The blog where IT solution providers, telecom agents, channel sales partners and independent consultants share information about their experiences recommending and reselling IT, LAN, WAN, telecom voice, data, network, broadband Internet and related managed services and equipment from IT providers, phone companies, data carriers, resellers and other network service providers through independent channel sales partners and telecom/IT master agencies.
As we kick off the new year we'd like to give you some quick updates on your free real-time multi-carrier quoting solution!
- NITEL will be available for quoting on Monday, Jan 24, 2011 - MEGAPATH's new 2MB and 3MB Ethernet over Copper is now quoting - ACC BUSINESS will be live in the next month - WINDSTREAM LEC footprint has been added to the system - TELNES has updated their rates (very competitive) - XO's new rate plans and promos have been added
Also, we are hosting our first CarrierQuoteShop.com live Webinar to give you some education on using CQS to its maximum potential.
As many of you know, in addition to running TA I'm also an active agent. Late last year a business person I know personally and through LinkedIn contacted me to see if I could help him consolidate 200 phone bills he was receiving at his 38 locations. He'd recently gotten the job of the Director of IT. I told him I certainly could because TA has at least 6 vendor members that specialize in multi-location/POTs consolidation that would likely be interested in earning his business. After going through several boxes of phone bills I determined he was spending over $40,000 per month on the services he wanted to consolidate.
I interviewed my friend a couple of times to determine his most important needs which were:
1. Get just one phone bill . Their monthly phone bill spend was pretty stable but having to handle 200 phone bills a month by an accounting staff not trained to screen phone bills seemed like an improper use of his resources.
2. Have the bills properly reviewed. He inherited the phone and data design when he got the job. To simply authorize payment month after month for telco/data designs he was not involved in creating was easy but maybe not totally proper.
3. Save money. Interestingly enough, saving money for savings sake was not at the top of his agenda. He understood he needed to pay for the services of outside contractors that would invest resources to help him outsource a labor-intensive job. He did not want savings guaranteed, he kind of assumed that if the bills were being properly reviewed and streamlines then savings would naturally and appropriately follow.
So while I've not been involved in a whole lot of multi-location consolidation deals I had a pretty decent idea of how I'd go about getting bids for him. I'd put together a "mini-RFP" (request for proposal) and send it out to all the vendors I thought were experts in the multi-location space. Sending out RFPs though is a tricky business because as most telecom salespeople know, if you're not involved in writing the RFP, your chances of winning it are pretty low.
So how do I get six or more TA vendors to bid on an RFP? Offer them a shot at editing the final RFP. Following is the "totally neutral" RFP I created based on interviewing the client a couple times. (I honestly couldn't "spin it" if I wanted to because I've not been involved in closing alot of these deals.)
Invitation to Submit Proposal
Client is seeking to consolidate the 200+ phone bills it receives for its 38 locations and invites you to submit a proposal for "POTs consolidation" and ongoing management. To help us select a vendor to contract with, client is woking with Dan Baldwin an independent telecom broker through ATEL Communications and the Executive Director of Telecom Association. Below is information about our current situation and what we're looking for.
What We Have
Client currently pays just over $40,000 per month for their "POTs phone services" above and beyond what what their primary CLEC telecom provides. Client is reasonably happy with current CLEC (an integrated T-1 to each of the 38 locations) so that is not currently "on the table". Each location has its own phone system that was inherited or installed. Each location has a management engineer that is available to help understand what voice and data design is in each location and why.
What We Want
1. Invoice payment. Attached you will find a consolidated spreadsheet of our 38 locations noted with the various phone bills received by each location. We estimate that we pay over 200 phone invoices a month. The current invoice payment approval process is not standardized. We desire to have a single entity receive, document and pay all invoices or prepare and present us with a single invoice for payment. We would like to have an online customer portal so that we can review what has been received and paid.
2. Invoice review. We would like to know that each invoice is "scrubbed" for irregularities such as "cramming", unauthorized orders and/or services no longer needed. We want to feel confident that we are only authorizing payment for services we need, have properly ordered and are still actively using. We need the service find, claim & track refunds.
3. Centralized Help & MACD desk. We need a single location to field help requests and to log, follow-up and resolve trouble tickets for all services under management. We'd also like a centralized point of management for all move, add, change and disconnect orders. This centralized desk will work with client management to establish standard procedures for service procurement. On average, MACD orders amount to a couple dozen a year in total.
