Independent agents are actually better suited to meet their customers’ needs than even the largest, most agile carrier direct teams.
Three reasons why independent agents have the consultative advantage:
Nearly 70% of service provider and carrier-direct customers aren’t pleased with their overall account team experience. Unfortunately, things like price, technology, business benefits, new and emerging services, and cost savings are outdistanced by their overall dissatisfaction with the actions or inaction of their account teams.
The biggest complaint customers seem to have centers on their sales representatives, who for some reason are not meeting expectations. This isn’t to say that it’s the direct sales reps fault. Many are doing their best to keep up with technology trends, competitive pricing, meeting quotas and exploring more strategic solutions for customers who want immediate results. However, many are siloed by the products and services their company offers. Even larger providers and carriers have separate sales teams for different products – making cross-functional selling cumbersome and in some cases ineffective.
That said, the fact that direct reps are not meeting their customers’ needs gives indirect agents (aka channel agents) the upper hand when offering their customers more solutions and better options. There are indisputable benefits to choosing a smaller, more nimble business partner than a large corporation. Agents offer organizations a broad range of services that, quite frankly, they’ll never get from a direct rep. Things like, a single point-of-contact with access to hundreds of diverse technology companies, a back-office team that is a dedicated extension of an IT department (and is some cases is the IT department), an objective and unbiased approach that is solution-based and customized around the client’s needs (not a product or service), stability in dealing with the same people for years, and a relationship that are not burdened by a monthly quota.
While direct provider and carrier teams have big names behind them, they also have a management hierarchy to answer to and big quotas to hit. Behind every dissatisfied customer is a disgruntled carrier account team. Having been in the industry for over 25 years I’ve seen the average direct sales rep last between 8-18 months and that the churn rate for these individuals is running as high as 60%. This level of turnover can lead to direct reps that aren’t experienced with the processes and products, and the added pressure to meet large quotas or lose their job.
The level of churn is disturbing and should serve as a wake-up call for customers looking for an experienced and stable account team that is interactive, and that engineer’s solutions that actually solve business challenges by using the right suppliers and technology. Ultimately, it is very difficult for a customer to have a loyal, productive relationship with a direct account team that has that much transience and volatility.
Here’s a typical example of what to expect when working with a direct sales rep.: a customer signs a 36-month contract and based on a lifespan of 18 months, a customer can expect that they’ll be assigned a new account team halfway through their contract. You should also consider that there’s a learning curve, a change in consistency, and possibly a change in accountability. What are the chances that you’ll want to renew with the provider or carrier that turns over its direct sales rep. every 18 months?
There is a better way. If we contrast direct sales with an indirect agent you’ll experience greater account representation and stability no matter how many changes the carrier’s account team is going through. To illustrate this point, the average independent agent keeps a customer under contract with a provider or carrier between 7 to 11 years. In fact, it’s not uncommon for indirect agents to work with their customers for 20 years. On the direct side, numbers like that are unheard of.
Independent agents eliminate the inconvenience customers face with the short life span of direct sales teams by offering customers a long-lasting relationship. An agent who maintains the customer contract for an average 7-11 years is able to learn and respond to the business and technology needs of his or her customer far better than a direct sales rep who will likely be gone in a year and a half. The independent agent’s true value is as a reliable partner who will be around through thick and thin, longer and more engaged than the average post-sale out-of-sight, out-of-mind, quota-hunting direct sales representative.
The Big Difference
Of course, there is more to keeping customers happy than just being there when needed. Businesses need a trusted advisor who can use industry intelligence to explain and demonstrate new and emerging services, alternative computing approaches, savings opportunities and ways a customer can grow their market share.
Set aside the short life span of direct sales reps for a minute and consider this: these reps typically only sell services that their employer offers, and very little else. Indirect agents, on the other hand, can educate and offer a broad spectrum of services through partnerships that providers and carriers don’t offer themselves. Another big difference? There are carriers and providers that only offer their service through an indirect channel. Services like managed and professional offerings, low voltage resources, hardware and software, app development and so forth.
Plus, consider other non-communication services customers need:
Telecom inventory and audit services
Expense management offerings
Specialized consulting services
Content delivery options
Caching and web accelerations services
Mobile device management solutions
Call center management offerings
Business Intelligence and predictive analytics
Wearable technology ...
In an industry where the list of telecom and technology offerings available continues to expand, businesses need more than just a fixed menu of commodity services. With access to a broad range of providers and services, an independent agent has the ability to offer far more choices than a direct representative can.
Words to the Wisdom
With the number one complaint of business customers being dissatisfied with their direct carrier sales teams, more and more companies are moving toward independent agents. Agents who compete against carrier direct “short-timers” offer a greater life span advantage and a vast portfolio of options typically not possible by working with a single direct sales rep. Key benefits of working with an independent agent are a longer life span, relationships developed around your business, a trusted and objective adviser, an industry-insider with deep experience and a full-service IT life-cycle provider.
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