TBI Channel Exec On Growth Goals, Recruiting New Partners, And The Critical Role Of The Telecom Agent

A New Leaf

Master agent Telecom Brokerage Inc. in February brought on Vanessa Byrd as a national channel manager.

Byrd is no stranger to the master agent scene. She joins the Chicago-based company's management team after working for Telarus for the past five years as the master agent's partner relationship manager and regional vice president. She has seen the telecommunications industry evolve first-hand, and is eager to help more partners boost their recurring revenue streams.

Byrd sat down with CRN and shared her plans to grow TBI's Mid-Atlantic presence, to evangelize about the importance of education surrounding new technologies, and to recruit more agent, VAR and MSP partners. Here's what she had to say.

What is your new role with TBI?

TBI hired me as a national channel manager, so I can recruit partners anywhere in the country. But TBI is looking to have someone focused on the D.C./Baltimore/Richmond, Mid-Atlantic area to grow that base. I'm based just south of D.C. in Virginia.

I'm really the eyes and ears, and it's my job is to assess what is going on in this particular geography and communicate that back to the company. I think that is the role first and foremost, but then the other role is to add specific partnerships, like more agents, VARs and MSPs that have [customers] with a need for telecom services. The [partners'] job is to strategize with decision-makers within an organization to find ways to grow their business and talk about some of their long-term plans and goals. I kind of look at it as matchmaking. We talk to these partners and share what we have in our arsenal of carriers that would match back to some of their relationships to help grow that piece of the business. We are here to help grow partners' residual income stream.

What is TBI offering that that's unique compared to its competition?

One of the main differences that drew me to them was that in the last couple of years, TBI has really grown its individual support teams. They have a specific team just to handle Verizon, and a team for CenturyLink, etc. It also has a few different network engineers, so when we are identifying opportunities and looking at VARs or MSPs that might not have a telecom arm or someone doing telecom within the organization, TBI is a great company to partner with because they have all these different employees in place to take an opportunity and run with it. TBI is able to dig a lot deeper with partners.

I think that brings us back to my role. I'm the communicator between what is going on in the field or a region and then I communicate that internally, and we dig through the opportunity and find multiple solutions. [TBI] has fully baked and developed support teams, and it translates back into the field in terms of taking an opportunity from a VAR and being able to see a quote or proposal from end to end. I think it’s a more complete approach.

What are your initial goals as national channel manager?

It definitely [starts with] growing the TBI brand in the Mid-Atlantic region. [TBI] has never had anyone in the D.C. Metro area, and they were very interested in finding strategic partnerships with agents, VARs and MSPs that would really appreciate the TBI value proposition.

The other thing TBI has done is they have built TBI University. It’s a carrier-agnostic university that partners can go to if they want to learn about a particular service -- [like] SD-WAN or virtualization. My goal is to evangelize that resource.

What kinds of resources does TBI University offer partners?

[Partners] can watch a video of TBI breaking down an idea and some of the suppliers we work with, and can see how that solution fits. TBI also has dedicated staff running TBI University, so partners can work with someone who will really walk them through the solution through agnostic training. A lot of the resources can be viewed by partners online, and TBI also has regional boot camps for [partners].

TBI gives a lot of help and support to any new partner that wants to sign with us, especially during that first six months. TBI University staff makes sure [partners] understand the tools and processes, and holds their hands to help them get comfortable working with TBI and the various suppliers we work with. This is a huge resource for anyone that wants to work with TBI, and to their credit, they have invested back into their partner base by hiring employees that are specifically dedicated to on-boarding and education.

How does TBI help partners deliver a more complete solution, instead of fulfilling a quote?

I think it's easy to get off track, or to just focus on one product. Right now, SD-WAN is the flavor of 2017 and everyone is adding an SD-WAN solution. Connectivity is almost always the initial opportunity, but I think that because of the support that TBI has in place, when a partner has an opportunity, we can take it a step further and then layer on a few different things within that opportunity. So maybe it will start with connectivity, but then uncovering a need for voice or adding SD-WAN or managed services.

TBI's focus is very broad and the way they approach working with VARs, MSPs and agents is about giving a complete solution instead of just saying, 'Here's one SD-WAN opportunity.' I think in our industry, it's [the master agent's] job to dive in there with the partner and get a bird's eye overview of what is the organization trying to accomplish. We can see the immediate goal, but also the long-term goal. I would say that TBI offers many [different kinds of] solutions, but we also want to provide an overall solution that will extend into the future. It's not about just farming out a quote.

How are master agents helping telecom agents break into new services?

That's a conversation that the industry has been having for the last few years. With all the recent mergers we're seeing, like the Charter/Time Warner Cable merger, connectivity prices have dropped. While that's great for customers, the [telecom agents] selling connectivity are also seeing their commissions dipping, too, because they're selling a commoditized item. A master agency like ourselves is really able to take those partners and give them the confidence to go out there into that customer base that they've sold circuits to for years and sell all these additional services. When you have TBI University, you have someone that will take you step by step through new services.

We are all creatures of habit, and it's really hard to break out of that shell and do something new. Adaptation is the key to success, and with our homegrown university, we have resources to help [partners] who have been very traditional agents gain confidence in selling things like SD-WAN. If these partners sign with us, we can walk them through it and get them up and running.

As the telecommunications market evolves away from selling only connectivity, how important is the role of the telecom agent in the channel today?

I still believe in the telecom agent model. I think a lot of times it’s the agents that are running out there and bringing in the larger deals. I've worked with many of these partners and the relationships they have with clients is what helps make them successful. This is a relationship business and agents are really good at maintaining relationships for 15-plus years. That history says a lot because they understand where their business customers started from and have a knowledge of their legacy products and services, so they can help them evolve. Any time you understand history, it helps you understand what is going happen in the future.

What are your long-term goals for your new role?

I would like to see the partners I'm working with be a well-rounded group -- it would be nice to have a third [of the group of partners] be VARs, one-third be telecom agents, and one-third be MSP partners. Right now, I'm somewhat starting from scratch. There are partnerships that haven't been touched in a while, so it's my goal to go back into those partnerships and reactivate them. It would be great to have 50 to 100 producing partners [in the Mid-Atlantic region] by the end of this year.