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Agents Look to Future of IndustryAgents Look to Future of Industry

Channel Partners

November 1, 1999

3 Min Read
Agents Look to Future of Industry

Posted: 11/1999

Agents Look to Future of Industry

The agent channel has long suffered an identity crisis. The telecom industry’s lone
wolves, the independent sales reps comprising the channel have struggled to define for
themselves just who and what they are, and more importantly, what role they play in the
marketplace. Gathered together at the PHONE+ AgENt Conference and Expo in Philadelphia in
September, hundreds of agents sought some answers.

Master of ceremonies Rick Sheldon, Intelisys Inc., Petaluma, Calif., kicked off day
one’s events by challenging agents to establish and value community. He suggested that
agents act not only in self interest, but also in the interest of all agents when dealing
with both carrier suppliers and customers. This newfound professionalism and
responsibility, he says, is the next step in evolving the agent channel as a valued
distribution channel.

Certainly, it is becoming a key distribution channel for carriers–even some direct
sales purists–which now actively recruit agents as a cost-effective way to quickly build
and maintain market share. Nearly 80 exhibitors at the AgENt Expo were among such network
services providers who share such a strategy. Even a spokesman for No. 1 long distance
carrier AT&T Corp. told the AgENt Expo audience that the agent channel is where the
company is setting its future plans, especially among small and medium-sized businesses

With the new communications order evolving due to consolidation of providers and
convergence of technologies, agents’ skills will continue to be needed, says keynote
speaker Gary Kim, president, NxGen Data Research, Littleton, Colo. Kim says that while the
large carriers will service the Fortune 500 customers and will keep the masses of
consumers, agents will maintain their foothold with the SMBs. He cautions them not to rest
on their laurels, however. Kim says it is key for agents to become solution providers for
this lucrative segment, providing them with integrated voice, data and video services. To
do this, he recommends they educate themselves both on how to be such a provider and how
to form alliances with interconnects, value-added resellers and systems integrators that
will enable them to deliver solutions, not just voice services.

Agents took Kim’s advice to heart, crowding back-to-back sessions on data services at
the conference’s close. If the experience of master agents is indicative, such an
education is paramount. In a roundtable discussion, Master Agent Jay Lewis, vice
president, Visioncom Inc., Finland, Minn., says 75 percent of his agency’s new business is
from T1 and point-to-point business. Gene Foster, president, Communication Management
Services (CMS), San Diego, says agents need to lead with data and expects that the ones
who don’t will begin to drop out over the next 12 months.

While there is a sense of urgency among agents to educate themselves on new and
evolving technologies, there also is concern that they flex their existing
muscle–relationship sales expertise. Agents were treated to a refresher course from
energetic sales speaker Stu Kolinsky, principal, Sales Dynamics, Boca Raton, Fla. When the
laughter cleared, Kolinsky’s message remained: "Sales is not a job, it is a career.
The difference is that a job is something you take and a career is something you take

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