Ever increasingly, businesses are electing to obtain their telecommunication services from independent telecom agents instead of direct reprentatives. We take look at the top 10 reasons why we see this trend occurring in the marketplace today.
- 1. Mergers and Acquisitions
Sales is known as a high turnover profession, but the recent rash of mergers and acquisitions in telecom make it even more unlikely the representative who signed you to your term agreement will still be there to assist you within the year. After making it past the first wave of Chapter 11 bankruptcies following deregulation, the next industry wide phase is mergers and acquisitions. In the past several years we've seen a few major mergers that include Level3/Broadwing (Focal), XO/Allegiance, ATT/SBC/Bell South, MCI/Verizon, Paetec/US Lec, and Time Warner/Xspedius among others. By using an Independent Telecom Agent, you can be assured that regardless of continued merger and acquisition activity or bankruptcies, your Independent Telecom Agent will have the same contact telephone number and email address. He/She will not be laid off or fired, and will continue to supply you all of the options your company needs.
- 2. Single Point of Contact
Regardless of whether your Independent Telecom Agent recommends a single carrier solution or a multi-carrier solution for your company, you still have a single point of contact to deal with the person who knows your account best. During the pricing and evaluation process for new carriers, it is typical to request at least 3 bids and have at least two appointments with at least three carriers each. The number of appointments you schedule could easily surpass a dozen or more before an educated decision is made on your company's communications. When you use a qualified Independent Telecom Agent, you can spend a single appointment determining the best course of action for your company, and just one more evaluating the best options available in your market. Having a single point of contact is a huge time saver!
- 3. Person who understands your company, how you make decisions, and why.
Your Independent Telecom Agent acts as an assistant buyer for your company once he/she understands your business needs and preferences. He/she gets to know your organization, information about your short and long term goals, and why and how you make decisions. Why would you want to repeat that process every couple of years?
- 4. You get to hear the truth!
Perhaps this should be ranked #1! When you use the services of an experienced Independent Telecom Agent, you tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience of someone who has been in the field for many years-and most likely with multiple carriers. Your agent will typically have experience dealing with multiple carriers in your market, including ones without a direct sales force, and can tell you how they actually perform. They won't paint the rosy picture all of the carriers would prefer you to see when you think of them. Who has the most reliable network? Who has billing problems? Who is going bankrupt? Who can make the desired install date? When using an Independent agent, you don't have to listen to "The Company Story" for each carrier, as they tend to dress up their deficiencies and downplay weaknesses. You get to hear the truth.
- 5. Unbiased opinion of multiple carriers and their product lines
Based on where your business is heading, whether that will be expanding, streamlining, or downsizing, your Independent Telecom Agent can put you in the right situation. Just like buying an inexpensive phone system that can't grow with you can create the need for a forklift upgrade sooner than expected, getting stuck with a carrier that can't meet your future expectations can be crippling to any operation. Since most carriers have gone to term agreements in the T-1 age of communications, it's key to get set up with a carrier that can migrate with your evolving needs. Do they have an MPLS network to support VoIP? Do they do SIP trunking? Can they offer an IP-VPN solution for your remote sites? Your Independent Telecom Agent understands the carriers' products and limitations, and can put you in the right solution for your company.
- 6. Agents are invested in your success long term
This is an incredibly important concept to understand when choosing to use an Independent Telecom Agent! When you work with a direct sales representative for a telecom company, one that may be here today and gone tomorrow (rep or company), they are paid only when they bring in a new sale. As we know, in the world of corporate sales, comp plans drive sales behavior, and sales reps are specifically told, "If your customer has a problem, send them to the Help Desk. Do not get involved. You are ONLY paid to bring in new business. Give them the Toll Free Number." There is absolutely no motivation, despite the direct representative's best intentions, for them to ever speak to you again after you sign the dotted line. It's unfortunate but true. On the flip side, because Independent Telecom Agents are commission only and residual based, earning a small percentage of the monthly telecom bills, it takes them, in many cases, up to 24 months to get paid what the direct representative will get paid 30 days after the sale. The entire motivation for someone even becoming an Independent Telecom Agent is to build a book of business of happy customers that no longer have to find a new representative every couple of years to deal with. This relationship only makes sense for the agent if you retain services with them for over 24 months, so they have EVERY motivation to assist you in addressing and solving any service issues that you may ever have. A good Independent Telecom Agent isn't just another business associate; they become part of your team.
