By Melinda Curran
The ability to develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships defines a business, and this is no more evident than when working within an agent channel.
Subagents in the channel rely on master agents to provide technical expertise and training, access to privileged, competitive pricing and established credibility. In return, master agents look to their subs for additional boots on the ground in their market, especially in the hard-to-reach corners that can be underserved or overlooked.
As essential as this relationship is to those in the channel, partnerships must be carefully considered to avoid problems and reap maximum value. This means that before partnership contracts are signed, both parties should open up dialogue and delve into the fine details of compatibility.
Whether a master agent or a subagent, core values are the non-negotiable foundation of a business model and should spearhead preliminary partnership conversations.
If, as a subagent, you value and assure expediency, but your master agent doesn’t support a 24-hour support service, the bedrock and authority of your business is crippled. As a master agent, your business model may revolve around nurturing strong, long-term relationships. If your subagent values quantity over quality of relationships, he or she could hurt your brand and business.
Surprises in a channel partnership reflect sloppy groundwork, which is why agents should always discuss expectations before working together and ensure those expectations can, and will, be met.
As a subagent, if you need a master to have a pre-sales conversation to walk through offering details before every deal closes, make this clear upfront. If a master agent needs an account update at the end of every month, also make this known at the beginning of a relationship.
Understanding what you will need from one another in terms of technical support, sales support, account management and communication will further reveal compatibilities and prime the pump for an efficient partnership.
Commission structures can take many different forms in a channel, but it is essential that the work a subagent will perform be discussed upfront so that it is accurately reflected in his or her compensation.
A subagent has an advantage in negotiating commissions if he provides his own account management and technical expertise and is primarily partnering with a master agent for access to its carrier contracts. Whereas, if the subagent acts more as a sales representative and the burden of account work falls on the master agent, “finder’s fees” and bonuses may be more appropriate than regular commission payments.
Laying the money talk on the table and achieving financial transparency before contracts are signed eliminates the frustration and surprises that can occur if these conversations are delayed.
No matter which side of the channel you’re on, your business must move forward — and the right partner will ensure this happens. Conversations about proactive support tactics should be considered when working to field your next partner contract.
As a subagent, you should seek masters who offer training support, exemplary customer service and continual review of the latest products, services and prices. This could be in the form of webinars, conferences or internal training with master agents.
Consider proactive vertical development as well. Is your master agent growing its knowledge and experience base in your clients’ industries or the industries in which you’re seeking new opportunities? As a subagent, this could be key to your business’s growth.
On the other side of the token, master agents need their sub partners to be independently seeking new industry insight and be willing to market new and company-prioritized solutions to clients. Maintaining proactive meetings with clients to drive long-term relationships should also be considered.
Consistent communication is perhaps the most essential ingredient to a healthy and lucrative channel partnership.
Master agents can’t provide reactive or crisis support without knowing where the vulnerabilities lie and when problems occur. Without seamless technical support, client trust at the channel’s end is eroded, if not lost.
Additionally, it is generally a master’s responsibility to provide consistent information regarding pricing, internal business structure and priorities as they evolve to ensure that subagents are fully prepared to act on the master’s behalf.
Preferably, there should be regular two-way conversations — through conference calls or in-person meetings, supplemented by regular newsletters and company updates. When communication is a priority, both partners can be assured that when a call is made, the other will answer the line and devote time and attention to the other party.
In business, few things are ever guaranteed, but if all of these are addressed, your channel partnership will be positioned to complement your business, not detract from it.
Melinda Curran is the founder and CEO of RCG, a single-source telecommunications provider based in Franklin, Tennessee. RCG collaborates with nationwide carriers to custom-create voice, data and mobility network solutions tailored to a company’s individual needs. Dedicated to superior customer relationships, expertise and value, RCG serves as a single point-of-contact for network design, sales, contract negotiation, billing resolution and repair.
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