Going to the big national agents shows are good for master agents and carriers needing to meet with one another but often "run of the mill" sub-agents like myself wander from seminar to seminar feeling "second best". Not so at the private annual events put on by the individual master agents like MicroCorp's "One-on-One".
At these invitation only shows, the agents that help the master agents put up the big numbers with the carriers get their own time to mix with their peers and meet "One-on-One" with the big carriers. As I indicated in my initial review of MicroCorp's "One-on-One" event last month, over 110 agents attended to learn from each other and the 24 vendors that came to help put the party on as well as MicroCorp's two dozen staff members. Following is what I learned, as an agent, talking to MicroCorp's agents at this year's event.
Top 10 Agent Take-a-Ways from MicroCorp's One-on-One
1. The carrier path to the VAR volume goes through master agents - Whenever agents feel comfortable among their peers, as they do at these private master agent shows, they naturally seem to start talking about the big deals they've recently won or lost. My constant question in these conversations is, "How'd you get that lead?" (I'm always trying to learn if anyone's actually doing any marketing any more.) Invariably the answer is, "My VAR subs." When I ask what percentage of a productive sub-agent's lead come from VARs, many look at me kind of funny and say, "All of them."
When I asked the carrier reps at the MicroCorp event if they were having any luck signing up computer equipment VAR's ("value added resellers") or network systems integrators as direct agents, many agreed that they were having some luck but that they weren't getting any kind of serious or consistent sales volume out of them. All the "VAR volume" was coming through the relationships the master agent's subs had with their VAR lead partners.
2. You don’t need to understand data to sell it but you can’t be scared of it - There were people at the event that insisted agents who did not become much more technically savvy were not going to make it over the next several years. I disagree. Agents who can't learn the tech sales lingo are certainly at a disadvantage against their sales engineering peers but all successful agents really need to learn is a little more than they know now when it comes to selling tech.
Adam Shapiro, the very well received CustomerCentric Selling guru that MicroCorp brought in for a 60-minute session titled, "Cross-Selling Conversations" really brought this home for the attendees. He quickly had all the attendees writing "plausible emergencies" and "conversational success stories" as a quick and easy way to screen almost any business client or prospect for almost any technical solution or service.
I quickly decided that for me to do a better job of selling technical solutions I barely understand, all I really need to do is get together with my vendors and memorize a "plausible emergency" and a "conversational success story" for each of the high-margin solutions they keep wishing I'd sell more of.
(TA is actually going to try and work out a deal to get Adam to work with TA's vendors to do just that.)
3. Competition from carrier direct sales people continue to be an agent's worst "sales killer" - As most agents will admit, getting leads from VARs is great but it's not perfect. The biggest obvious problem with VAR leads is the agent doesn't "own the sales relationship" which means the prospect often feels free to shop the agent's price out - even to the direct sales side of a carrier the agent's already proposed. Sure, most good agents can sell through this using "value" and "single point of contact" on bigger deals but this unpleasant customer practice still tends to compress profit margins.
Direct sales people are an even bigger threat when it comes to larger VARs with their own carrier sales divisions. The owner of the VAR can dictate that his or her VAR equipment salespeople screen every equipment deal through the VAR's own carrier sales division but this does not seem to be happening. VAR equipment sales people peddle their network service leads first to anyone that will feed them more equipment leads (like direct carrier sales people) no matter what their bosses say.
4. Agents look to focus 2011 sales efforts on conferencing, retention, colocation/hosting & TEM/WEM - The best part of any agent gathering is picking the brains of peers to find out what they're sales focus will be in the next 12 to 18 months. fFor the agents and subs I met at MicroCorp's "One-on-One" that seemed to be:
a. Conferencing - Screen any and all customer bases for audio and web conferencing opportunities
b. Retention - Every MicroCorp staffer had a button that said, "Ask me about 'Retention'". Enough said.
c. Private Colocation/Hosting - As most agents I know shy away from anything close to resale (they mostly want to represent multiple third party vendors) I was somewhat surprised to learn at least one very successful agent was very interested in colocation and hosting in a "private cloud" configuration. If his customers want the the cloud to protect their servers then he was eager to take them there - as long as it was a cloud (colo/hosting facility) that the agent controlled.
d. Telecom & Wireless Expense Management - While I list this last, TEM/WEM seemed to be the area many "classic agents" were happiest about getting into especially for mid-market accounts in multi-location, multi-carrier environments. Where confusion rules, people who can read a phone bill easily shine.
