Consulting and Partnering for Success
By Tara Seals
San Ramon, Calif.-based Sunlight Communications Inc. (www.sunlightinc.com) has succeeded with a slightly different business model than that of a typical agent, positioning itself as a problem-solver and a single point of contact for all communications needs.
Sunlight enhances its blend of service and products for its customers through partnerships and networking, allowing it to position itself as a full-service, single-point-of-contact resource that can troubleshoot for all of its customers’ communications needs. That includes such outside-the-box services as managing contracts with companies it doesn’t represent or assessing billing errors.
Sunlight, which was founded in 1993, has thrived on making the most of partnerships, says company president and CEO Simone Light-Penney.
“That’s what we do,” she says. “Everyone is referred to us in one fashion or another.”
Hardware vendors, system integrators, value-added resellers and others with complementary businesses may send prospects Sunlight’s way, and vice versa.
“For example, if we have a client that is really happy with their equipment vendor, we’ll talk to that vendor and see if there’s a way we can share some business back and forth,” Light-Penny explains, noting that often Sunlight will compensate those partners for leads.
Light-Penney also belongs to CEO organizations. “This way I start at the top with the CEOs, and I’ll come in and help them organize and manage their business,” she explains.
That “business” may include hardware, software, networking and service elements. Sunlight will work with its partners to bring a full solution to the table.
“We’re not just agents as such, we’re consultants and we take headaches away,” she says. “We really help them manage everything to do with telecommunication–voice, data and hardware–everything.”
And therein lies the value proposition. In a world with and without wires, of e-mail and virtual documents and voice on the Internet, where corporate networks and hardware/software platforms can improve efficiency and performance can send maintenance bills skyrocketing, the communications consultant becomes a key figure in a business’ ultimate viability.
That includes customer service. For example, Light-Penney has found that being a Pacific Bell agent has opened doors, because “Companies will call us again and again, because they won’t have to stay on the line with the RBOC.”
Sunlight also renegotiates contracts and finds billing errors, thus bringing value in telecom expense reduction. In one case, Simone-Penney interfaced with a carrier with which it does not have an agency agreement, and she negotiated a $60,000 credit for an error.
“That consulting involves anything having to do with their connectivity,” says Light-Penney. “The other day, we had a client that had a problem and they didn’t know if it was hardware, long distance, [or] the LEC. They called us once, and we called in trouble tickets, solved it for them, fixed it and made it work.”
Sunlight’s approach was borne out of the evolution of customer relationships.
“We looked at our long-term relationships, and what we found was, along with the dying of long distance, the customers were asking if we could do this or that–everything, and that prodded Sunlight to make the pivot to a more consultative role,” Light-Penney says.
What made the pivot lucrative was the ability to bill for all services.
“If our client asks us to do something for which we are not compensated by the vendor, we simply charge them,” says Light-Penney.
Despite the innovative approach, like with any agent the compensation comes second to building relationships. And as a source for solving problems, Light-Penny expects those relationships to continue
“And it’s a service that’s really needed today,” she continues. “With all the problems in the industry, it gives us a reason to have a business. If everything went smoothly, we wouldn’t be needed!”