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McLeodUSA Ramps Up Channel Activity

After spending much of last year planning and strategizing, McLeodUSA Inc. is bringing its agent program out of hibernation, ramping up interest with a clever ad campaign and giving away prizes timed with the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, all in an effort to attract new master and smaller agents, and take care of the old ones.

We see the value in the channel and the complementary nature of having a strong agent channel and strong direct channel.

McLeodUSAs John Dumbleton

McLeodUSA has not had the easiest go of things the past few years. The carrier has weathered bankruptcy, backlash from Wall Street and changes in top management. Through all of that, however, it did not shut down its agent program or get behind in payments to its channel partners, says John Dumbleton, group vice president of wholesale services and indirect channels for McLeodUSA, a post he has held since March 2006. In that time, Dumbleton and crew have nearly quadrupled the number of agent channel managers, agent service coordinators and applications engineers as they round up resources necessary to support the channel, he says. In addition to boosting staff, McLeodUSA also has revamped its Web portal and its POET (Product Order Entry Tool) site that lets indirect and inside salespeople prequalify and enter orders. The POET upgrade was scheduled for completion by mid-January.

Were absolutely committed to the indirect space, Dumbleton emphasizes. We see the value in the channel and the complementary nature of having a strong agent channel and strong direct channel. To that end, McLeodUSA has established an agent advisory board and is rolling out educational seminars for its channel partners. First, says Dumbleton, the provider wants agents to help drive the direction of its channel program; it has assembled a circle of business associates whose names were to be announced during the first quarter to give the company feedback and ideas on its agent program structure and operation. The inaugural meeting will take place in March during the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

McLeodUSAs Initial Seminars for Agents

Program 1: From TDM to IP Migrating Your Customer to IP Telephony

Program 2: Migrating Your WAN Environment to IP

Program 3: IP PBXs and the Value of SIP Trunking

Each session will be available through the end of January.

During the lead-up to that meeting, McLeodUSA will continue running mysterious print ads (the first ran in PHONE+ November a man holds a sign with a URL, and the only clue that the ad pertains to McLeodUSA is the trail of yellow stars above the models head). Each new ad will contain more signs pointing to McLeodUSA and its re-emergence in the agent space. Dumbleton even plans to feature top-performing agents in future campaigns. Throughout all of this activity, McLeodUSA also is offering educational seminars to its master agents and their subs. Some sessions will be conducted in person; others will take place via conference call or over the Web. The key, says Dumbleton, is that the seminars will focus on technology, not McLeodUSA products. We want to educate our agents, he says. The first class took place in December, but each of the first three programs is available for 60 days.

Another way McLeodUSA is re-affirming its dedication to agents is by creating a two-tiered compensation program. Master agents must agree to sell $50,000 per year in new products and services while the new tier, premier, requires just a $20,000 annual commitment. We lowered the bar enough that I think we can attract agents that were uncomfortable at the $50,000 level, Dumbleton says. Hopefully we can take some of those folks and evolve them up to a master agent level. McLeodUSA executives still were finalizing 2007 compensation plans at press time, but Dumbleton says the carrier is likely to offer residual payments as well as some upfront payments for specific products. The company also was looking at instituting a bonus program.

McLeodUSA further plans to release new products sometime between the second quarter and mid-year 2007, including SIP trunking and hosted PBX.

McLeodUSA offers its agents support from three personnel types: agent channel managers, agent service order coordinators and applications engineers. Agent channel managers oversee recruitment and training. McLeodUSA quadrupled the size of its agent service order coordinators division in 2006 and hopes to double it in 07; these staffers help agents with paperwork and process management. Finally, applications engineers will lead the education seminars, among other duties.

Overall, says Dumbleton, weve had a very positive response from all of our existing agents on the changes to McLeodUSAs agent program.

Links
McLeodUSA www.mcleodusa.com

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