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May 18, 2011
By Khali Henderson
All careers have significant benchmarks: first job, first paycheck, first promotion, etc. For an independent telecom agent, those milestones usually begin with the gutsy decision to leave a well-paying sales job, followed by first customer, first commission check, first commission check that covers the bills, first check toward the six-figure savings you blew through before you started making money, the first $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue, etc.
For Tricia Ward, president of NetSource Group, Portland, Ore., this is a familiar story line. In 2003, her companys first commission check from master agency Intelisys Communications was $85, but this year, NetSource became the first Intelisys subagency to become a Platinum Partner, having sold $1 million in monthly recurring revenue an achievement that is believed to be unprecedented in the industry.
We believe, although its difficult to prove, that its unprecedented,” said Rick Dellar, co-founder of Intelisys, explaining that the company has researched the issue as much as possible with friendly master agencies and its carrier suppliers. And, when the news ran on the Channel Partners website in March, no one came forward to dispute the claim.
The story of this achievement is compelling in its own right, but made more so because its chief character is a woman in a industry dominated by men.
The $1 million MRR goal was first presented to Ward and other Intelisys agents three years ago when the master agency launched its Top Performing Champions incentive program, offering rewards for billings at various levels, from Bronze at $100,000 MRR to Platinum at $1 Million MRR. We put the Platinum [Level] out there with the hope that one day someone would get it,” Dellar said, knowing it was a lofty goal.
From the day Intelisys put it out there, I wanted that goal. I was singularly focused on that goal. I was a crazy person with that goal in mind,” Ward admitted. I am delighted to be there. Thank God, its behind me.”
Getting there has taken eight years, perseverance and a lot of self confidence. I am a big believer in what Tricia Ward can do,” she said.
Like many telecom agents, Ward came to the opportunity from direct sales at a carrier after following a circuitous route that began as a purchasing agent at Exxon. Her role in implementing the companys Rolm PBX got her noticed by the distributer, which recruited her to sell its wares. When GTE purchased the Rolm distributor, Ward had her first entre into the telecommunications space selling data services. She was noticed yet again by US West, whose direct reps were soundly beaten by Ward time and again in competitive bids. She went to work for the Denver-based ILEC in 1994.
In spring 2002, Ward left her job as a national account manager making more than a quarter million dollars a year at the ILEC, which in 2000 merged with Qwest Communications International Inc. In fall 2002, she started an agency with fellow Qwest alumnus Brian Newman. The two who, although having worked for the same company were nearly strangers were brought together by the belief that they could do better on their own.
It originally started as an idea among five different [Qwest] global account managers,” Ward told Channel Partners, explaining that as the decision drew nearer some of the would-be entrepreneurs began to get cold feet. Soon five became four became three became two.”
Downplaying the courage of her choice, Ward said, Failure would only mean that I would have to go back to [a sales] role for another company.”
With the support of their spouses and families Ward has three children and Newman two the partners opened shop with only the cushion of Wards personal savings. We started out lean and mean in an office with a few desks and chairs and self funded it,” she recalled.
Quickly, Ward and Newman fell into their respective roles hers being sales and marketing and his being operational based on their natural strengths. Over time, hes kind of taken more of an internal focus of the company, and Ive taken a much more external focus,” she said.
By 2003, NetSource Group had signed with Intelisys, and brought in employees two in sales and one in the back office. Our first check was $85 and we had to split that and still pay people. So, I would say we went quite a long time without any pay. We basically put it all back into the company and then some,” she said.
All that began to change in 2006, not coincidently, along with Wards strategy. She went to night school to earn her MBA, then put her education to good use. Instead of continuing to focus regionally, Ward said NetSource began to apply what it knew about suppliers to serve companies nationally. As part of that approach, Ward individually met with the direct sales teams of some of NetSources suppliers, such as Qwest and InterNap, and convinced them of the value of teaming with NetSource on sales.
In addition, the agencys owners, which had begun to using subagents instead of direct salespeople, rethought its ideas about what it meant to be a subagent. Rather than looking at the subagent as an individual, we may look at the company as a subagent,” Ward explained. That effort resulted in the recruitment of several VARs, consulting companies and small local data centers as subagents. Ward estimates about 25 people are actively representing NetSource in the field today.
Ward will point to these actions as part of an overall growth plan that allowed NetSource to attract 2,000 customers and reach $1 million MRR.
Dellar, however, attributes NetSources success to extreme customer advocacy.” They just take care of the customer. Its very much solutions selling,” he said, noting NetSources average accounts are 200 to 300 percent larger than the typical agents.
NetSource subagent Andrea LaPointe agreed. We build long-term relationships with our clients and are extra responsive to any requests,” she said, sharing an example of a client that called while she was on vacation to help with service outages. Tricia and I both jumped in to come up with a way to help this client. It took lots of work but we now have them on a stable, reliable network and so far they have not experienced any outages in the last three years,” LaPointe said.
Tactics aside, having and working a plan is the key, Ward said. Its a 12-hour day focusing on what does the business need to get done, what do I personally need to get done,” she explained. We look at the company two years out. And, then I have a five-year plan thats fluid.”
In addition, Ward said she and Newman look back at the companys performance over a two-year span. Looking back gives us perspective on whether we measured up the way we intended, what could we improve upon, what did we do well and can celebrate,” she said.
Celebrating NetSources recent victory is well-deserved advice Ward received from Dellar. Intelisys forced the issue somewhat by naming March 9 as NetSource Day” and also providing NetSources owners with a Dream Vacation” that cannot be taken as cash. Ward and Newman have not yet decided on a destination.
Meanwhile, Ward already has begun thinking about her next goal. I arrogantly put out $5 million [MRR] in five years,” she said. Can we get to $5 million in five years? Quite honestly, I dont think selling traditional telecom can be the path to getting there anymore.”
Ward said NetSource is looking at cloud and TEM and other ways that it can build its business and bring in more billings separate from its carrier commissions.
Dellar, for one, does not doubt her resolve. She is one of the most competitive people Ive ever met,” he said. I think she hates to lose more than she loves to win.”
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