How to Choose Your Dream Team: Advisor(s) & Engineer(s) first (usually) and then Agency and/or Provider
Advisor First – Choose your ICT “Dream Team” the same way as you’d populate the membership of any team. Start by picking one or two advisors to be your team captain & co-captain. Captains help establish an overall problem resolution “strategy”. Even if your problem seems simple, you still want a strategist to ensure the “big picture” is always kept in view so you don’t get lost in the woods. If you prefer, you can choose your engineers first but the engineers will require that you are working with an advisor that is contracted with the the company the engineer is emplyed by.
Engineer Second – Next pick one or two engineers who will run the problem description through one or more problem questionnaires to understand the ecosystem that the problem resides within. Once the problem questionaires are complete, the engineers will consult with their fellow engineers on one or more prospective solution paths by putting together solution components from one or more solution vendors. Once the engineer completes his or her peer reviews they’ll present you and the advisor with the recommended options. Your IT team should be involved with the engineers for at least the outset of the discover process and so that the engineers know what resources your IT team commands in-house that you’d want to keep in-house.
Generally your advisor and/or engineer selection will drive your choice of agency & provider. Hopefully your advisor and engineer picks will work with and for a specific agency or provider. Engineers are almost always W2 employees who only work for a single employer where advisors are almost always 1099 indupendent consultants who work with multiple companies.
Agencies vs. Providers
A “master agency”, also known as a technology services distibutor/TSD or technology services broker/TSB (they honestly can not agree which is best), works as a broker to distribute to advisors both solution information and contract access to hundreds of different ICT providers. Agencies act as “the bank” for advisors so advisors can contract with and get paid commission from just one (or more) agencies instead of having to contract with hundreds of providers and then try to track commissions from hundreds of providers. At the present time, agencies do not provide consolidated billing services to end-users for all the providers they represent. End-users can contract for all providers through a single agency but all the providers will still invoice the end-user seperately.
A “provider” is the business that contracts with an end-user to provide a specific ICT managed service solution for which the provider remits a monthly invoice and follows up with customer service when needed by the end user. You know you’re dealing with a provider when their name & logo is on both the contract signed and the invoice paid. Providers sell to end-users through a “direct” sales channel when they have their own in-house salesperson. Providers also sell to end-users using contract “advisors” through a “channel sales partner” program. Provider that sell to end-users through a channel program generally contract first with an agency so as to avoid the hassle of contracting directly with thousands of indivdual advisors. After the end-user pays the provider’s monthly invoice, the provider pays the agency a commission that’s between 5% and 25% of the customer’s invoice. The agency generally keeps 30% of the commission from the provider and remits 70% to the advisor.
Aggregators & “TEM” Providers – One Invoice & One Customer Service Contact
Until the 1990’s, most businesses had only one telecom provider, AT&T or “Ma Bell”. Businesses loved the single invoice and single point of contact but hated the high prices and lousy customer service. After deregulation hit, businesses loved the low prices & solution variety but hated multiple invoices and multiple vendors all blaming the other vendors for a problem that couldn’t be solved.
Today’s aggregator providers specialize in providing the best variety of ICT solutions all billed on a single invoice and serviced by a single customer service team. End-users that do not have hyper specific technical ICT requirements and are fine with “whatever’s best” love buying through aggregator providers so they do not have to employ so many ICT experts within their own IT departments. Aggregators do absorb higher costs to provide higher service to their end-users however which generally mean aggregator retail prices are rarely the low cost “loss leader” prices super-aggressive boutique providers advertise.
TEM or “telecom expense management” providers are basically billing aggregation businesses who act as an ICT invoice accounting department. They specialize in reviewing each invoice, matching it to the original agreement to find errors and ensure the current billed rate is still competitive to the current market rates. End-users who want a single invoice but can’t find an aggregator they like generally turn to a TEM provider that ensures accurate billing across hundreds of ICT invoices.
Advisors Manage the Engineers, Agencies & Providers…
The reason the advisor earns a commission of up to 15% of the invoice you pay each month is the providers expect the advisor to be in touch with you every month to ensure that they continue to monitor your strategic ICT ecosystem to ensure that your needs are being met today and anticipated and prepared for tomorrow. The “authorized sales agent” agreement signed between the advisor and the provider generally dictate that the advisor represent (the best) interests of the provider. This of course begs the question, what agreement exists that requires the advisor to represent the best interests of the end-user?
End-Users Manage Advisors with a Professional Services Agreement
A professional services agreement or “PSA” is the the commitment to print of the verbal promises made over a handshake. Both the advisor and the end-user suffer in the absence of a signed PSA between the advisor and the end-user. The end-user suffers because if the advisor does not provide the monthly or quarterly invoice or account review promised for the entire 3-year term of the signed agreement, the end-user has not recourse. The provider continues to pay the advisor a monthly commission but the end-user can not tell the provider, “I want a different advisor to get the commission”. As well, if the advisor stops getting paid the commission from the provider, the end-user is under no obligation to advisor to appeal to the provider on the advisor’s behalf.
A signed PSA between the advisor and the end-user delivers the “education + transparency = accountability” equation that is the Telecom Association’s tag line or motto. In the PSA the the advisor 1) confirms how much of the monthly end-user invoice is paid out in commission, 2) specifies ALL of the individuals or entities who receive any part of the commission and how much, 3) what services each individual or entity perform and when in exchange for the monthly commissions earned, and 4) what is the end-user’s recourse if these services are not preformed.
Why TA Membership Matters to End-Users, Advisors and Providers
Integrating multiple ICT managed service components to deliver a functional ICT solution is hard and expensive and rare when each of the parties at the ICT marketplace transaction table all have competing outcome agendas, unequal technical education, limited deal visibility and few specific tools to ensure equal accountability. When all three parties join as members of Telecom Association, they make a professional commitment to TA’s motto of “Education + Transparency = Accountability” when conducting business with other TA members.
Telecom Association’s charter mandates that all members have access to the educational resources needed to request transparency and expect accountability from other members. When all members commit to this mandate, advisors and providers dramatically lower their marketing, sales and customer service costs while end-user members increase their return on investment or “ROI” by receiving special “member only” terms and by avoiding the vendor & solution churn resulting from buying the wrong solutions.