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Q&A With TelePacific Channel Chief Ken Bisnoff

While Bisnoff is returning to the channel, his title will not change and he also will continue to manage retail sales as well as HR and marketing communications. PHONE+ spoke with Bisnoff about his plans.

February 17, 2010

10 Min Read
Q&A With TelePacific Channel Chief Ken Bisnoff

By Khali Henderson

TelePacific Communications announced in early January that Ken Bisnoff has retaken the reins of the CLEC’s TelePartner program, following the resignation of Justin Chris-Tensen, vice president and general manager of Telepartner Sales & Marketing. Bisnoff, senior vice president of strategic opportunities, launched TelePacific’s Telepartner Channel program in 2002 and oversaw it until April 2008. While Bisnoff is returning to the channel, his title will not change and he also will continue to manage retail sales as well as HR and marketing communications. PHONE+ spoke with Bisnoff in late January about his plans.

How will you be able to manage direct and indirect sales as well as HR and marketing communications?

TelePacific Channel Chief Ken Bisnoff

Good question. In the new structure, essentially I will be running all of retail sales. The direct team will still report to me and I’m picking back up the agent team as well. We have done some restructuring internally to account for my expanded role and take advantage of the synergies that exist.

We promoted two of our direct general managers in the past year – one just recently – to become our VPs. One handles northern California and Las Vegas and another handles southern California for the direct team. That provided another layer on the direct side to provide support on the day-to-day business as needed.

In the channel, it’s very similar to past structure. Hilary Gadda has been with us for some time as a director based in northern California. Then we moved Gary Jacobs, who was on the direct side, to fill a vacant director position in southern California. They will both be reporting to me.

With both channels, I’ll be hands on. From an agent standpoint, my familiarity with the role, the people, the position, the issues, and the supporting cast we already have – the directors and the support team we have in place, the agent support managers, the coordinators and the managers – give me a lot of firepower to deal with the retail sales in general.

…This is the first time I am overseeing both channels since TelePacific was a very small company – that was my original role in the business running all sales and marketing. It’s night and day to the size and scale that we have today. There are a lot of synergies to be gained operationally, partnering with marketing, communications and tools. I already see things that we used to do duplicated in the business because we had different leaders in each channel We already are seeing some efficiency by pulling it under one individual.

How much revenue on a percentage basis does the channel bring to TelePacific?

The channel has brought pretty consistently over the last several years – 40-45 percent.

Do you expect that to change in 2010?

No. Fundamentally, the structures for both our channels are staying pretty consistent. Although I welcome either channel to explode and throw the percentages off, I would imagine it would be pretty consistent because we are not changing the scale of either operation significantly.

How many agents do you have?

About 200 agents under contract.

My understanding is that you cut a number of agents in 2009. Is that true?

Yes. From a contract compliance standpoint back in the end of Q1 2009, we had some nonproducing agents whose contracts we ended. …At TelePacific, like any carrier, we want to focus on the agents that are committed to working with TelePacific.

How many agents were impacted?

I don’t have that number. From a productivity standpoint, I think it registered in the low single percentage numbers. …It was minimal in terms of agents who focus and sold TelePacific. In many cases it was an agent that sold a deal at one time when they were considering being a TelePacific agent and they returned to focus on something else. They did not have a focus on selling TelePacific services on an ongoing basis, which is part of the contractual commitment that our agents look for from us and, vice versa, we look for from them.

A lot of carriers cut agents in 2009. Do you have thoughts on why that is?

I don’t think I can speak to the other carriers. Again, I would think if a productive, healthy relationship existed between an agent and a carrier, I would be surprised if anyone would make changes. My guess is that some carriers took the changing of the economy to really evaluate the health of those relationships and, in some cases, some agents ended up on the wrong end of that.

Are you looking to increase or decrease your agent base in 2010?

We are always looking to grow. Partners always are changing, changing their business, new partners are emerging. We have agent managers who are always out recruiting. And, we are partnering with our masters who are recruiting…. Growth is always required.

Are you targeting different partner types?

Our agent managers are always recruiting large and small agents. We have contract sizes that fit based on the commitment levels and the expectations of an agent. From that standpoint, there are a variety of agents we are looking for, but we recognize some of our largest partners – the master agents – are recruiting and we support their efforts. We support them in growing their businesses and their piece of the pie that they focus on with TelePacific.

Some carriers mention recruiting MSPs and VARs. Are you looking at those categories, too?

