Similar to just about every business model within telecom alternate channels, master agents have been heavily impacted as the market shifts toward IP services, cloud and mobile. Indeed, master agents have felt the SMAC and rolled with the SoLoMo. “The role of the master agent has become much more complex as we transition to an IP-based world,” said Denis Raue, president of Telegration, responding to our informal survey of master agencies. “The entire business is radically different than what transpired in the channel in the past,” agreed Greg Praske, CEO of ARG. “It’s far less likely that you’ll be responding to a request for a PRI, an Internet circuit or a WAN – where you simply survey the market and present the most compelling options.”
Rather, in today’s environment, said Praske, masters and their sub-agents need to be prepared to discuss and advise on matters ranging from whether a company would be better off reimbursing their employees for their wireless devices or purchase them through a corporate plan, or which hosted providers integrate best with Microsoft, Cisco or Salesforce, and which have specific functionality. They may need to know which data centers meet which compliance, and where the best fits are in terms of power draw or most-efficient cross connects. They’ll likely need to pull up fiber maps to show on-net and nearnet and be aware of who is willing to do a build for free and for how many feet from the splice point. “And, on and on,” said Praske. In short, businesses increasingly are looking for more than just access and feature sets. They seek communications technologies and providers that will help them find ways to use IT to move their businesses forward. For master agents, keeping up with this transition requires significant investment in specialized personnel, product education and training, back office processes and pre- and post-sales support.
“We’ve had to increase our headcount in sales engineering, order fulfillment and project management as well as our help desk support,” said Raue. “We have had to invest in training and certification for our employees such as CompTIA training certifications in Security, Project Management and Cloud Essentials, as well as master trainings and fulfillment processes for most all prominent hosted PBX providers, and invest in systems such as SalesForce.com.” “For the past four years, we have been assembling a team of very accomplished people with specialized expertise,” said Praske. “We have been doing tons of client education – mostly one-on-one but also seminars for our clients and prospects.”
Those experts include business consultant types who can discuss business strategies with the C-Level executives who are increasingly part of the technology purchasing process and are leading organizations’ digital transformations. “We make these (business consultants) available to our subagents to go on-site for their meetings,” said Praske.
“Sales engineering will also be more important in the coming years,” emphasized Vince Bradley, WTG CEO. “WTG has a sales engineering practice that continues to identify the best solutions for our agent community’s clients and assist with supporting their implementation.”
Automation, likewise, will be an important cornerstone of the transition, said Bradley. “WTG has been constantly updating the PartnerEdge system to meet that increasing demand. For example, in addition to being able to identify fiber in an automated way, we are now utilizing a tool whereby our distribution can find out what hosting provider a client is using.”
It’s an expensive proposition, masters agents tell us, but it’s a transition that must be made, and one that, all the while, relies on maintaining significant growth in access revenues from traditional and primary providers to subsidize the investments.
“I’m not sure how somebody who is getting started today can jump into this world,” said Praske.
“I believe it is a barrier to entry to scale now for new master agent entrants to the marketplace,” Raue concurred. (Although Raue does see room for specialized smaller agencies to work targeted sub-agents of masters that do not possess the skill and knowledge to make the transition themselves.)
On the other hand, as the communications services landscape grows increasingly complex and wide-ranging, the part master agents play within the channel only grows in terms of influence and importance. In other words, it’s hard to imagine that a single sales rep or agent will be able to keep up with the breadth of services that go into today’s communications solutions and all the conversations that go into packaging and selling them.
“Cloud services have made our role as a strategic advisor – or coach – all the more important,” said Ted Schuman, PlanetOne Communications CEO. “In many cases, we’re the glue that brings the deal together and positions the partner as the cloud services expert and trusted advisor.
“What’s great about cloud is the detail behind the deal and the teamwork needed to execute – that’s where we excel and where our partners rely on us most to add value and protect their profits,” continued Schuman. “Similar to managed services, process is paramount when it comes to cloud services. Without it, success isn’t repeatable or sustainable.”
It’s certainly been a winning formula for PlanetOne, which has seen its cloud business grow from 5 percent of revenues to 35 percent during the past year.
And PlanetOne certainly isn’t alone. As can be seen in the following Master Agent Directory, masters are partnering with the full spectrum of cloud services and platform providers, from Amazon to Zayo.
That’s not to say agents and sub-agents shouldn’t be leery of agencies that “scramble to sign agreements with as many cloud providers as they can identify.” Despite any gold rush of opportunity that comes with major transitions, the value proposition of the master agent largely remains the same.
“Our perspective is that the master agent’s role in the ecosystem has not changed much, but rather the focus of the channel in general has re-aimed its sights upward to the ‘cloud,’” said Bradley.
At the end of the day, master agents, said Bradley, still are looked upon to provide education, support and a safe working environment for their agent partners. Regardless of the widgets, the model remains based on adding value to service portfolios, navigating and managing vendors and ecosystems in the best interest of sub-agents and their end users, and putting agents in position to make consultative sales built upon appropriate business solutions – ultimately providing a “consistent ease of doing business in the ever-fluctuating landscape,” said Bradley.
As Schuman summed up matters: “A good master agent is relentless about service levels and will have your back, always.”
It’s just that, nowadays, there are a lot more pieces for them to master.
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About ChannelVision Magazine:
ChannelVision is a bi-monthly digital and print magazine, read by channel partners selling all manner of voice, data, access, managed and business services (both on premise and “in the cloud”), as well as, technology, gear, and equipment. ChannelVision is a highly focused and efficient way for service providers, hardware, and software companies to reach experienced channel partners targeting the small/medium business space. Serving a controlled circulation of providers and indirect distributors of communications, network, IT and cloud-based business services, ChannelVision is telecom’s gateway to perspective on how to adapt, what to sell, and how to sell it.