What Is A Telecom Agent?

 It is not uncommon to hear that most  CTO’s, CIO’s, IT Directors, Directors of Purchasing and Sourcing are not aware of what a Telecom Agent is and what role we play in the IT ecosystem. My own wife has a difficult time telling others what it is I do for a living. Anyone who works in IT is probably familiar with this dilemma. Tell your family you’re in IT and they all think you troubleshoot iPhones and laptops. We decided to put this together to help lift some of the fog around what we do, how we do it, why a customer would use an Agent, and how we are differentiated from a Broker, VAR (Value Added Reseller), and MSP (Managed Service Provider). To make that last point muddier, many companies, ITP included, can cross from Agent into VAR or MSP functionality. 

There is no one definition of a Telecom Agent, but we would summarize it by stating, “A Telecom Agent as an independent consultant and subject matter expert who connects customers to the best fit Telecom service providers.” Offhand this sounds like a Broker, which is part of the service that a Telecom Agent would provide. Let’s breakdown this statement so you can fully grasp what we mean.  

 

A Telecom Agent is an Independent Consultant

Agents are independent and we do not receive a salary or any direct benefits (ie: health insurance, 401k) from any carrier or service provider. This allows us to stay vendor neutral and helps to ensure that as an agent, the customer is the focus, and not the service provider. Unlike your insurance agent, we are not exclusive to any vendor. Indeed, ITP has around 250 available vendors we can call on at any time.  As “consultants,” our role is to advise a customer on all their options based on their individual business needs. Something as seemingly simple as an internet connection, if you dig into it, can be a much more complicated decision. When looking at an ISP (internet service provider), you will want to consider more than just who is available and at what price. What are your uptime/availability requirements (SLA requirements)?  In the event of an outage, and there will inevitably be outages, what does the support structure look like? Portals and self-service or can you engineer on the phone for troubleshooting? Do you need diversity and can the ISP actually offer diversity? Keeping in mind, having mulitple ISPs doesn’t mean you are guaranteed diversity. How good is the ISP’s peering and network design (this matters for latency)? How much does the ISP reinvest into network maintenance and upgrades? Does the ISP actually own the fiber they are going to deliver your service on? These are just a few of the things you may want to take into consideration when souring WAN connections.   

 

Subject Matter Experts

An Agent is and should be a subject matter expert in the world of telecommunications. When speaking with a telecom agent, certainly feel free to start questioning them on why they are recommending a certain vendor. If they cannot do this or they are not taking into account any of the above-mentioned types of criteria when doing discovery and data gathering, you found yourself a Broker, not an Agent. Some of the contracts an Agent and Broker may work off are similar, but the value add is the differentiator. Agents are subject matter experts in our industry, telecommunications. I may trade a few stocks here and there, but when it comes to investing, I am an amateur. I’ve researched and am very interested in planetary exploration and the mysteries of the universe, but I am no astrophysicist. Telecom is the same, you may work in IT, but that doesn’t mean you’re an expert in all things telecom. To add to this, the lines around telecommunications have blurred a bit in the last 5-8 years or so. Other types of vendors have all started to discover the value of having Agents able to sell and consult on their products and services for their customers. What an Agent can sell and advise on now includes Data Center, Cloud, Security, Managed Services, Hardware/Software, Professional Services and more. The modern telecom Agent is now more of an IT Agent. As SME’s in the industry and constantly running and managing quotes and RFP’s for numerous customers across numerous vendors, we get a very good picture of where pricing should be and what the floor is. This is part of an Agent’s “secret sauce.” We use our vendors to create competition for your business in a much more meaningful way than you could with a structured RFP type of response. 

 

Connects Customers

Does this mean an Agent is a middleman? No. This piece references the way contracting with telecom service providers works. As an Agent, we bring together the customer and service provider, but you do not sign any contracts with an Agent (aside from maybe an NDA). The contracts are signed with the service provider, but as a customer, you can still negotiate/red-line contracts with them. When you need support, as a customer, you would reach out directly to the service providers NOC (Network Operations Center). Invoices are between the customer and service provider. Generally, you also do not pay for an Agent’s service. The Agent is paid a small commission from the service provider. As an Agent we take the place of a direct sales rep and, in some cases, account management teams, without all their associated costs such as their salary and benefits, support structure etc. Agents actually end up costing a service provider less than their direct sales teams. Agents only get paid on any closed sales, which the service providers love as they only pay for results. By making the right vendor decision from the start, having responsive account support from the same Agent who sold the product/service and typically has longevity with the company, customers of telecom agents tend to be happier with their service overall. Because we support any number of vendors for you, we know what the other puzzle pieces look like and can put together the high-level puzzle and see your company’s overall IT landscape. 