- 7. They don't have a quota to make
One of the biggest issues consumers have with the local RBOC/ILEC is that if you call in to the call center to order new service, you will only be told about what THEY want to sell you. NOT what is best for you. Everyone LOVES to sell bundles in telecom, but let me ask you this: Why do you need Centrex calling features or voice mail on your alarm or elevator lines? Do you need call transfer or remote access to call forwarding on every line in your hunt group and on your fax lines? Do you have mysterious charges in the back of your phone bill for web hosting or other items you are afraid to disconnect in case you actually use them? Are they small enough they aren't worth your time to inquire about? In my experience, when I call the ILEC/RBOC directly from the agent channel, I get offered different and more attractive packages than I get over the phone through the call center. It is a regular occurrence for Independent Telecom Agents to uncover up to 10-20% of pure fluff on your bill during the auditing process. Why does this happen? Simple. The direct representatives you buy your service from have a quota to make, and they will often sell you what is good for them. They will NOT only sell you what is good for you. They are directed to sell what is profitable for the carrier they work for, and are paid accordingly based on their ability to perform those duties. Top Independent Telecom Agents, almost without exception, do not carry quotas with any carriers. Because they do not carry quotas, you will not find them pushing you towards a solution that doesn't feel right just to meet their numbers. Be frank and ask your Independent Telecom Agent if they carry quotas with the carriers proposed. If they do carry a quota, be sure to ask enough questions about the solution they are suggesting to determine if it is right for you.
- 8. Extra Incentives and Promotions
The Telecom Industry is increasingly moving towards the Independent Agent Channel. In fact, last year, a local ATT/SBC agent manager in the Texas market confided that the Agent channel gained more business through their agent Winback program than they did through their direct Winback program. Even they were shocked! There are several reasons for this. Independent Telecom Agents are typically more knowledgeable of the products they offer, they are better trained, they set proper expectations with their clients, their clients tend to remain clients longer (since they were sold the right program), and it is more cost effective for the carriers to deal with Agents. They do not pay base salaries or benefits, in addition to commissions. Strangely enough, where I have seen this benefit the customer most is in the form of special incentives and promotions offered only through the Agent Channel. It is not uncommon for agents to compete head to head with a direct representative for one of the carriers they are representing. It is also not uncommon for the agent channel to have promotions or incentives that the direct representative has not been given access to for the customer, and the agent will typically win the customer with the better offer. If the direct representatives have promotions available, they are often compensated extra if they do not use them for their clients. Independent Telecom Agents will pull out any available promotions available in an effort to gain your business for the long haul, as they are typically not incented or penalized for use of promotions.
- 9. Same Pricing
The exact same standard pricing is used in the Agent Channel and the direct sales channels. In spite of all of the additional knowledge you can tap into with Independent Agents, you can be sure you are not charged any extra for it. For large projects, special pricing is available to both Agent and direct channels at the same rates. It's an incredible model that helps the customer and agent win, and insures that all potential clients are treated equally.
- 10. They understand Next Generation Technology
Independent Telecom Agents will typically be better versed in MPLS, IP-VPN, VOIP, hosted solutions, call center applications, and SIP technologies since they need to understand multiple carriers' offerings and have attended their trainings. Direct representatives will often know a few tweaks to their individual limited product line a little better than agents that do not exclusively sell their product do, but they will not have the overall understanding of all that is coming with new technology. No carrier can be the master of all technologies and master of all niches. It's a business impossibility. So it follows that it is nearly impossible for a direct representative to have the same breadth and width of exposure to the applications you are facing decisions on. Business is fiercely competitive, and implementation of some of the newer technologies correctly can literally save larger companies hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. That may be the exact edge your company needs to gain the competitive edge in your marketplace for security, marketing, recruiting, or even retention. Likewise, implementing a bleeding edge technology that is not ready for prime time may cost you the same. Using an experienced Independent Telecom Agent who is looking out for your best interests may make all the difference.