For the Win: How to Compete with Carriers’ Direct Sales Teams

“How can I compete with a carrier direct sales team?”

That’s the question I often hear from agents looking to gain an advantage over their competition. What they mean is, “How can I compete with a team that has an arsenal of marketing resources, training support, and sales material at their disposal, backed by a huge corporation?” To our independent agents this is a feat that is intimidating at best and discouraging at worst.

The good news is, despite popular belief, independent agents are actually better suited to meet their customers’ needs than even the largest, most agile carrier direct teams.

Competing with Direct Sales Teams

Here are three reasons why independent agents have the consultative advantage:

Disgruntled Customers
When I get the opportunity to speak with carrier direct customers, it’s often not a happy conversation. Unfortunately talk of price, technology, business benefits, new and advancing services, and cost savings are drowned out by overall dissatisfaction with the actions or inactions of their carrier account teams.

I can’t go a week without hearing several complaints from a customer about their carrier representatives, who for some reason are not meeting expectations. Let me be clear: often times, it’s not the reps’ fault. They are in the same boat as us all, trying to keep up with technology trends, matching prices, and exploring more strategic solutions for customers who want results now.

That being said, the fact that direct reps are not meeting their customers’ needs gives independent agents the upper hand when offering their solutions. There are indisputable benefits to choosing a smaller business over a large corporation. Agents should evangelize the things they bring to the table that a direct carrier does not. Responsiveness, personal relationships, and stellar support should be at the top of that list.

 
The Life Span Factor
While direct carrier teams have big names behind them, they also have big bosses to answer to and big quotas to meet. Behind every disgruntled customer is a disgruntled carrier account team. Examine the numbers: I am told the average carrier direct sales person has a life span of only 8-18 months and that the churn rate for these individuals is running as high as 60%.

That is truly alarming and should serve as a very loud wake-up call for agents seeking to win lucrative and long-term contracts from these dissatisfied business customers. I find it very difficult to believe that a customer can have a loyal, productive relationship with an account team that has that much transience and volatility.

To speculate: a direct customer signs a 36-month contract and per our numbers in 18 months they’ll be assigned a new account team. Now there’s a learning curve, a change in consistency, and possibly a change in accountability. What are the chances this customer will renew his contract with the carrier when he will likely be getting a new account team every 18 months? In contrast, on the indirect side an agent is able to provide stability and security to a customer no matter how many changes the carrier’s account team is going through. To prove the point, the average independent agent keeps a customer under contract with a carrier between 7-11 years. In fact, at TBI, we have agents who have maintained contracts for 20 years. On the carrier direct side, numbers like that are unheard of.

Independent agents can take advantage of the short life span of carrier direct sales teams by building lasting relationships with their business customers. 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 customer far better than a carrier 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 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 pitch new and emerging services, alternative computing approaches, savings opportunities and ways to grow their market share.

Set aside the fleeting life span of direct sales carrier folks for a minute and consider this reality: these reps typically only sell services that their employer offers, and very little else. Independent agents on the other hand, can educate and sell a broad spectrum of services through partnerships that carriers don’t offer themselves.

Plus, consider the non-communication services business customers are looking for:

  • Cloud computing
  • 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

In an industry where the list of telecom and technology offerings lengthens quickly, businesses need more than just a fixed menu of staple items. With access to a broad range of providers and services, the independent agent has the ability to offer far more choices than a carrier representative can.

 
Words to the Wise Agent
With the number one complaint of business customers being dissatisfied with their direct carrier sales teams, the time to strike for independent agents has arrived. Agents who sell against these carrier direct “short-timers” need to emphasize their life span advantage and highlight the clear differences and benefits that only they provide. Lead with phrases such as long life span, relationships, track record, trusted advisor, and full-service provider.

Remember, the carrier direct representative may be a fierce competitor, but the independent agent values the long-term relationship with their client.

To learn more about how TBI can help you become the trusted advisor your customers are looking for, email me at kmercer@tbicom.com.

 
About the Author
As Vice President at TBI, Ken Mercer oversees all sales and operations within the organization. Ken is also active in leveraging his extensive network services expertise to consult with TBI channel agents on large enterprise opportunities and serves on the advisory boards for many of TBI’s service providers. You can contact Ken at kmercer@tbicom.com or connect with him on LinkedIn.