This spring’s Channel Partners
Conference & Expo, held March 22-24 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, was the hottest ticket in a town known for its shows. About 2,500 VARs, agents, vendors, carriers, consultants and others gathered at the resort and casino to make deals, learn from the experts and hone their knowledge of the industry. Attendance broke all previous records.
A pre-show golf event at the Desert Pines Golf Club, sponsored by VarTec/eMeritus Communications Inc. and PHONE+, brought together 18 foursomes to play the Pete Dye-designed course, situated on almost 95 acres of rolling hills and, yes, desert pines. The three winning foursomes took $1,100 in pro shop gift certificates between them.
A sold-out expo hall brought together longtime exhibitors and sponsors such as ACC Business, Acceris Communications Solutions, American Telesis Inc. and ITC^DeltaCom, with fresh faces like VoIP company gee-fon and Protus IP Solutions.
Highlights in the expo hall included free massages in Mpower Communications Corp.’s booth and virtual golf sponsored by SAVVIS Communications.
A Porsche Boxster near the entrance to the expo hall was courtesy of first-time exhibitor ATI, which made its premiere big play with the agent community at the Channel Partners Conference by tendering a new program and a new philosophy it calls WealthCare. Under the new program, ATI is taking over customer service responsibilities, allowing agents to sell more but also to spend more time doing things they want to do, like be with their families or travel. This brings us back to the car. It’s not a giveaway, but an example of a key component of the program. In addition to regular commissions, bonuses and promotions, agents earn WealthPoints for each account, which can be traded for perks. The number of points earned is equal to 10 percent of the average between the customer’s second and third months’ billing amounts. Earned points can be redeemed for more than 1,800 incentives, including golf clubs, an exotic getaway, a bigscreen plasma TV and of course, the Porsche.
A brand-new Mercedes-Benz parked outside the expo hall also drew plenty of admiration. The buzz grew as word spread that TNCI was offering not just one, but any number of 2005 Mercedes as part of its “Driven to Success” promotion. Agents who submit at least $50,000 in new TNCI business before Aug. 15 will receive a 2005 C230 Kompressor Sport Coupe, and TNCI will pick up the lease payments for two years. Agents who submit more sales are eligible for more expensive models or even two C230s. TNCI plans to unveil the winners and award the cars at the upcoming Channel Partners show in Chicago, Aug. 30 – Sept. 1.
News flowed as freely as the promotions. PHONE+ produced the show’s first Show Daily newspaper, chock-full of show news, such as Lightyear Communications Inc.’s launch of two bundles, BizValue and BizUnlimited, which combine local and long distance. In other headlines, Global Crossing Ltd. revealed a new strategy to go after small and medium enterprises via agents, and NTT/Verio Inc. said it plans to drive 50 percent of its business through the channel by the end of the year.
Michigan-based LDMI Telecommunications showcased its partner opportunities including the new Small Business Protection Package. The service includes necessary hardware, self-installation kit with live telephone support, firewall pre-configuration, monitoring and management, technical support, maintenance and upgrades.
Kicking off Channel Partners’ conference portion, the three-hour, two-track TAG Certification was a hit for partners, vendors and master agents alike. Facilitators from BellSouth Corp. presented a non-vendor-specific set of sales and marketing modules geared to give the almost 200 attendees valuable, business-building information. “Whether you’re a partner looking for the best program or if you have a program and are looking for the best partner, these processes work,” said Lark Greene, a facilitator and chief business development manager for the BellSouth Distribution Channel.
Track I focused on marketing for success, deepening attendees’ knowledge of the small business market opportunity. The interactive session used wireless keypads to measure attendee opinions, allowing the speakers to tailor presentations to attendee needs.
Track II, “Building Effective Channel Partnerships,” gave a roadmap for growing one’s business with an eye to the 80/20 rule, which says 20 percent of partners are responsible for 80 percent of sales. Focusing energy on fewer, more productive partners to build revenue faster was the central concept for the three-hour session.
Keynote speaker Bob Eubanks, former host of “The Newlywed Game,” entertained a standing-room- only crowd with clips from his show and a dose of healthy advice: “I had four couples ready to bare their souls for a toaster. Why? Because we had a message of validating others and showing interest. We have to maintain our people skills in a world of high technology.”
