Integrated Circuit

Channel Partners

March 1, 2005

8 Min Read
Integrated Circuit

Posted: 03/2005

Integrated Circuit
Agents, Systems Integrators Collaborate
By Kelly M. Teal

The era of long-distance-only sales has
become a distant memory, with the trend toward convergence mandating that
telecom agents redefine the term channel partners to include systems
integrators. You know, those guys with all the technical expertise agents
generally dont want to take the time to learn those guys many master and
subagents often look to when clients need network security, hardware, in
addition to telephony systems. Such partnerships usually go back just a few
years and, as it turns out, are working well.

Before they started AB&T Telecom, the people who run the
master agency already were working with several systems integrators. They formed
their agency, no strangers to the benefits of teaming with experts who could
address aspects of a deployment AB&T could not, without investing a lot of
time and money. Systems integrators have been some part of our telecom
business strategy from the beginning, says Glenn Taggart, vice president of

He explains that integrators, with long-established customer
relationships, make collaboration with AB&T an ideal way to expand on each
entities contacts. By leveraging our service offering along with their
solutions, they are able to offer a more complete solution to their customers.
This also assists in fighting off the systems integrator competition inside
their accounts. Every time another vendor comes into one of their accounts, they
run the risk of losing a piece of business inside that account, or driving down
already low margins on existing solutions. AB&T does not compete with its
integrators for business, and those partners abide by the same ethics, creating
a symbiotic relationship that Taggart says rates eight on a scale of one to 10.

Thirty-five percent of AB&Ts signed agent contracts are
with systems integrators. We have three different ways for a systems
integrator to earn money on the sales of service, Taggart says. One of those options is the same as our
typical telecom agent, he adds, not wanting to reveal the details of the
companys different contracts.

Likewise, NextiraOne North America will not spill the beans on
any numbers, including the tally of telecom master and independent agents it
serves. Still, this systems integrator which dates back to the 1970s and now
specializes in IP networks operates a channel that doubtlessly affects many
in the telecom world. With the recent restructuring of its business strategy to,
according to company statements, better serve telecom agents and others,
NextiraOne, sees its work in the channel as integral to the proliferation of
emerging technologies. The company operates as a channel for equipment vendors
including Nortel Networks and Cisco Systems Inc., finds there is little that
would improve the way typical telecom agents and systems integrators work

Generally, better cooperation among communications industry
players would benefit everyone whether they are SIs, equipment
manufacturers, communications service providers, resellers or carriers, says
Shannon DeYoung, director of marketing communications and programs for
NextiraOne. We believe its in the best interest of all involved if
equipment manufacturers help support new business models and the companies
implementing them, as ultimately, it will create loyalty by end users for their own products. To
that end, our experiences with our channel partners have been very rewarding.

Systems integrators seem to view telecom agents as experts
whose knowledge they can bolster, not replace or supplement. John Drake &
Associates, or JDA Consulting, is an Illinois-based network services consulting
firm that has worked with master agents for more than six years. Our desire
is to provide our clients with comprehensive solutions, Todd Miller, network
services director, says.

Often in order to solve a business problem we must
integrate technology solutions from numerous areas to include infrastructure,
network operating systems and bandwidth. Working with a master agent allows us to not only deliver
these disparate areas within a single comprehensive strategy, but also present a
single entity to the client.

Other benefits of working with master agents include being
able to provide one contact for a range of voice and data services, two-way lead
generation and top-notch offerings, Miller says. The relationship I have with
my master agent allows me to offer those services to my clients with confidence
that they will be taken care of as if I was servicing them myself, he notes.

JDA brings in up to 15 percent more business as a result of
working with a master agent, and on a scale of one to 10, Miller rates his
channel partnership at a nine. Not working with a master agent would increase
my workload, of course, and force me to directly communicate with numerous telco
carriers whose sales forces change regularly, he muses. There isnt any continuity in dealing directly with

Continuity, or the lack thereof, is something agents, both
master and sub, know all about. Which is another reason they unite with vendors
who have proven themselves. No one wants to put his or her company out
unnecessarily, and master agents want to be sure integrators return the
partnership favor by generating telecom business for them. When you partner with somebody and do business back and
forth … its [got to go] beyond the referral thing, opines Rick Stern,
president of master-agency-turned-reseller Network Innovations. His company
works with about five vendors, but leans heavily on two. He calls the
collaborations very successful, perhaps due in part to the nearly 20
percent revenue increase such joint aims have brought Network Innovations over
the past year.

Network Innovations belongs to the viaVerio partner program.
Stern says that agreement often brings his company people that we work with
… to provide services they dont. Network Innovations interaction with Verio generally
amounts to unexpected income.

And then theres BroadSky Networks, a different breed of
channel partner that sees both the master agent and systems integrator sides of
things. The company resells broadband satellite services to end users, but also
to systems integrators, master agents, VARs and others. BroadSky pays each of
its partners a cut, while encouraging them to do their own billing. This keeps
their brand and name in front of the client and takes the onus off BroadSky,
says President Mike Mudd. But the tactic pays everyone in terms of residual
commissions, customer loyalty and ongoing referrals.

Heres how the process works. A channel partner, for
example, is working on a data network and discovers there is only 80 percent
terrestrial coverage. BroadSky steps in as the last-mile solution for
satellite. [Channel partners] will bring us in for the satellite services and
then well introduce [those partners] to our VARs and integrators, or hardware
providers, that are providing satellite VPN equipment, Mudd says.

Based on the number of users, Mudd says BroadSky proposes the
lowest-cost solution, which simultaneously provides the best service. …that
way, our master agents dont have to have dozens of different partners,
because were resellers of multiple satellite suppliers. Mudd elaborates
that his Bend, Ore., company offers master agents fairly aggressive

The industry has changed, he notes, responding to a movement
that brings systems integrators into the traditional channel. Thats
actually been very beneficial for us based on the fact that … broadband is no
longer a nice option, its a must-have.

These partnership interactions are, in Mudds words, all
over the place. He says, at first, agents and integrators often feel
trepidation about working together. Not only might there be concern about
customer-stealing, but a lot of agents are not certified on a certain vendors
equipment, making integrators all the more determined to be sure that anyone who
does work on that equipment is certified to do so. And yet, once partners
realize the project works and theres a little bit of margin in it for
them, and its giving them new sites and helping them win business based on
the fact that theres really no other solution … then that hesitancy begins
to drop, Mudd says.

Telecom partners of all backgrounds and intent seem satisfied
with the trend toward partner convergence. Working with systems integrators
challenges agents to learn new aspects of the industry. Customers pleased with
installation and service lead to positive referrals and recommendations. And partners with double-digit percentage increases in their
coffers are likely happiest of all, making money through networking.


AB&T Telecom www.abttelecom.comBroadSky Networks www.broadskynetworks.netJDA Consulting www.jdaconsulting.comNetwork Innovations Inc.

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