What Staff Does An Agent Need?

A growing agency business can be both exciting and daunting. As your customer base expands, you will begin to need some help — whether that is simply bringing on board an assistant to answer the phone and keep your schedule or becoming a multiperson shop.

The amount of staff needed is directly proportionate to the size of your book of business. So, you only will add one or two people at a time as your business grows. In order to focus solely on sales, you will need one to three people to handle quotes, contracts, order processing, databases and trouble tickets.

Ancillary functions, such as accounting, lead-generation and marketing, can be outsourced. Of course, nobody will care about your customers as much as you do, but the reality of being a smaller independent agent is that you can’t expect to handle everything if you want your business to grow. Delegation of certain tasks to outside experts is usually necessary.

That being said, you can leverage your master agent and/or carrier relationships to provide some of these functions for free. Many carriers and master agents provide back-end functions for their agents, especially in the areas of quoting and sales proposals. Most offer multifaceted and customizable proposal tools. Master agents also can help with order processing and following up on credit requests and other issues, such as tracking orders through provisioning to completion. And, any time you can get help from a master agent or carrier on trouble resolution, the better. Agents should enlist their master agents to escalate trouble tickets or push carriers to get tasks completed.

You should outsource and depend on other relationships to your level of comfort, but not to the point of losing touch with the customer. Customer contact is one of the few things you must maintain on your own.

After assessing what can be outsourced and what can be obtained from providers/master agents, it’s time to seek out adequate staffing for your agency. Before proceeding, consider the true cost of hiring someone — not only the salary, but also benefits, social security, supplies, training, etc. Since these costs can be significant, working with independent contractors as opposed to full-time employees is an attractive alternative. Also, be sure not to staff too quickly. Make use of carrier and master agent resources until your business has generated sufficient profit to support its own staff.

Whatever staffing additions you make, one of the biggest challenges will be keeping the staff you’ve built. Turnover can be expensive when you constantly have to reallocate resources for hiring and training. Be sure to create a healthy and happy working environment, offering whatever perks you can — be it lunches, outings, flex time, telecommuting, etc. Going through the exercise of finding and hiring the right employees is only rivaled in importance by the task of keeping them.

PHONE+ would like to thank the following telecom agents for their input to this article: Steven Gerhardt, president, D&M Enterprise Group LLC; Brad Leiphart, president, Circuitbrokers Inc.; and James Lockhart, president, Telecom Management Inc.

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.

Hiring Tips

1. Clarify your expectations. Define what you’re looking for before you start your search. Are you willing to provide on-the-job training or do you want the employee to be qualified from the start? Are you seeking a creative thinker? Do you want to hire a self-manager? For salespeople, look for people who already have telecom training —with so many carrier layoffs, the talent pool is flooded with former direct salespeople with recent carrier training. For support staff, look for someone with a customer service background. They are likely to be more detail-oriented and have better project management skills.

2. Get social. Instead of purchasing a costly want ad, enlist the help of your peers and colleagues. Your future employees could be part of a network you already trust, such as a trade organization, the local chamber of commerce, a church group or a rotary club. Utilize social networking sites, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, and unconventional job boards like craigslist.

3.Tap into experience. What a potential employee has done in the past will give you clues about how they’ll perform in the future. When interviewing, ask open-ended questions that force the respondents to specify details about handing difficult situations at work, working in groups or whatever situational experience interests you. Keep in mind that a lack of experience isn’t always a bad thing — some managers recommend hiring people fresh out of college who are eager to learn and succeed.

4. Repeat interviews. Always have more than one interview with a prospective employee. And in small shops, such as independent agencies, have the prospect interview with everyone in the company. Different people will ask different questions, yielding a wider knowledge base about the potential employee. Impressions should not only be good, but also consistent.

5. Screen your suspects. Require that applicants provide references and follow through on checking them. You will most likely want to perform a background check as well as a credit check, especially if the person will be working with money, to avoid those with claims of fraud or embezzlement against them. Credit bureaus and pre-employment screening services can help with these tasks for a nominal fee.

6. Make introductions. Specify an introductory period, like 90 days, for example, when making an employment offer. This period will benefit both the new employee and employer. The new employee’s benefits and vacation should be suspended until the trial is over.

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