4. Centralized wire inventory, management & dispatch. We need to inventory and label all the voice and data wiring in all our locations. We need to order changes to our wire inventory and cabling plan through a central point of management. Most sites are very simple while others are not.
5. Regular design review. We need to review our current and installed voice and data designs against other design solutions that are available or coming onto the market to ensure that we are in and migrating to the most efficient and effective voice and data solutions.
Decision Making Process
Dan Baldwin will organize the proposals, field questions and provide requested information to the various vendors wanting to bid on our business. From the vendors that appear to be the most serious candidates we will request contracts. We will receive Dan Baldwin's guidance and then make a decision. We prefer to not sign an agreement longer than 2-years and will not sign an agreement requiring a personal guarantee. Our preference is to pay a monthly fee for services rendered as opposed to "shared savings". We have no specific preference about being with a bill management service or a CLEC. We want the management company to handle "all the bills", not just some or most of the bills.
What We Want from Prospective Vendors
Please share which of the five services above you'd like to provide, how you do it, and what your charge is for these services. Please schedule demonstration of any web-portal solutions with Dan Baldwin. Please also provide reference information for other customers that have similar needs to ours. We will look at the submitted information and then tighten up our final selection process. Once our final selection criteria is decided we will request agreements to review.
This mini or "Starter RFP" is being provided to TA's vendors that specialize in multi-location consolidation with the invitation to help upgrade its neutrality or even "spin it" in their direction. Part of knowing how to write a good RFP is knowing how to spot "spin" or how to add it.
If you're a TA member or vendor with expertise in multi-location and POTs consolidation, and you've got a good upgrade or "recommended spin" to this RFP above, please share it with a comment below and we'll be sure and give you 15 minutes of fame.
Hooray for TA! Isn't it fun when you finally achieve a long sought after goal? The goal TA has recently achieved is to merge our annual Members Choice voting results and content into our TA Vendor Directory. Well we've sort of achieved it (though we've still a lot of work to do) but you can see it now at www.BestPhoneVendors.com.
When TA first started selling vendor memberships in 1996 our humble vendor directory was printed in our quarterly newsletter with the vendor names on a vertical axis and the category names on a horizontal axis. Not exactly ground breaking stuff in the age of the Internet.
What we've always know is that TA's members want more than just an alphabetically sorted vendor directory, they want a vendor directory that sorts vendors in specific categories by "who's doing the best job and why". TA's taken the first step to delivering that "who's best & why" by taking the voting results of our 2010 Members Awards ballots and publishing it at www.BestPhoneVendors.com.
"BDR" stands for "backup and data (or disaster) recovery". For enterprise customers, BDR solutions include systems and services that are put into place in advance of some sort or disaster like Hurricane Katrina or a fire that burns down a building. A good BDR solution keeps their business operations going smooth from an alternate location. For SMB customers, BDR generally refers to the systems that are backing up critical data to enable the recovery of that data in the event that a data server gets put out of action.
Click here to see a the"12-Step BDR Test" content piece TA has created to help our DFY marketing co-op members use on their blogs, websites, email newsletters and auto-responders. This is an example of the "done-for-you marketing" that TA will be generate for our co-op members throughout 2011 and beyond.
To learn more about joining TA's "done-for-you" marketing co-op for agents please visit www.DFYMcoop.com.
Bandwave Systems, a Philadelphia bandwidth services VAR best known for aggregating multi-carrier broadband connections for multi-location businesses that want to create their own "blended access VPN", has added a backup & data recovery ("BDR") solution to help their agents' clients protect their critical business data by backing it up to "the cloud".
Telecom agents who distribute Bandwave Systems' services can now pick up the BDR business that is often lost to IT consultants. "Asking a customer or prospect how comfortable they are with their existing remote data backup and disaster recovery contingency plan is a great conversation starter," states Tom Azelby, Bandwave's managing partner. "A great follow-up question is, 'When's the last time you tested it?'"
Bandwave offers their agent's customers a complete BDR solution that includes setup, monitoring and testing. All Bandwave agents need to do is find customers that are interested in discussing BDR solutions and Bandwave will do the rest. "The BDR solution comes pretty close to selling itself," Azelby continued. "Business customers know weather their current backup solution is bullet-proof. Usually it's not and they're get enough tension for the business owner about it that they're usually receptive to recommendations from someone like their trusted telecom agent who's offering an easy BDR upgrade."
To assist our agents in getting the BDR conversation started with their business customers and prospects Bandwave provides "done-for-you" marketing pieces that agents can use in email newsletters, blog posts and other Internet or print marketing.