 

Best Fit Telecom Service Providers 

This builds upon the telecom industry expertise mentioned earlier, but we take that expertise and apply it to your unique business needs. As an Agent representing any number of vendors (ITP has access to over 250 vendors and carriers) for our customers, we can find providers that our customers may never have heard of themselves, but for strategic reasons may be the best fit for a particular need. Through contracts with distributors (called TSB’s) we also have access to many regional/rural & international carriers (ITP places a heavy emphasis on international vendors which includes many unique, direct agreements), as well as, managed service, security, and IoT providers. We are experts in this industry and through our interview and data gathering exercises we can help determine the carriers who best fit your business’s individual needs. We narrow down the vendors down to 3-5 and start gathering pricing and, of course, set up the meetings to give the customer the chance to get familiar with the vendors and gather customer feedback. We take most of the load off the customer, but the customer is ultimately the decision maker and is kept in the loop through the process to ensure we are working towards the customer’s desired outcome. 

Now that we have covered what an Agent is, how is an Agent different from an MSP or VAR? I’ll give a quick breakdown without going into tons of detail.  

 

MSP (Managed Service Provider

An MSP (Managed Service Provider) is a company that you would use to Implement and Maintain an IT service. MSP’s can cover a large gamut of IT systems. They are essentially an outsourced addition to your IT staff. Different MSPs specialize in different areas. This could be a number of things from Network hardware (spine and leaf to edge and wireless) to data center server-based hardware,  IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks, firewall management, network monitoring, wireless SIM devices (phones to tablets) and more. There is also an array of Project Based Services that MSP’s will handle from general IT environment assessments, LAN (Local Area Network) assessments, routing policy assessments, cable management, cross connect assessments and much more. To boil it down, the MSP will be the company putting hands on keyboards and physically performing the work on your behalf. As an Agent, an MSP is another type of vendor that we manage for you, similar to what you may have come to expect from an Agent when it comes to assessing, consulting, and brokering telecom services. An Agent can provide the same level of service for customers when it comes to MSP’s. Meaning, we as Agents would work with the customer to go through all the data gathering to understand what your desired outcomes and goals are for outsourcing etc, same as what we explained above for Telecom services. ITP, for example, has dozens of MSPs within our portfolio that we can reach out to. Maybe you need an MSP that has specific vendor certifications or has a specialty in managing some niche systems. Perhaps you just need a general services MSP to handle helpdesk who could also integrate to your call center systems and ITSM. MSPs tend to look at Helpdesk and management of enterprise networks very differently and build backend systems to support that specific type of service. Maybe you have requirements that require US based support or clearances and cannot work with an MSP that has off-shore/near-shore service centers. The list goes on and on. We as Agents would sift through all this to narrow down the list of dozens of potential MSP’s that would support your specific requirements to 3-5 that we can then start doing deeper dive interviews and demos etc. The Agent then also manages the quoting process, leveraging these multiple MSPs for competition to drive down costs.  

 

VAR (Value Added Reseller)

Now a VAR (Value Added Reseller) can perform a service that may feel similar to what an Agent would do, but a VAR is specific to hardware and relevant software. Gartner defines a VAR as “A value-added reseller (VAR) is an organization that is usually part of a sales channel for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). (Note: OEM’s typically do not sell directly to end users and rely heavily on VAR’s and distributors) OEMs make their goods available to VARs at a discount, and the VAR helps to facilitate product sales on behalf of the OEM by adding presales value to the end user (such as facilitating proof of concepts and providing presales engineering and sales support). For these services, the VAR adds a markup to the final sale price of the product.” As an Agent, we often work with VAR’s for hardware resale and when we are looking to include managed hardware as part of a managed services project.

In addition to working with the VAR for hardware and licensing, ITP also sources and designs the data center and network as well as provides project and life-cycle management across all vendors.  

I hope this helps clear up what an Agent is and is not. To break down some of the value add benefits of using an Agent, we worked with 20+ year Agent veteran Richard Shellow of RAS3 to supply the following bullet points.

