As an agent, you must evaluate many criteria before entering into a distribution agreement with carrier or service provider — both about the supplier and its partner program. Here are some tips to get you started.
Competitive Product. Look for a supplier that has a service comparable in feature set and price to others in the marketplace. Flexible rates and service options also are preferred.
Geographic Reach. Look for a supplier that serves the geographic area you plan to sell into. In many cases, this will be a national footprint.
Service Record. Look for a supplier that provides reliable service and responsive customer care. These two items can most impact your ability to sell the service and retain customers. Ask about customer-retention rates and results of customer satisfaction surveys.
Financial Stability. Look for a vendor that has a track record and is financially stable.
Channel Revenue. Similarly, look for a supplier that counts on a significant portion of its revenue from the channel if possible. This is an indicator of a greater commitment to an indirect sales strategy.
Chemistry. Look for a supplier that shares your goals, belief systems and work ethic.
Strategic Recruitment. A service provider that recruits too many partners — or more specifically too many similar partners — to its partner program makes it more difficult for individual agents to be successful. Instead, look for programs that specify the partner profile, identify partners that match the profile and focus recruiting efforts accordingly.
Fair Contracts. Because agents do not operate an asset-based business, they must seek to protect their revenue streams by the only means at their disposal — the carrier (or master agent) agreement. What constitutes a “good” contract may vary from agent to agent, but there are some protections that agents should seek (see article, What Are the Basic Components of an Agent Agreement?).
On-Time and Accurate Commissions. Look for vendors that pay commissions accurately and on time, preferably using direct deposit. They also should provide detailed online reporting capabilities.
Reasonable Compensation. The highest commission percentage is not an accurate indicator of the best partner program. (Can they afford to best the competition over the long term?) Look for a fair and sustainable commission.
Dispute-Resolution Processes. The supplier-partner relationship, like any other, can have its share of disagreements. What’s important is that there is a formal process in place for dealing with escalating problems and mediating disputes.
Tools and Systems. Look for programs that give you access to portals that facilitate pre-sales activities as well as access to system that enable you to submit orders; manage moves, adds and changes; enter trouble tickets; and monitor provisioning status.
Resources. Make sure the supplier has sufficient resources dedicated to its program in order to support your sales and customer service efforts. This includes staff and tools.
Channel Integration. Look for suppliers that minimize channel conflict and allow teaming between direct and indirect sales organizations. Some suppliers create different pricing, promotions and support for products and services sold by its channels. Instead, look for a vendor that enables its partners to compete fairly against direct sales teams.
Partner Enablement. Look for vendors that offer on-boarding and training at the outset and follow with ongoing management, including proactive support, responsiveness and accountability.
Predictability. Look for a program that has consistent partner policies, stable staff, on-time installations, accurate commissions, etc. A pattern of performance goes a long way to ensure you will receive promised benefits for your work on behalf of a vendor.
Channel Commitment Similarly, look for a demonstrated commitment to the channel in terms of how many resources are dedicated, the number of years in service and the proportion of revenue derived from the channel.
Feedback Loop. Look for a program that enables you to provide input on the program and the vendor’s competitiveness in the marketplace. Some carriers solicit feedback through an advisory council or a partner summit, for example.
PHONE+ would like to thank the following consultants for their input to this article: Bill Taylor, CEO, Corporate Ladders; Michael Fair, president, MarketRace; and Ken Presti, president, Presti Research & Consulting.
Looking for more information on getting started in the telephony business? This article is from the PHONE+ Fact Book, The Telecom Agent’s Go-To Guide. This compilation of advice, tutorials, glossaries and best practices from the editors of PHONE+ and other contributors provides basic information on how to become an agent and how to build a business. To download your free copy, click here.