Agents May Not Like This

Peter : On Rad's Radar?
| Peter Radizeski of RAD-INFO, Inc. talking telecom, Cloud, VoIP, CLEC, and The Channel.

Agents May Not Like This

Verizon's re-launch of its channel (after quite a few starts and stops) came with a new channel chief, Janet Schijns. In an interview in CP magazine, she makes some points for the channel.

The buying patterns are changing. So many components of this simple statement. The Internet levels the playing field; allows buyers to be more informed; and means that the that can buy at any time from different channels (online, partner, direct, distributor, etc.).

IT is converging into business. The smarter companies realize that IT isn't overhead or just something to be supported - it is a competitive advantage and a lever for efficiency and improved productivity. Different kind of buying going on, so companies need a different type of sales force.

The channel is more flexible. It's also a challenge to point in the right direction, which is why so many keynotes are titled like hers: PARTNERS MUST CHANGE 'OR PERISH'. I have been hearing that bull line for 15 years.

Integration is an integral part of cloud and security and mobility - especially if the business wants it to work well. That requires a system integrator, which was the main channel for software in the 90s. And what is cloud and security and mobility but software.

The final piece is that customers want complete solutions (see integration). This may not be a one vendor deal. It may be network from one, IAAS from another, security from another. Channel partners can more easier bring best of breed to a complete solution.

"Those three things -- the changing decision maker, the change in how technology is being sold and the change in the amount of solutions coming into the market -- led to our wanting to embrace the channel." Nice summary from her.

I will caveat all this with "in a perfect world." Having worked with channel driven carriers these last couple of years, I have to say that Agents need to step up their game. I've seen how they sell Hosted PBX and I am being generous by saying "sell". Flip a hot lead to the carrier who has to figure out what bill of goods the agent sold and what the customer really wants. WTH people! This is the kind of messed up situation that makes it really hard for carriers to justify the commission. This is the kind of thing that gives the Agent community a black eye. This is the exact reason why the carriers are minimizing Agents and chasing VARs, inter-connects, and other kinds of partners. I'm not saying that will work out the way the carriers hope, but I can see why they are doing it.

I can see why some of this happens. Exclusivity - while the hardware vendors don't really have exclusivity, the quota to maintain gold support generally creates it. A VAR can't be gold level at Cisco and Juniper - or at Xerox and Ricoh - or at HP and Dell. And being aligned with a hardware vendor means taking their training, being deeply involved with the company. We don't have anything like that in telecom.

This part holds true for all channel partners (and even direct): the technology, skills and knowledge has outpaced the ability of most partners to be current. Mobility, security, network, and cloud - it's a lot of stuff to know, piece together, wrap your head around. And add in that each master agency has at least 5 carriers offering that product and it's throw up your hands. Which is why we are where we are today.

And the number of actual certified agents is small compared to the number of certified VARs. In many factors, it looks like the Agent is a dying breed despite the fact that Agents are pure selling entities. Revenue is still king, but the knight dresses up in a complete ensemble and does the heavy lifting.

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