Sunday, February 27, 2011

How can a snow storm grow your telecom business???

I hope the title of today's blog is making you scratch your head and say to yourself "What in the world is she talking about?"  Well I have a little story to tell. 

About six weeks ago Atlanta got hit with a snow storm.  For days local meteorologist were telling us it was coming and it would be big.  Normally I laugh at these reports because I remember the year they told us a horrible ice storm was coming.  Every school district and many business closed down to get prepared for this big storm.  PS - no ice, no storm, it turned out to be a sunny day.  So as many were buying snow shovels and sleds, companies were trying to figure out their "game plan" for the coming storm I was scheduling meetings.  Really the ONLY preparation my company did to get ready for the storm was have all of our employees take their VoIP phones home. 

Well I am sure you all remember the storm came and it was real.  Atlanta shut down for almost 5 days.  It wasn't the snow that paralyzed the city, it was the ice.  The DOT told people to only leave their homes if it was absolutely necessary.  Coming into work at MicroCorp was not absolutely necessary.  The good thing was everyone had their VoIP phones.  The first day I had everyone put  an 'Out of Office" messages on their Outlook letting our Agents know we were working but not in the office.   As a Master Agent it is imperative we support all our Agents needs.   Because of our VoIP phones our Agents and Carriers could call us as they normally would.   We did not miss an order.  We did not miss a quote request. We did not miss a conference call.  Even though we were all housebound due to this big storm our business was not affected in any way.  Not many business can say that. 

So how can a snowstorm grow your telecom business?????????  Ask your customers how their businesses were affected by the many snowstorms that plagued us over the past 3 months?  If any of them lost business because their customer's could not call them or if any of them missed orders or if any of them were less efficient because people could not communicate - you need to start talking to them about VoIP and hosted solutions. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Importance of the First Impression

As my company MicroCorp grows so does our need for business services. As many do, I turned to the internet for some information and found the two leading companies for the service I needed.  Company A is a company I am currently doing some business with for other services and Company B is a company I did business with several years ago and had a horrible experience.  So as you can guess, at this point Company A is the group that will most likely win the business.  But to do due diligence, I have to meet with at least two companies. 
I called both companies and set up appointments to meet with them on the following Tuesday. Company B was coming to our office at 10 am and Company A was coming at 2 pm.  Within two hours of my initial call, I had an introduction letter from the woman I was going to be meeting with from Company B. (I’ll call her Beth to keep this easy.)  The email thanked me for contacting her company, confirmed our meeting day and time, gave me all her contact information and had a link for more information about her company.  No contact from Company A.
On Monday I received a call and another email from Beth reconfirming our appointment and my address.  She also sent an agenda for our meeting and asked if there were any specific topics I would want to discuss so she could be prepared.  Once again, nothing from Company A, the company who in my mind was the company of choice. 
Tuesday came and a very punctual Beth arrived at my office.  She was very friendly and complimented me on something from our website.  Nice touch, she did some research on my company.  Once the pleasantries were out of the way I did mention I had worked with her company in the past and did not have a good experience.  She looked me directly in the eyes, apologized for past mistakes of her company, told me about several initiatives her company has made in the past few years and told me my business was important to her.  During our hour long meeting Beth let me do most of the talking.  She asked me good questions, reconfirmed important points and discussed my company’s pain points and how her company would be able to eliminate all of them.  She even had a few good suggestions about other areas of my business.   When she walked out the door much to my surprise I was sold on Company B. 
The moral of this story, the first impression really is important.  Company A had the business in my eyes but by the time they walked in the door at 2:05, yes they were late, the mountain was too high for them to climb.  Beth at Company B had made an excellent first impression.  Each touch moved her and her company from last to first: the intro email, confirming our appointment, researching my website, not dismissing my previous experience, having an agenda, active listening.  All these things showed me she wanted my business. 
The Telecom industry is very competitive.  As Agents not only do we compete with each other, but we also compete with the Carrier’s Direct Team, VAR’s and Fee-based Consultants.  How we separate ourselves is with the details.  A great first impression can be the game changer.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Retention Part III

Sorry for my long delay in writting.  Traveling really puts a kink in ones schedule. 

So back to Retention.  Who would think there are so many things to consider with trying to maintain the base you already have? But that is EXACTLY the problem most Agents have is understanding and managing the complexity of retention.  You have to consider the Carrier's policies, you have to develope a tracking system if you don't have access to a system like Nautilus and you have to have a pro-active way to interact with your customers to maximize your efforts. And that is what I want to talk about today - the Yearly Review.

At MicroCorp because we are Master Agent who works with a wide range Agents, we have found the most successful Agents do a yearly reviews with their customers.  Seriously if you are not doing this already - shame on you!  Yearly reviews are essential for many reasons.

*  First and foremost you have to keep the relationship with your customer.  Out of sight out of mind is a basic sales stragety you need to live by.  If you are out of the customer's sigtht, they forget about you and have no loyality to you.

* Secondly the yearly review helps you understand your customer's needs so you can help them maximize their annual spend.  If you are saving your customers money or helping them get the most bang for their buck, you are more valuable to them.  Just showing up every year to say "What can I sell you"  does not breed much loyality.

* Thirdly UPSELL, UPSELL, UPSELL. How can you upsell a customer if you don't know what they have, what they need now and what they will be needing in 6 months to a year?  Do they have or need a disaster recovery?  Every customer needs some sort of fail over if their network or phone lines go down. How about wireless?  Most companies cover the cost of management cellular service, some offer their employees a "company plan." Conference Calling- the hidden jewel.  It still amazes me how many Agents walk away from conference calling because they think it is too complicated.  I  will save my thoughts about conference calling for a future blog.........  It is that important.

