Master agents stepped up during the 2008 recession. They're doing it again in 2020.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

March 26, 2020

7 Min Read
Coronavirus DNA

Channel partners are fighting on their own front line against the Coronavirus.

Telarus chief operating officer Richard Murray praised the agent community for how it has supported the rising tide of remote workers amid widespread stay-at-home orders for “nonessential” businesses.


Telarus’ RIchard Murray

“I’ve been extremely proud to see what the channel has done. What the channel – not just Telarus, but the channel – has done for businesses of all kinds has been extraordinary,” Murray told Channel Partners. “We’ve helped save companies and jobs because of our response to this, in answering calls and helping people get turned up on solutions that allow their employees to continue to work.”

Executives from Telarus, Telecom Consulting Group (TCG), Intelisys and PlanetOne Communications illustrated how they, their suppliers and their agents have lived and worked through the last month. Their descriptions paint a picture of how technology solution providers have embraced flexibility – and optimism – to serve customers during a pandemic.


PlanetOne’s Ted Schuman

“We are in uncharted territory, and must work together to stay engaged and keep the lines of communications open with our teams, customers, partners and prospects,” PlanetOne CEO Ted Schuman said. “The role of the channel is essential to moving business forward — providing valuable relief to business owners and corporations who are struggling with anywhere, anytime connectivity, and working fast to securely mobilize their workforce overnight.”

The challenge is twofold as partners themselves must relocate employees to home offices. Indeed, we can call the challenge threefold when we consider that suppliers and master agents are emptying their offices at the same time.

“While there are challenges as partners mobilize a fully remote workforce and also work to continue to support their end-user customers, this is also a great opportunity for our partners to become even stronger trusted advisers to their customers — to provide them with the right solutions to connect and collaborate with ease,” said Intelisys president Mark Morgan and ScanSource North America sales president Tony Sorrentino in a joint statement. “We are doing all we can to make this possible.”


Intelisys’ Mark Morgan

The prognosis on the virus and its health impact has shifted dramatically over the last month. Many master agents went from RSVP’ing “yes” to the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, to cutting back on the number of attendees they would send to the show, to accepting the show’s postponement.

**Editor’s Note: The Channel Partners Conference & Expo was rescheduled on March 25. Learn more here.**

Telarus formed a committee in February to prepare for various scenarios; for example, what would the company do if an employee lost access to day care?

“So when that happened, we were able to just run the play. I won’t say that our calls on all the scenarios that we ran were perfect, but it’s helped us not to be trying to make up stuff right on the fly,” Murray said.

That meant adjusting expectations. Murray said Telarus is well known for fast turnarounds responding to partners and delivering quotes. But many of the staff involved in those processes needed to take care of their small children during their work day. Telarus shifted its employee expectations away from a standard eight-hour day to a “get-your-job-done” day, according to Murray.

“We had to give them the freedom to be able to step away from their computer for a half-hour to an hour to go change the Disney video, to make lunch and to address those little things,” he said.


TCG’s Dan Pirigyi

Telarus ensured that backup was in place for the employees who need step away momentarily.

“Our partners have responded incredibly. They understand,” Murray said. “We’re probably turning quotes faster than a lot of masters; it’s just not our freaky-fast normal.”

Dan Pirigyi, partner at TCG, said his company’s office-to-home transition provided a …… useful example for how partners can help their customers with UCaaS.

“Our internal staff at TCG grabbed their phones off of their desks, brought them to their houses, plugged them into their routers, and were working as they were before. The only difference is they are working in their house now, instead of sitting in the office. That’s true business continuity,” Pirigyi said.

PlanetOne reported a quick turnaround as well.

“At PlanetOne HQ, we’ve experienced zero disruption, and were able to move to a work from home environment quickly because we eat what we sell,” Schuman said. “If any company reading this wasn’t able to, or is struggling to fire up their business on the home front for all employees, call us. We’ve got your back and are happy to help.”

Masters have embarked on initiatives to resource and educate partners.

One area is financial. Murray drew attention to Telarus’ anticiPAY loan system and said the company will advance commissions to partners if they need a bridge. TCG is working to help partners identify where they can reduce expenses.

“What better time to review communication invoices, and look for potential savings. Those random invoices that have been coming for years, POTS lines that have constantly increased every year, unused services that should be canceled, old fiber plans (signed years ago), where we can double the internet speed for the same cost or reduce that expense by 25-30% or more,” Pirigyi said.

Intelisys has provided a lengthy repository of resources on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and other business-impacting laws and guidelines. Intelisys also launched its Remote Workforce Solutions program to give partners “ready-made” solutions.

“These remote workforce solutions include our extensive portfolio of UCaaS and collaboration solutions, headsets, speaker phones, USB cameras, and everything in between,” Morgan and Sorrentino said.


ScanSource’s Tony Sorrentino

While remote UCaaS and CCaaS solutions understandably are very popular topics this season, Pirigyi and Murray pointed to virtual desktop as a rising trend in the age of COVID-19. Murray said many enterprises held off on purchasing the technology in previous years because it was neither mature nor a priority.

“But now that they’ve got to send their employees home and still be able to control the work environment [and] still have security; we’ve seen a huge influx in cloud applications beyond just voice,” Murray said. “We’ve had some huge deals that came in where large companies had to have virtual desktops set up for their entire workforce so they could do what’s mandated right now.”

While desktop as a service has accelerated rapidly over the last month, Murray said it remains to be seen if …… the growth continues after quarantine mandates pass away.

“If it works, then I think people will see that and hear that. If you can work in bad times, then you’re probably going to work in good times.” he said.

Schuman urged partners to practice resiliency and empathy.

“Remember, we’re all in this together. Stress and uncertainty are guaranteed, but how we respond to both is a choice we make. Leaders and companies will make or break the trust their team has in them over the next few weeks based on their actions. Be flexible, be kind, be resilient and lead by example and with empathy,” he said.

Murray said February and March have represented a watershed moment in the channel. For him, it has answered the question of our industry’s value.

“For a while people wondered if the channel really mattered. We would do NPS scoring for our employees and even externally to partners, and a lot of the time there was this sense that we were not really contributing to society,” he said.

But the tide has undeniably turned as partners now are functioning as essential guides in an age of rapid technology transformation. For the average small business, spinning up a remote workforce is a do-or-die proposition.

“Look, we’re not the grocery store workers, and we’re not health care professionals that are the true heroes, but we matter right now,” Murray said. “And people should be proud of that, and they should keep looking out for each other.”

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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