONE+. Nearly everyone took advantage of the open bar and danced to cover tunes belted out by New Edge Networks’ Jeff Waddell and backed up the company’s band, The OC-192s. Rick Sheldon, co-founder of master agency Intelisys, threw a guitar strap around his shoulder and performed with The OC-192s, to much applause.
3Com Corp. www.3com.com