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May the (Sales) Force Be with You

Posted: 9/2003

May the (Sales) Force Be with You

1996 is a pivotal year in telecom not only for the passage of
the Telecom Act that governs competitive markets, but also because it marked the
debut of PHONE+s exclusive event for indirect sales organizations, now called
the Channel Partners Conference & Expo.

Its formation was prescient. (I can say that because it wasnt
my idea.) The event started off small but was supported by true believers both
inside and outside of our company. While it began to build its own steam, the
conference was pushed into the spotlight by market forces namely the drive
for performance-based sales forces in a down market.

This month, PHONE+ will host the Channel Partners Conference
& Expo in South Beach. More than 1,500 indirect sales executives and vendors
will be there. Among them will be a select group of master agents.

Like the show built for them, theyve also experienced a
transformation. Not only are they bigger, but theyve taken on a whole new
significance in the value chain. They no longer are simply aggregators of
subagents but virtual channel managers for the vendors they represent.

To explore their evolved role, I engaged several master agents
in conversation this summer via phone and e-mail. The dialogue (edited for your
reading pleasure here
) touches on some of the changes they have made over
the years and the drivers for that change. They are advocates, risk managers,
order takers, network engineers, sales coaches, troubleshooters, commission
payers and more. To manage all of this, they have invested heavily in personnel
and systems topics we will discuss in more depth in future issues of PHONE+.

For now, this conversation offers a glimpse into the world of
the master agent and speaks to the changing significance of the channel.

Its been interesting to see the level of respect the
channel has gotten from the carriers over the years, says master agent Geoff
Shepstone, president of Telecom Brokerage Inc. [In the past], the entire
division of alternate channels within a company would sort of be like the dark
side, whereas now the carriers are embracing alternate channels as their sales
force.

I like this characterization mostly for the classic sci-fi
reference but also because it shows the drastic change in how telecom companies
are selling and supporting their services. Outsourcing covers the gaps vendors
may have in relationships, products, size, support or expertise enabling
them to get the sale (or part of it) despite their shortcomings.

This value proposition has vendors vying for the loyalties of
high-producing master agents and their subs. They are increasingly concerned
with the channels wants and needs. For the first time, those wants and needs
have been quantified in the 2003 Partner Program Report Card from research
firm Atlantic-ACM. Through special arrangement, PHONE+ is pleased to present an
exclusive summary of that baseline benchmarking data (see
here
). The results
represent how far we have come, and how far there is still to go.

See you in South Beach!

KHALI HENDERSON

khenderson@vpico.com.
Editor in Chief


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