More Than A Master Agent: PlanetOne Aims To Bring Partners Along With Its Cloud Success

In 2016, PlanetOne stood out as a different kind of master agent. "Fifty percent of our sales were cloud, and the rest were network. That's never happened before," said CEO Ted Schuman.

Schuman, during his keynote at PlanetOne's Tech Tour in Mashantucket, Conn. on Wednesday, said the convergence of IT is driving customer buying habits, and partners are learning to speak the new language of cloud by selling more services and fewer products.

[Related: PlanetOne's Kristen Cunningham On Partner Recruitment And Telecom Opportunities Beyond Connectivity]

"These [revenue] numbers didn't happen by accident. Partners made it happen," Schuman said, noting that solution providers are having "application-level" discussions with customers.

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OneConnect, Inc., a solution provider and PlanetOne partner based in Clifton Park, N.Y. is right there alongside PlanetOne. About half of its revenues come from cloud products, including hosted voice, said Molly Sawyer, vice president of business development for OneConnect.

"If I never have to sell another telecom circuit in my life, I'd be happy. It's much more interesting and there's more margin in [selling cloud]," she said. "But selling telecom is a really good basis for selling cloud."

Especially solutions like hosted voice, which is a native offering to any telecom agent partner since it's an evolution of legacy telecom infrastructure, Sawyer said.

"At this point, I can't think of why any partner wouldn’t procure a phone system as opposed to a hosted system," Sawyer said. "There's no reason to do anything on premise[s]."

The convergence between telecom and IT is also letting partners become the trusted, agnostic consultant to the end customer that partners have been striving to become for years, Schuman said.

"Today, you can't go into a CIO and pitch product. You have to figure out what they are using technology for in their business," Schuman said. "For that telecom agent, that used to pitch products, to go in and talk to customers about their technology at the application-level is what is creating the wins and where we see the most success."

But networking revenues were no slouch last year. In 2016, PlanetOne also sold more networking than it ever had before. The difference was that partners started selling a complete solution that packaged voice, connectivity, cloud, Schuman said.

PlanetOne has always had a self-proclaimed cloud-first approach. This focus, coupled with the company's boutique-like engagement model with partners has helped solution providers go from "quote shops" to trusted advisors, Schuman said.

While some master agents focused on traditional telecom and cable products, PlanetOne made the pivot to cloud early, a factor that Schuman attributes to the success that his company is seeing in the cloud space today.

When OneConnect made the pivot to selling cloud solutions about three years ago, the company turned to PlanetOne for help because the master agent was early to the market with education, resources, and awareness around cloud opportunities for partners, Sawyer said.

"That really gave us a good foundation for building a cloud business," Sawyer said. "PlanetOne continues to boil things down for us and helps us figure out [which cloud providers] to work with."

Through its boutique engagement model, PlanetOne tailors engagements between its suppliers and its sales partners differently, depending on whether it collaborates with a traditional telecom agent partner or MSP. Defining what that collaboration looks like between vendors and the particular partner is important because the solution set and conversation will be different. It's that engagement, Schuman said, that is ultimately going to drive wins.

"MSPs are already billing the customer. A telecom agent isn't – and they are consulting on their customer's network. They have not had a voice at the table until very recently about other technologies within their customer's business, and that's is what we are teaching," he said.

To land more cloud sales and have more solution-focused conversations with customers, PlanetOne has been helping partners change their messaging so that their end customers know they can reach out to their partners for help with newer solutions beyond connectivity, like AWS and professional services.

For some partners, this has meant re-evaluating content on their website, or even rebranding and changing their logo or name.

"We've helped turn around partners who have never sold a solution that are now almost exclusively selling solutions," he said. "This is a fundamental shift in their business, so when you see partners put in the effort in to change how they are seen in the eyes of their clients and start to build a funnel and close deals, is invigorating."