Agents Need a Supplier-Rating System

Rick SternBy Rick Stern, CEO,

Nitel Inc.

In many ways, the average consumer has more information for making good buying decisions than does a telecom agent. If youre buying life insurance, you can look up the insurers A.M. Best rating. Buying a car? Check the Kelley Blue Book value.

But business agents currently dont have a gold standard,” a common rating system through which they can analyze the carriers and resellers they choose to represent. Agents frequently enter into contracts based on personal relationships, word-of-mouth, a Web search, or blind faith.

The time is right to create a standard to support the agent channel in assessing the strength of their partner resellers. The Dun & Bradstreet databases are a good place to start when looking at whether business partners are creditworthy, but might not give a full picture in a specific market like telecom.

If I were an agent in todays increasingly competitive environment, I would look at factors that give me a sense of a companys financial stability, market position, customer service record and support to the agent channel. These measures could be compared to the same criteria for peer companies to set up a score or ranking system. 

What questions would I ask?

Id start by analyzing the basics:

  • How long the company has been in business
  • Revenues. Profitability, based on EBIDTA, percent of net income or another standard definition. Business partners and carriers.
  • Litigation in which the company is or has been involved
  • The organizations and its principals influence on the channel

Then dig a little deeper.

  • What is the companys mean time to repair an outage?
  • How many back-office staffers are dedicated to customer service, pricing, customer retention and sales support?
  • How is the company funded?
  • How long has it been profitable compared to its time in business?
  • Take a look at the tenure of its executives and senior staff, and look at their experience in the industry, their education and their career progression.
  • What is the competitive commission structure?

Many comparisons could be made, and weighted, to determine a score for each company. Ideally, an unbiased third party would manage the database and ranking system. Demand truth and openness. The best among us carriers and resellers will be happy to participate.

Rick Stern is founder and CEO of Chicago-based

Nitel, Inc.

, a nationally recognized provider of telecommunications network services. Any opinions expressed above are his own and not that of Nitel or its agents, employees or customers. Learn more about Nitel at

. He also is a member of the 2010-11 Channel Partners Conference & Expo Advisory Board.

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