Agents Voice Complaints To Carriers

One such complaint is the cyclical nature of carriers' interest in the channel. "You see carriers go through cycles where there is a lot of interest in the channel, and then the program loses momentum," said Rick Dellar, co-founder of master agent Intelisys, Englewood, Colo.

Overall, the agents believe smaller carriers are more loyal to and supportive of the channel. Smaller carriers also do a better job of insulating agents from channel conflict, the agents said.

Across the board, both agent and carrier executives agreed that rules of engagement need to be set up prior to signing an agreement to avoid confusion and conflict between the agents' and carriers' sales forces down the road.

Ruth Mosca, director of indirect sales for MCI, Ashburn, Va., said carriers in general are relying more on the channel, so the cycle is on an upswing and will continue on that track.

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"We have a need as a group for feet on the street," said Mosca. "We have a huge void to fill."

Mosca also said the industry is seeing more and more integration of the direct and indirect sales forces. "In large global accounts you might not see it, but on the lower end of business there is less and less conflict between channels."

Agents gave several examples of having to "babysit" their accounts, since direct-sales forces call on them despite the agent already being in the account.

"It's unacceptable to come in and sell to an account we're already in, but it's happening," said Paul Silicato, co-founder of master agent Global Systems Telecom, Coconut Creek, Fla.

Randall Muench, manager of wholesale sales force, alternate channels, technical consulting and training at O'Fallon, Mo.-based carrier Xspedius Communications, argued that his company pays agents commissions for an account even if a customer calls them directly. "We had a large customer place an order with us, but we still paid the agent because it was his account."

Kenneth Hilton, CEO of carrier Acceris Communications, San Diego, said agents will play a major role for all carriers since it is very expensive to penetrate the midmarket directly vs. through partners.

Once the carrier opts to engage an agent, the contract negotiations, and in turn the legal process involved, have historically been a nightmare, the agents said.

"We shouldn't have to spend $10,000 every time we negotiate a new contract," said Ted Schuman, founder of master agent PlanetOne Communications, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Intelysis' Dellar said his company used to spend about $3,000 per year to clean up carrier contracts. Now it spends six figures on attorneys to negotiate the contracts.

Agents also want to see carriers start to include them as part of their advertising campaigns and to allocate marketing funds to them.

"Other vendors do it. Why don't we see 'contact your local agent' in your advertising?" said Silicato.

Muench said marketing funds are being spent on agents, but it is determined on an agent-by-agent basis.

"We would not get a return if we just offered blanketed co-op funds to everyone," said Muench. "The agent has to produce a good return for carriers to be willing to spend money on them."