…I’ve seen that migration over the past couple of years of people who focus on one specific product, such as an equipment VAR, looking to expand revenue opportunities, especially with the synergies between equipment and network. We want to make sure we arm those businesses and people with the tools necessary to make that transition. We have a new agent onboarding program that we have launched. It’s geared toward a variety of agents. But all of those agents who are not traditional agents, or who have not been in the past, would benefit from that.

What are your partner-enablement initiatives for 2010?

The agent onboarding is critical. The partners come on board with us; we recognize that there is a lot to learn when doing business with a new carrier. And, in some cases, with some of the nontraditional agents, there are some learning curves in services, or just in your language and your pricing. It could be network technology, etc. We have a complete agent onboarding program that’s geared on helping them ramp up their revenue as quickly as possible by handing them the information they need to know in the right timeframes, so they don’t get overwhelmed early on [because they had to] learn everything in a couple of days and expect to retain it over time. We have a program that we have developed after running the program for many years. …We formalized the process and improved upon it. We have some new tools to assist as well.

Tied to that, we have a Brown Bag training program on a consistent basis. We have done that over the years, but we are going to be more formal and consistent with the program. With the agents’ feedback and our team’s feedback, we will make sure that we are providing information not only about TelePacific but other informational content that the agents could find valuable to helping them run your business.

Have you identified goals for the channel program this year?

Our goals are to continue the growth of the program. In order to do that, we need to maintain our focus on making it easier for our agents to provide solutions to their customers and support those customers once they are onboard in a fashion that people expect of TelePacific. A lot of it is blocking and tackling that we know we need to do and continue to do. That is really what has helped us build our program. There are no dramatic changes. But as I mentioned onboarding and added training we view as key tools to enhance ultimately the revenues of the program and the success of our agents. The beauty of the program is their success equals our success.

What products will be hot for partners this year?

The two key products that have been important to the program are the dynamic integrated bundled SmartVoice product and our MPLS product, our 1Net product. We’ll be enhancing them this year with a portfolio of Ethernet-related initiatives. For maximum reach, we will be focused on Ethernet Third Party, Ethernet over Copper and Ethernet over TDM. The marketplace is about providing customers with the bandwidth they need for their growing applications and doing it in a cost-effective manner. Having those Ethernet options available to our agents for the services that we provide will be critical for this year.

What’s the ETA for the Ethernet products?

We’ll be rolling out elements of it throughout the year. Ethernet Third Party – we have agreements in place with some [network providers]. Ethernet over TDM is available now. Ethernet over Copper – we’ll have the key wire centers through the region by midyear.

Is the third-party service fiber or copper?

It varies by the provider. In some cases it’s fiber and sometimes it’s Ethernet over Copper. The goal is to have as many options to provide that level of bandwidth to the customer as possible.

Any other new products?

We are focused on launching some wireless options into our product portfolio and that’s going to come in a couple of phases. There is no big announcement ready to happen in Q1, but the wireless ranges from having wireless as a disaster avoidance standpoint at the customer site to wireless data cards, which ties in nicely to our 1Net MPLS VPN product, and ultimately getting down to handset options for customers. It’s really about pulling it all together and making it easier for their customers. The lines between wireless and wireline are blurring. At TelePacific we view 2010 as the year that we introduce that to our family of services. In 2011 and beyond, it will continue to be more and more important to the relationship with the customer.

TelePacific is focused on California and Nevada. Are you expanding geographically or in existing markets?

We focus equally on California and Nevada. We are the largest competitor to the ILEC in both markets. There is no expansion planned at this time. We are still focused on our markets and focused on launching out our Ethernet option for our premier products.

What, if anything, will be the biggest challenge for partners this year?

2010 in a lot of ways is a continuation of 2009 where people have to really stay focused on a marketplace that has changed dramatically from the heyday. In a growth economy there were a lot more opportunities for the agents to add on to services. Today’s market, the blocking and tackling of Sales 101 is as important as ever. Our job is to help give them the ammunition to make a compelling case for their customers business to migrate their services.

What are the best opportunities going to be for partners in 2010?

The opportunities are out there from showing customers solutions to their business needs. The days of ‘give me your bill and I will just lower it for price’ are few and far between. People have to be savvy about data networking, about value-added sales and services – network security [and] remote storage offerings as examples. The questions that they need to be thinking about or talking to customers about are: What is keeping them up at night? What are their business objectives? The agents that stay focused on that and learn about the customers’ businesses and not just what their telecom bills look like today will continue to have the greatest success. Those are the people that are having the greatest success today.

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