* FOURTHLY the yearly review is the perfect time to discuss retention!!!! This helps eliminate the ackward call from you to your cusotmer to discuss retention if you already have a set schedule to meet yearly.

* Lastly, this meeting needs to have an pre-established agenda that is exactly the same with every customer to ensure you are leaving no stone unturned.  The agenda should go something like this:
  1. Review current bills for usage
  2. Have they experiened any challenges or pain points over the past year. 
    1. Bandwidth needs okay
    2. Security
    3. Network Monitory
    4. Growth or consolidation of offices
  3. Ask what are they  doing for disaster recovery, confernce calling, wireless, co-location and hosting.
  4. Ask what other groups are using services like conference calling that many not be under this persons control.
  5. Discuss their goals for the coming year.
As you can see, the Annual Review is great way to keep engaged with your customer and a part of every companies Retention Plan.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Retention - Part II

Retention is a VITAL part of your business. Bringing in $100K of sales each year just to see $100K of churn go out the backdoor means you are just standing still.  Actually with payroll increasing, rent increasing and insurance cost increasing if you making the same amount as last year, you are technically losing money!  This is one of the biggest reasons retention is so important to your business.

In my last blog I discussed the first step of setting up a Retention Program for your company.  The first step is: Know your Carrier's Policies.  Step 2  is the cumbersome part, you need to find out exactly when all your customers are coming up for renewal. Believe it or not, this may not be as easy as you think.  Once again, every carrier has their own policy on when the clock starts ticking for the contract termination.  ACC starts the clock within a few days of a circuit being installed, other carriers wait till the circuit is turned up.  Example: a circuit gets installed on 9/1/2010 under a 2 year term, is turned up on 11/1/2010.  If the circuit is on ACC the contract term date will be 8/2012.  On another carrier the contract term date will be 10/2012.  Knowing the carriers policy is important.

Okay so now you know the policy on how each Carrier views the start of the customer contract.  The obvious next part is the tedious task of going through all your existing customers to find out their exact contract termination date.  For MicroCorp Agents this is not difficult because we actually have that information easily accessible in our Nautilus portal.  Carriers like Qwest list contract termination dates on every commission check.  Unfortunately most carriers don't have the information readily available.  You will probably have to reach out to all your carriers with a list of accounts so they can get you want you need.  I know this will be a huge pain but really has to be done.  Going forward with your customers you will hopefully have a process but for your older customers, you have to get the information. 

Once you have all the information, you will need a way to easily access it.  This can be very basic as using a tickler system or Outlook or it can be more intricate by using spreadsheets or an asp package like If you use a Master Agent, they may have a program or process you can use to assist with this.  

Here is an example of a "Tickler" system; it is basic, inexpensive and easy.  Get 5 stand up according file folders that are divided by months.  Label the first one 2011, the next one 2012 and so one.  Then go through your customers and place a piece of paper in each file folder based on the month and year the customer's terms expires, EXCEPT - put the paper in the slot of 6 MONTHS EARLIER.  A contract that expires in Sept. 2012 would actually go in the Mar. 2012 slot.  A contract that expires in Feb 2013 would be found in the Aug. 2012 slot.  Make sense????  On the piece of paper have the customer's name, product, revenue and the exact date the contract expires.  That way on March 1, 2012 when you pull out 10 - 12 pieces of paper, you can prioritize the customers.

So what are you using to keep up with contract reterms?  Is it working the way you would like it to work? Is it easy to manage? Most importantly - Are you using it????

Friday, October 29, 2010

From a Master Agent's Perspective: Comfort Zone Downfall

From a Master Agent's Perspective: Comfort Zone Downfall: "Because MicroCorp is a Master Agency, we support a large Agents base. Every now and again we will see an order come across our desk for a co..."

From a Master Agent's Perspective: Retention 101, part I

From a Master Agent's Perspective: Retention 101, part I: "Everyone seems to have their own system for Retention. Some people use spreadsheets or Outlook and others just wing it. But in today's eco..."

Retention 101, part I

Everyone seems to have their own system for Retention.  Some people use spreadsheets or Outlook and others just wing it.  But in today's economy winging is definitely a bad business decision and even relying on a spreadsheet can be pretty risky.  At MicroCorp, because we are a Master Agency that supports Agents nationwide, we have spent a lot of time developing tools and systems to help not only our Agent Partners but also our Retention Team manage all of the nuances of Retention. Because retention has so many parts, I am going to break down retention into several steps in my next few blogs.

To start it is important to know what the Carrier's policy is for retention.  Some Carriers like New Edge Network have contracts that auto-renew.  So unless your customer sends a cancellation letter in advance, their contract will renew for a year at the same rates. Paetec has a team who call out to existing Agent accounts reterming them for the Agents.  That is a real win/win for both Paetec and the Agent.

At the total opposite end Carriers like CenturyLink stop paying commissions to Agent on accounts that fall out of contract.  There are even a few carriers who will renew your customers on their own making the customer's "direct" house accounts leaving the Agent high and dry.  So to protect your business you really have to know exactly what the Carriers rules are on retention.

What to look for in a Carriers Retention Program:
* How early can an Agent reterm a customer?
* What is the Carrier's policy on auto-renewing?
* What happens to an Agent's commissions if the customer goes month to month?
* Are there any potential risks if a customer does not reterm,  like do pricing promo's fall off increasing a customer's rate.
* Does the Carrier have a program to renew a customer on their own, cutting the Agent out of the relationship.

So do you know what all your Carrier's policies are for Retention?