Value Add 

  1. Long-term Trusted Advisor to Clients– An Agent can manage all of a client’s telecom, data center, managed service providers and more. This means we stay involved from start to finish and all throughout the life cycle of the service. We manage a client from start to finish, not just when you have a renewal. Because of this, we tend to have very long-term engagements with our clients, which gives us a unique opportunity to really get to know you as a customer, a company, and allows us to fully understand the larger IT landscape and how it relates to the larger business goals. Having a history on any account gives us a strategic advantage over any direct account representatives.   
  2. Customer Focused – The Agent represents/works for you, the customer, not the vendor. As an indirect sales agent, ITP addresses your best interests not a carrier’s or vendor’s profitability. As an agent, ITP has no quotas to fill nor margins to maintain, so our recommendations are objective. We would like to say that we sit on your side of the table in any negotiations. 
  3. Comprehensive Support Throughout the Entire Lifecycle – ITP will be involved in all aspects of the product’s lifecycle, Pre Sales, Sales, Project management, Implementation, Post Sales, Billing, Add-on Products, Renewals, and Migrations. Even offering assistance with RFO (Reason for Outage) tracking and SLA (Service Level Agreement) credits when any outage violates the SLA metrics. Once the vendor direct Sales Team completes the sales process, they will move on and hand the project over to the Project Management Team; after implementation, another handoff to the Customer Service/Success teams to engage. ITP is a consistent participant who transitions through all the project phases. Throughout the process, ITP shifts from Team to Team, acting as an extension of your staff and integrating as part of your organization.  
  4. Enhanced Sales and Support – ITP is not a middleman. Our clients will still and always have direct access to a vendor’s sales and support teams and executives. A direct sales team is well-versed (hopefully) in the features and benefits of their specific products/services. However, ITP has a broader understanding of the Telecom, Data Center, and IT Services market and has insights into what the competitors offer. The indirect relationship includes support and implementation. After installation, the customer will open trouble tickets directly with the vendor NOC/SOC/Support Teams, and then they can involve ITP for the RFO and SLA tasks as mentioned above. 
  5. Teaming is Standard Practice and Does Not Affect the Price – Vendors are heavily engaged in the Agent channel for a reason. We are often a much lower cost than direct sales and can often take the place of direct sales teams. They love the model because they only pay an agent for results (no payroll taxes, salary, benefits, laptops, software licenses, etc.) The value of the agent relationship has become so important to many vendors that they will often utilize Teaming as a standard industry practice allowing both the indirect and direct salespeople to Team the enterprise sale to support customers. The product price for our customers is the same. 
  6. Experience and Industry Knowledge – ITP is experienced, having done 1000+ migrations and implementations for other customers. ITP is knowledgeable about the competitive products and offerings and knows what we are doing compared to a direct sales team who may have very limited competitive information, if any, on what the competition is doing. That competitive knowledge is often skewed towards their own products and services of course. We bring an objective perspective and critical insight. ITP has a team of vendor-agnostic engineers and subject matter experts who are available resources to our customers, who can answer any questions, provide market trends, guide the organization’s use case, and verify the information to cut through the marketing fluff. 
  7. Negotiation Expertise – ITP could negotiate better pricing and more flexible terms from vendors than most customers would obtain without ITP’s involvement. Better pricing will be achieved because of ITP’s experience negotiating vendor neutral deals and our competitive knowledge of industry pricing. ITP could gather other quotes for similar services for negotiation. You also get the buying power advantage of ITP’s overall spend from all our customers through any negotiations we manage. If you have $1M in annual Telecom spend, you can add tens of millions to that number and we are now talking economy of scale. Often time, after implementation, vendors know that changing vendors is expensive and resource intensive. There is no guarantee that pricing will go down after the initial term. As an example, pricing for this service could potentially increase year over year. It’s critical to get the most aggressive pricing from the start that you can, as any rate increases are typically percentage based. Overtime those small percentages add up, starting as the lower number means smaller hits. 
  8. Long-term Personal Relationships within Vendors – ITP has a long-term professional relationship spanning decades in some cases. We cultivate relationships from the sales rep to the executive levels to better support our clients who may not have those long-term relationships to lean on when needed when it comes to negotiations or escalations. 

In summary, ITP’s value-added services will augment your product acquisition and significantly contribute to your overall business success throughout the product lifecycle. 

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International Tech Partner (ITP) is a Veteran owned company founded in 2015 by individuals with experience throughout the entire life-cycle of a project. ITP was started from the ground up out of a belief that there is a better way to get business done. Planning, Design, Procurement, Implementation, and Maintenance are all piece of an overall project, and ITP is the single source to take you from brainstorming to a final product.