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November 16, 2009
By Randy Jeter, Premiere Worldwide
When agents talk about wanting the indirect channel to grow, they often place the onus on the carriers and service providers to offer more support, more incentive and more opportunity. However, in order to truly transform and grow the indirect channel, agents must look inward and start the transformation on their own.
The truth is most carriers don’t want to give their business away to the indirect channel because they’re scared of decreasing margins due to the perception that agents always sell on price. Carriers also have trouble trusting agents because most of them don’t have the business flow or the technical expertise to manage large clients. In order for carriers to want to turn more business over to the channel and boost support for agents, an industry shift needs to occur wherein agents become true full-service brokers, providing the end-to-end telecom and IT service and services that providers’ direct sales forces cannot.
An excellent example of this model in action can be found in the health care industry. Health care insurance is so competitive that there is minimal difference between prices, but the brokers differentiate on service and, in general, operate as full-service brokers. The majority of agencies offer an end-to-end team – someone who serves as the dedicated consultant/salesperson, along with an account manager/analyst who manages carrier transitions, day-to-day support and annual renewals. In this model, the agencies manage all of the health care needs for their clients, such as basic insurance, dental, vision, disability and so forth. All of these segments tend to have different carriers/providers, just as in telecom, but the business model has more structure across the board.
In order to grow the industry as a whole, telecom agents must understand the need for a paradigm shift. I’m reminded of the famous quote in the movie “Field of Dreams” – “If you build it, they will come.” If agents build their businesses to provide quality and comprehensive service to their customers, the carriers will come. Here are five steps for agents to take on their way to becoming full-service brokers, therefore invoking an industry transformation.
1. Grow your team’s knowledge. Of course, there is the saying, “You can’t be everything to everybody,” but that all depends on how you build your team. If you have team members with varying expertise – negotiating contracts, procuring devices, managing cutovers – you can be everything to everybody. Whether through additional employees or new partnerships, expanding your agency’s knowledge base better enables you provide additional services and management to your customer, perhaps even allowing them to increase their own margins by outsourcing more of their IT needs to you.
2. Beef up your business structure. Once you sell a client on your team’s knowledge, you have to have the business ability to manage them through the transition. Carriers employ several people to manage this process, so agents have the opportunity to save the carrier money in this area while simultaneously increasing stickiness with the customer. Agents must have a solid business structure, e.g., policies and procedures for providing quotes and RFPs and the like, in order to be able to handle end-to-end client service. There is also something to be said for automation when it comes to solidifying business structure, and agents should take care in properly utilizing such tools provided by their carrier partners.
3. Expand your sales portfolio. Just as end-to-end service in health care goes way beyond the basic plan, full-service telecom brokering includes a lot more than wireline, not to mention a lot more than any of your carriers’ direct reps can provide. However, the key to portfolio expansion is finding a happy medium between embracing technological advancement and making sure not to rush into new territories too quickly. Agents sometimes get ahead of themselves. The good agents stick to what works and has worked for many years. The bad agents tend to bring in the latest and greatest before the solutions are road-tested, so to speak, and end up creating a nightmare for their customers.
4. Bring on the value-adds. Providing added value is inherent in being a full-service broker. Of course, the best value an indirect agent can provide to the customer is an unbiased recommendation of what’s best for the customer’s business. On top of that, agents need to bring in additional tools for their clients, such as telecom expense management, inventory management, network monitoring, quarterly WAN and LAN reviews, and automated systems for account management, at limited-to-no cost.
5. Issue a call to action. Once agents have transformed themselves into full-service brokers, they need to issue a call to action for the carriers to provide better support for channel operations. The carriers cannot deny the full-service broker is the way of the future now – agents need to give them no choice.
Randy Jeter is a partner and lead consultant at full-service broker Premiere Worldwide, based in the Los Angeles area. He also is a member of the 2009-10 PHONE+/Channel Partners Conference & Expo Advisory Board.
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