Following Eubanks was the conference’s flagship general session, “Point/Counterpoint,” which brought together some of the top names in the industry to trade thoughts on bundles, product and carrier diversity and who owns the customer’s heart, mind and account. Moderator Ernie Kelly, senior adviser to the KDW Group, kept things lively with a series of thought-provoking queries to the panel, made up of three partners and three vendors.
Refreshingly, the participants found much common ground on both sides of the distribution model. Bundles and product diversity have come to the forefront in both business models as a way to remain viable in a world of unchanging commissions and an under-2-cents-per-minute long-distance rate. “Offering more services per customer helps us with the flat line in compensation,” explained Michael Emanuelo, president of sales and service for Reignmaker Consortium Inc. “The only way to win is to sell more things,” said Harry Campbell, president of emerging and midmarkets for Sprint Business Solutions.
Agents’ need for carrier diversification was a point even the RBOCs granted. Estelle Conover, vice president of indirect channels for BellSouth Corp., and Pat Lewis, senior vice president of business markets for Qwest Communications International Inc., said they understood why agents cultivated relationships with more than one carrier. “We must expand the basket of goodies available,” said Douglas Boyce, vice president of sales and finance for Spring Valley Marketing Group.
Small pockets of controversy did appear during the discussion, most notably around customer ownership and support. “If you lose touch with the customer, you open a door - the direct side will show up when they move a location or circuit, and we risk losing our commissions,” said Rob Goble, president of Venicom Inc.
The concurrent sessions also served up valuable information. The Wireless World track included the “Wi-Fi Wow” and “Mobile and Fixed Cellular” sessions. “Wi-Fi Wow” shed light on revenue opportunities for high-speed wireless Internet. Countless business opportunities exist along the broadband wireless service- delivery chain, and agents can profit from the growing demand for enterprise-class wireless TouchTone’s team.
LAN and public hotspots. Topics discussed included the value of Wi-Fi to small businesses, customer support, interoperability, licensing, security, the ease of getting into the Wi-Fi space, and the discussion of equipment and costs involved. “There’s no way an agent can ignore this opportunity,” said Jay Lewis, panelist, master agent and co-founder of Wi- Fi Guys LLC.
The “Mobile and Fixed Cellular” session advised agents to get involved in the wireless world and stay abreast of emerging technologies.
Panelist John Horn, national director of the VAR channel at T-Mobile, emphasized displacement of landline is real; it’s accelerating and old profit centers are eroding. He went on to describe the rapid growth of wireless minute usage, positing that wireless companies beat out IXCs, RBOCs and ILECs as the largest segment of the industry.
The panelists also discussed trends of Wi-Fibased home replacement and wireless usage, particularly e-mail, in business environments. The experts warned agents they could no longer define their companies as non-wireless providers - wireless is key to future profit.
Other topics covered in the sessions were remote access, local number portability, Bell agent programs, consulting/professional services, contracts and customer profiling for WAN technologies.
Agent makeover session “Expert Eye for the Channel Guy” and a new Regulatory Workshop ended the program.
The workshop was conceived in reaction to the onslaught of information regarding rules and regulations bombarding telecom companies and agents.
“The regulatory changes will impact the future of local competition, and understanding the dynamics both at the federal and state level will help agents to better anticipate trends and changes in the marketplace,” says Peter Karoczkai, vice president of sales and marketing at InfoHighway Communications Corp. and moderator of the workshop.
One of the main discussion topics was what has happened with the FCC’s Triennial Review Order (TRO) since its release in August 2003. In March, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC regulations, ruling the federal regulator did not have the right to designate rulemaking authority to state public utility commissions. The federal government may seek to appeal the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, there have been nearly 50 state proceedings in progress regarding the availability of UNE-P and the batch “hot-cut” process for UNELoop.
Whether FCC or state regulators ultimately set the rules, experts say the decisions will shape the competitive landscape of telecom for years to come. The analysis of TRO status also involves the status of the CLEC joint appeal of the TRO and the FCC proceedings regarding pick-and-choose NPRM, ILEC forbearance petitions, and TELRIC or UNE pricing.
This two-hour look at regulatory issues also included VoIP regulation. Andrew Isar, president of regulatory consultancy Miller Isar Inc. and guest speaker, discussed why VoIP is gaining the attention of regulators, a brief history of VoIP regulation and parties’ positions on the topic, state and federal action, prognosis for regulation and time frames.
Khali Henderson, Josh Long and Paula Bernier contributed to this story.
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