5. Hosted applications vendors and agents are specifically networking with Avaya & Cisco partners - Telecom equipment vendors do not seem too threatened by backup and disaster recovery ("B/DR") solutions in the cloud. Many agents see B/DR as a natural icebreaker to get them in with telecom equipment partners - and it's selling very well.
6. The only marketing many agents are doing is to all their local equipment VARs - While many VARs seem to bemoan the constant assault by telecom agents and vendor wanting to partner with them, most seem to be OK partnering with someone. As most telecom agents are fairly poor marketers, it seems to me that it would not take too strong an effort to displace a VAR's current telecom partner by simply being more professional and staying in better touch.
7. "Clouds" rule high-end conversations but SMBs are just buying "a phone system" - While the cloud vendors are right that the mid-level & enterprise decision makers all want to talk about their "cloud strategies", many end-users still are not totally sure what they even need to buy to “have the cloud”. Agents calling on larger accounts need to know what products in their bag represent the “cloud” and need to be able to describe affordable strategies their clients can use to "migrate to the cloud" over a reasonable time period.
SMB clients though still just need their office phones to work at the least possible cost. Cloud? Prem? Two cans and a string? They don't really care. SMB agents need to know what products in their bag comprise both inexpensive phone solutions their customers can use now AND migrate them to useful cloud applications now or later.
8. Cloud discussions need to be framed around the customer's critical applications and infrastructure - At some point in the airy fairy conversation about "taking your customers to the clouds" your customers they will notice the big price tag. They will immediately sober up and compare that price to whatever it costs them to run their apps and infrastructure now and in the near future without any change. Simply talking about "the cloud" for the sake of the cloud doesn't sell anything to anyone.
Within a minute of anyone saying the word "cloud", agents need to understand what are the mission critical applications (inventory, payroll, CRM, etc.) for the business and on what servers and infrastructure do these applications now depend? How much does it cost to maintain, grow, move all that IT infrastructure? What are all the "non-cloud" options the business is looking at to protect their apps? Knowing the "anti-cloud" options makes selling the cloud a lot easier.
9. Selling too much "cloud" puts VAR lead partners out of work - Agents need to understand that most VARs and integrators pay their mortgage by selling servers and software licenses and then maintaining both - on the customer's premises. Pushing the servers and the software into the cloud seems like a great idea to agents and a lousy idea to VARs.
Before trying to get VAR lead partners too excited about joint selling the cloud, agents need to really understand what the VARs are selling their customers and how cloud and SaaS ("software as a service") solutions threaten the way they're currently making money.
(To help agents better understand the VAR and integrator world, TA is attending VAR tradeshows and watching VAR webinars. Through 2011 it's TA's vision to know as much about the VAR world as we know the telecom world - and pass that information on to all of TA's members and vendors.)
10. Agents need turn key marketing - It really amazes me how little effective marketing telecom agents do. It's a good thing most agents are naturally fearless sales people. VARs on the other hand do much more marketing than most telecom agents and there's lots of marketing vendors like Robin Robins and Kutenda selling them "MSP marketing" to help them. (Which is a good thing because most VARs are not that great at sales.)
When I go to agent events like MicroCorp's and ask what kind of marketing successful agents are doing, the response is usually, "word of mouth". When I ask them what kind of marketing they want to do, it's everything from email marketing to search engine optimization to social media.
MicroCorp Top 10 Conclusion
I'm pretty sure agents go to national shows to be seen but to the private master agent shows to learn. I've been to several of the private master agent shows over the last year and a half and MicroCorp's was one of the best for the quality of the 110 agents in attendance and the amount of new, useful "take-a-ways" I learned that will help me next year in my own agent business.
Questions or comments? Contact Dan Baldwin at Dan@TelecomAssociation.com or 951-251-5155.
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