Telecom Brokerage Morphs From Master Agent To Distributor, Looks To Partner With VARs

Telecom Brokerage, Inc., is ditching its master agent title and rebranding itself as a telecom service distributor in an effort to increase its presence in the VAR channel.

The Chicago-based company is looking to break new ground by partnering with VARs in the channel that haven't traditionally worked with telecom services, said Ken Mercer, vice president of TBI.

"We're a distributor of telecom services, not a master agent," he said. "We're in the process of changing all of our language and terminology from master agent to distributor."

Mercer said he "hates" the term "master agent" and that the company feels the term "distributor" better describes TBI's business and is more familiar to solution providers coming from the VAR channel as opposed to voice and data service agents.

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"The telco carriers keep telling us to chase VARs," he said. "They're very interested in the channel."

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"With our 140 employees, half of them are dedicated to 2,000-plus independent sales agents that sell business-to-business. Those partners do phone systems, software, auditing, etc., and they come to us because we're a one-stop-shop with 70 vendors on our line card," said Mercer. "[At TBI we] care about quoting, contracting and paying quickly and accurately."

Today, cloud and virtualization is continuously bringing change to the telecom industry, said Mercer.

"In the past, the big cloud providers didn't treat telecom providers well, they made it difficult to get into the market ... The carriers are expanding their cloud portfolio and telecom agents are embracing those faster then the VARs," he said

VARs are currently making the shift toward telecom services but having some difficulty, Mercer said.

"We are seeing more and more getting into the field, but there are some things they have a hard time grasping," said Mercer. "The hurdles are billing services to keep margins. VARs like to get paid upfront, and they are not used to [our] model.

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VARs also don't want to get blamed for telecom service failures, and as a network service provider, VARs can direct the problems to TBI, said Mercer.

"There is one true constant that there will always be problems [where] phone services or Internet [services] go down, and if somebody is selling a million-dollar piece of hardware or software and we're offering to give them a $2,000-per-month circuit to connect, they don’t want their reputation tarnished by service outages," said Mercer.

TBI's current roadmap for 2014 includes focusing on marketing to recruit VARs and educating them, said Mercer. in February, the distributor hired David Powers as it's new vice president of marketing. Powers previously launched the marketing effort at enterprise cloud communications service provider Thinking Phone Networks. Prior to that was the vice president of communications for virtual PBX provider Grasshopper.

"We are trying to show that [selling telecom services is] not that hard. We're trying to explain the products they are selling, how to add more value, and to build more competencies to their businesses," said Mercer. "Marketing is a huge piece of that. We never had [a VP of marketing] before, or a marketing strategy and we're looking for David's guidance."

For the future, TBI will continue to focus on bringing new technology partners on board, said Mercer.

"We are looking to add more vendors; there are a lot of new hosted phone providers, virtual servers providers, and single-site data locations to bring on board," said Mercer. "We want to get more options for our VARs."