Telecom Association has created a BDR post for their customer blog, email newsletter or website that any TA member can licence with permission and then use for their own marketing purposes with very little editing. Click here or the image to view the BDR content for customers.
Podcast Explaining the BDR Service
Click the audio player below to listen to TA's podcast with Adil Zaidi, Bandwave's BDR product manager discuss their solution and how it compares to other marketplace options.
Dan Baldwin: Hello, this is Dan Baldwin. Today we are talking to Adil Zaidi, the Operations Manager for Bandwave Systems. Adil, thanks for talking to us today.
Adil Zaidi: Thanks for having me, Dan.
DB: We understand that Bandwave Systems has a brand new backup disaster recovery solution that many telecom agents may not be familiar with selling.
Question Number 1. Can you tell us, what do we need to know about backup data recovery solutions, on-line solutions, and why is that Bandwave is rolling this out now?
AZ: Sure. Well, we’ve noticed a lot of growing interest in our off-site date backup, so we included it into our product offering. We manage our customer's Internet connections, so offering an off-site data backup was a natural fit for us.
DB: So it follows that any telecom agent that is selling larger pipes to business customers should ask, "What are you doing with these pipes?" And, "Are you using them to back up your data currently?"
AZ: Exactly. It’s a great fit for our current customers, or potential customers, who are looking to secure their data off-site. We have the bandwidth for that, so bringing in the off-site data backup was something that agents really like.
1:15 DB: Question Number 2. What do we need to know about pricing? Is it standard pricing, or all specialized pricing depending on whatever the customer needs?
AZ: We like to custom quote our agents and customers. The reason for that is, we want people to feel comfortable with the product we are offering.
We don’t want to turn anyone away. We like to really customize everything here at Bandwave Systems.
DB: Question Number 3. Who’s buying this, and why? What are we going to be looking for as a telecom solution provider in our customer base?
AZ: We are actually focusing on small to mid-size businesses to offer this product. It’s for people who are looking to roll out of on-line BDR (Backup and Disaster/Data Recovery) that they found either difficult to use, or didn’t have the support they needed.
The other type of business would be someone looking for off-site backup for the first time. We can really hold their hand through the process and get the ball rolling, and deliver exactly what they need.
2:22 DB: Question Number 4. What sort of customer are we looking for?
Do we measure by the number of PCs? The number of servers? Do they need to have a network? How much they’re backing up on-line? What are the numbers that we’re looking for? Or does that even matter?
AZ: In fact, that doesn’t matter to us. What we want to do is, we want to offer as many computers, as many servers as the customer needs. They will have a username and password for their account.
They can back up as many computers or servers as they need. We don’t charge extra for that.
We charge for the space that they are using on our servers per gig. That’s how we custom quote the price here.
DB: Question Number 5. How do you actually distinguish yourselves in this market? What are the points that the customer is going to compare this solution to other solutions?
3:20 AZ: In addition to price, there are 3 ways a solution is compared. First, what the software looks like on their screen.
Basically, when they load the software they interface. How easy it is to navigate through, add files that they need, or remove, pull software, or files that they save to our servers. That’s one of the main points
The second point would be their data. Is it being backed up in the or their location? We have redundant servers for all the customer’s data.
And the third is customer service. I think that’s the most important point here. When someone calls in and they have an issue, they are getting a live person on the phone to help them solve their problems.
DB: And my understanding is, not only will you help them solve problems after the fact if they have problems, but you’ll actually help them set this up.
AZ: That is exactly correct. We want to make sure that the initial upload is done correctly, and all of their files are backed up.
4:28 DB: Does this solution lend itself to a web demo on what it would look like when they are setting this up, and managing it on a daily or weekly basis?
AZ: We are able to do that as well. We can give them a tutorial, show them how it works, how to save files, how to back files up. It’s all done here.
DB: Question Number 6. When the telecom agent asks their client or prospects about backup disaster recovery, are there major players out there that the customer may ask them about, “Well, how do you compare to this or that?” the telecom agent needs to know about?
AZ: Yes, a company out there would be Mozy that we can compare ourselves to. Mozy does provide a similar service than what we have.
5:21 But, again, what we really drive down on is that support that we offer. Larger companies like Mozy are distant from their customers. They don’t provide that initial support, and the continued support as well.
DB: They also have a different way of pricing where in addition per gig price, they charge per PC or per server, which will end up adding onto the price after the customer signs up.
