Xposure to Channel: Replace 'Master Agents' with Tech Services DistributorsXposure to Channel: Replace 'Master Agents' with Tech Services Distributors
"Who's going to understand [master agent] as soon as you come out of this little ecosystem?" Dany Bouchedid asked.
September 3, 2021
One influential group is calling on the channel to come together to rename master agents.
The Xposure Inclusion and Diversity Council is drafting an open letter addressed specifically to the brokerage and sourcing firms we have come to know as master agents. The letter will call upon these companies to refer to themselves as “technology services distributors” immediately.
The channel has been buzzing about nomenclature for months now. Internal conversations at some of the industry’s largest vendors and service distributors (more on that later) bubbled over into a public discussion on the Channel Futures website. Does the term “master agent” carry racially insensitive undertones? Does it inadequately describe the relationships between direct selling agents and the intermediary organizations that hold their supplier contracts and offer sales enablement? Does it fail to represent our industry well to the outside world?
Not everyone marks “yes” on all three questions, but consensus has emerged that many members of the channel no longer feel comfortable with the term. Agents, suppliers and especially the “master agents” themselves have expressed reservations.
“It’s an old, antiquated terminology that doesn’t fit anymore,” said Kelli McMillan, Five9 national partner manager and Xposure founder and CEO.
Fast forward to September, and nothing has changed. The conversation has gone silent. Brandon Knight, who co-founded Xposure and also leads Telarus‘ contact center practice, said he thought the article series that ran in June would have put the final nail in the coffin.
“We got to this point of, ‘What would we call ourselves?’ and it’s almost like that was too hard of a decision. It was so difficult to end up with a consensus on the name that everyone just dropped it. No one’s even talking about it anymore,” Knight told Channel Futures.
Telarus’ Brandon Knight
One can also attribute the delay to the question of responsibility. The services distributors may point to the suppliers while the suppliers point to the service distributors as the group that needs to lead the renaming effort. But Knight said many channel partners are coming to the conclusion that the services distributors (“master agents”) need to be the ones leading the charge. For example, he said one supplier recently reached out to Telarus saying it would support whatever descriptor Telarus chose.
“I think we want a collaborative effort,” Knight said. “But the suppliers and the agents are saying, ‘But you guys are the ones that are called master agents. So we shouldn’t change your name; you should change your name.'”
Fortunately, Xposure’s board and committee members run the gamut of various channel backgrounds.
“We’re not all master agents. We’re not all agents. And we’re not all suppliers. We actually have people in leadership positions throughout the whole ecosystem. And I almost think it made it easier for us,” he said.
Understanding the Effect
Knight said he and many peers spent years in the channel without seeing much of problem with “master agent.” Perhaps they felt slight discomfort, but they didn’t see a need to publicly push for a change. But his mind changed earlier this year after a striking conversation.
Knight sat next to an elderly Black woman on a flight. They engaged in a friendly conversation in which he mentioned …… that he worked for a master agent. The woman hesitated at this disclosure but continued to talk to Knight. Later in the conversation she returned to the topic.
“She said, ‘The place you work at — you call it a master?’ I said ‘yes,’ and I’m starting to try to explain the ecosystem. She said, ‘No, I don’t understand that. I am offended by that, and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t be offended by that. We fought to get away from that,'” Knight said.
Knight had read books about slavery and heard the stories of his great grandparents. But witnessing this woman’s reaction changed his opinion about the language our industry uses.
“To hear an elderly person who was not in the channel, who doesn’t understand the ecosystem, just be completely offended by it kind of brought it home for me. And it made me start thinking that there are people outside of us. And I think that’s why it’s been so comfortable for us, because we understand it. But there’s a whole world outside of the channel where this is highly offensive. Among other things, that really made me think I personally needed to take a stand with my peers and get this changed,” Knight said.
A World Outside the Channel
Colotraq’s Dany Bouchedid
Dany Bouchedid leads Colotraq, a data center and colocation sourcing and brokerage company that the industry often calls a master agent. He said his team only used the term at industry events like Channel Partners, because that was the quickest way to describe their business model to prospective agents. However, the majority of Colotraq’s channel partners are large commercial realtors that use very different language.
“We would never dare call ourselves [a master agent]. They wouldn’t even understand what that meant. They come from a world of co-brokering? I’m the listing agent, and you’re the tenant’s representation. They’re sending us a tenant essentially, and we’re putting them in a data center that we represent. And we split the commissions,” Bouchedid said.
Moreover, Bouchedid said many large companies have moved away calling themselves master agents because of the name’s sheer unmarketability.
“Who’s going to understand that as soon as you come out of this little ecosystem? Is the customer going to understand what that is? No. Is a CTO or CIO at a company going to understand what that is? No.”
Nevertheless, Bouchedid said the process of changing the channel’s vocabulary might drag on due to the embeddedness of the existing words. Perhaps a catchy acronym might help ease the transition, he said.
“In vendor’s actual IT systems, these fields are called ‘master agent’ and ‘subagent,'” he said. ” There is going to be so much that has to happen for that word to be eradicated.”
Xposure will release its open letter next week.
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