Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

January 31, 2008

5 Min Read
Agents Disenchanted With Post-merger TWT

When Time Warner Telecom (TWT) bought Xspedius Communications LLC nearly two years ago, it did so for the metro fiber, CEO Larissa Herda said at the time. That gave Xspedius agents, who targeted SMBs more than medium and large enterprises, mixed feelings about the merger. A number of them expressed reservations about how TWT would treat the newly acquired agents, particularly since TWT was more known for running a referral program than a full-fledged agent program.

“We are excited by the prospect of selling Time Warner products and delving into new markets,” wrote Adam Edwards, CEO of master agency Telarus on Aug. 7, 2006, in response to a PHONE+ blog on the merger. “We are also concerned, however, that Time Warner may not see the tremendous strength of the Xspedius agent program. Time Warner would be wise to adopt the Xspedius agent program and use this structure and personnel to grow.”

It seems those concerns shared by others were spot-on, as some agents now are feeling ignored and, therefore, frustrated. The heart of the matter? Poor provisioning and philosophical differences.

“They are more inept at processing agent orders than any vendor right now,” says one agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I ask for statuses on orders and wait days and days to get anything back from their folks, usually with no new information.”

TWT concedes its still having growing pains as it integrates the Xspedius network. But there shouldnt be such extensive problems, says Graham Taylor, senior vice president of sales and marketing for TWT. “[T]hose [orders] are really being handled the same way that they were other than post-integration billing systems and things,” he says. If partners arent getting service, he hopes they will contact him to work through matters.

Another anonymous source familiar with TWTs operations says the glitch stems from two factors. First, TWTs system provides no visibility into an order. That means that at any given time, no one can track where an order stands or whether anything has been done to it. The Xspedius system did track orders, but it didnt feed into the TWT billing software, and as a publicly traded company, TWT needed to remain Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant. Therefore, instead of bridging the Xspedius and TWT systems, TWT “recreated the wheel,” and orders remain untraceable. Second, SMB orders still go through the old Xspedius network operations center, which uses TWTs service-delivery system, further holding things up, says the source.

So, yes, the lag times are long and they are frustrating, but “I can tell you this,” says the source. “It will get certainly worked out.”

The other big criticism nearly two years into the Xspedius merger is that TWT doesnt seem to value the channel. Instead, agents allege, the company is trying to get rid of them by sending agent leads to direct salespeople. “I think there are people internally that are trying to make this program fail and look bad, and they are going to make it as hard on agents as they can make it while its there,” one agent says.

Thats a common refrain, and Taylor disagrees with it. “The agents/partners are valuable to us,” he says. In fact, he says theres no monetary incentive for managers to hand agents leads and customer information to direct salespeople. If thats happening, its happening without his knowledge. “I just feel we have mechanisms in place to prevent that, not the least of which is compensation,” he says. “Its not shared.” Taylor also thinks there might be misunderstanding about how TWT wants to team direct salespeople with agents on the more complex sales, such as metro Ethernet. Spokesman Bob Meldrum concurs. “Metro Ethernet has been around for a while and is complex and a lot of agents arent used to it,” says Meldrum. So, TWT has direct salespeople and agents work together.

The source familiar with TWTs operations confirms that this so-called “four-legged” approach applies to what TWT considers complex sales. But, “I dont think they see the value in agents. I think they want to have a direct salesperson involved in everything,” says the source, asserting that TWT is underestimating agents capabilities. “Time Warner Telecom as a company thinks that theyre so far and above everybody else out there as far as technology goes,” and that agents dont know how to sell or implement more complex services, the source says.

Yet, one agent doesnt see it that way. Fermin Perez, regional manager for Tucson-based Copper State Communications, speculates that the difference in perception about how TWT views agents comes from the way TWT has structured itself. “It depends on which city youre in,” says Perez, whose company sells nationwide. A general manager runs each city and while some cities are amiable about working with partners, “others are a little bit more territorial,” he says. For example, in a large city such as Phoenix, the general manager welcomes agents because there are only five or six direct salespeople. But in smaller regions such as Tucson, many managers “cant see the two channels as two distinct revenue sources,” Perez explains. Overall, though, TWT “has a great agent partner program, a super product,” he says.

Few of the sources PHONE+ interview agreed, and several said they either are slowing or stopping TWT sales because of provisioning issues and a fear that TWT doesnt value agents. One source says his agency still offers TWT products but subagents arent selling the company as much as they used to. “Our agents are pretty smart. They talk to each other quite a bit and so good news travels quickly and bad news travels even faster. Im guessing thats why sales have dropped,” the source says.

Links

Copper State Communications www.copper-state.com
Time Warner Telecom www.twtelecom.com

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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