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What to Look for in a Master Agent

With low barriers to entry, anyone who signs a contract directly with a service provider can call themselves a master agent. While this is technically true, from my experience, it is much better for most agents to align with one master agent compared with trying to be successful at both selling services directly to end users and trying to accomplish acting as a master agent.

Successful master agents are focused primarily on three major activities:

Managing carrier relations

Recruiting and managing subagents

Aiding subagents with end-user opportunities

Master agents add true value to subagents and are looking more and more like true distributors of technology services. Agents seeking to ally themselves with a master agency should look for the following traits exhibited by the most successful master agents:

Investment in Technology. The most successful master agents are distancing themselves from their competitors by investing substantially in technology infrastructure in order to manage the complexity of dealing with multiple vendors, subagents and end users. Common investments include portals that provide carrier service details to subagents, commissioning platforms and the enablement of branded Web sites for subagents. Other investments often include end-user inventory or TEM lite applications.

Channel Integration. Understanding how to leverage and navigate the various carrier requirements for getting into enterprise and federal government accounts is a valuable service that masters can provide for subagents.

Commission Alignment. Look for master agents that align commissions with the work that its individual subagents provide, whether thats making referrals or handling all the pre- and post-sales work. By matching needs and wants, a master can provide the level of service that a sub desires, which keeps the subagent relationship sticky with the master while maximizing margins.

True Partners. Look for master agents that want to be a subagents partner.

Examples might include providing upfront incentives in order to help them with cash flow, and creating an ecosystem of subagents so they can do business amongst themselves. Understand and catalog their certifications so you can bring them into deals for their core services.

Carrier Contract Expertise. Evergreen, revenue commitment, survivability and other clauses can be negotiated in order to protect the interests of the master agent and downstream subagents. Smart subagents want to know their businesses are protected and should look for the masters to leverage their scale to accomplish this for them.

On-time Commissions. Look for master agents that pay commissions on time, preferably using direct deposit. They also should provide detailed online reporting capabilities and be militant regarding commission management with the carriers.

Manageable Vendor Pool. Every relationship takes time to manage. There are staffing, reporting, certification and training requirements for each vendor. Master agency that spread themselves too thin will struggle to develop expertise and/or hit revenue commitments. Subagents should look for master agencies that focus on a reasonable number of carriers, rather than attempting to work with them all.

Focus on Renewals. Smart master agents know that its easier to keep a customer than to get a new one. Look for master agents that help subagents renew or upsell customers by having database capabilities that warn of expiring contracts and renewal windows.

Project Management and Technical Support. The most successful master agents can add value to subagents by helping them manage solutions across service providers and vet the best carrier or carriers for any given opportunity.

Having engineers and technical support on staff can add value to subagents that dont have the expertise to manage complex opportunities. Some master agents even provide their own managed services such as proactive network management, bundles and integrated billing services.

Lead Generation. Master agents should work with carriers to receive leads and distribute them to subagents by geography or skill set. Some masters even have Web-generated lead programs for their subagents.

Michael Fair is a founding partner of MarketRace. He can be reached at +1 303 884 8174 or

mfair@marketrace.com

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