AZ: That’s correct. We have one price for the data, and that’s it.
DB: This is Dan Baldwin. We’ve been talking to Adil Zaidi, the Operations Manager for Bandwave Systems. Adil, did we forget to talk about anything?
Many entrepreneurs suffer from a lack of regular fresh content on their websites, email newsletters and blogs. TA uses recorded audio podcasts as an easy way to generate content. It's as easy as interviewing people on the phone and then publishing the interview. Following is how TA does it.
1. Come Up With A Sexy "Countdown" Headline to Attract Attention
Think David Letterman's "Top 10" Lists. If you have list like this suggested in your headline the prospective reader/listener will expect you have a thesis of some sort and a semi-organized content payoff (and they can scan your list to find what they're really interested in.) A smaple headline would be, "Top 5 Questions to Ask Before Buying Hosted VoIP (and what the answers mean)".
2. Write the Countdown Questions, Answers or Topics
This part is really just a quick one or two sentence each brainstorm list. Pretend you're about to go into a meeting with the world's smartest but most distractable salesperson and you want to keep them on point. What are the top items you want to make sure they address and in what order do you want them addressed?
3. Find a Smart or Chatty Person to Do the Podcast With
This part is pretty easy since we're all surrounded by know-it-alls especially in the business world. Send him or here the headline & outline the day before & say, "I'm going to call you tomorrow and we're going to record a podcast to publish on our website, email newsletter or blog". Good interview subjects are business owners, product managers or salespeople. The best interview subjects are people who do a canned sales pitch that have lots of customer anecdotes they can belt out.
4. Get on the Phone and Record the Phone Call to Your Computer
Make sure you're both using your phone's CORDED handset or a CORDED headset. (Don't use wireless headsets, wireless handsets or speaker phones). The phone handset is the world's best cheap microphone. If you don't already have the ability to record your phone calls to a WAV or MP3 file you can use what I use is the Plantronics MX10 headset amplifier and Audacity software. Other people I know use CallBurner and Skype to capture recordings, The Levelator® to smooth out their recordings and dBpoweramp to compress audio recordings to MP3.
5. Transcribe Your MP3 File
Do this primarily for the search engines and for your readers that like to scan articles. Very few people have the patience to listen to an MP3 that's longer than a minute unless there's a clear index or a transcript. You can find fairly cost effective transcription service providers on the web at Elance.
6. Publish a Playable & Downloadable MP3 on Your Blog or Webpage
I use PodSnack to create a nice player. (Note that audio and video "players" are great for a web or blog page but not for email blasts as the "Flash" player won't work or be seen in the email recipient's email inbox. For the player to be seen take a JPG "snapshot" of the player on the web or blog page (we use SnagIt) and then use the picture of the player in the email blast but make sure you hyperlink the picture of the player to the web or blog page with the actual player on it.)
Will your business customers and prospects be happy with BYOB ("bing your own broadband") hosted VoIP? Passing voice calls over the public Internet is great when it works and miserable when it doesn't.
To help multi-location business customers decide if BYOB hosted VoIP is worth the risk for their businesses (many business customers are VERY happy with it) Telecom Association hosted a BYOB hosted VoIP "Solution Shootout" earlier this month between our four vendor members that support hosted VoIP solutions over the public internet.
TA could not be busier wrapping up 2010 and getting ready to roll out exciting new programs to help our TA members and vendors earn more business next year - even in this shaky economic recovery. Following are updates on TA's top "to do" items.
1. 5th Annual 2010 "Members Choice" Awards - We've got over 500 votes cast so far (a record!). You can see the approximate vote scores to date at www.TelecomAwards.com. You can still cast votes at www.TelecomVote.com. We are absolutely, positively closing voting on 11/30/10 so get your votes in ASAP! We're way behind posting the comments but we will get caught up by the time we post the results the first week of December.
When we announce the winners the first week of December we'll send all the winners a press release they can use as well as make the original award artwork available for those who want to include it in their 2011 marketing collateral.
2. Solution Shootout Results - We've got the Solution Shootout results for the BYOB Hosted VoIP & the White Label Conferencing 90% complete. Because this is a new event we're having to create a web template or two to deliver the results we're experiencing a minor delay we hpe will be solved by tomorrow morning. Future shootout results should be published more timely.
TA's members, vendors and judges are giving us great feedback on the shootouts so you can expect the shootout program to dominate TA's 2011 content schedule.
3. TA's VAR Tradeshow Co-op & Directory Listings - TA announced last week that we're creating a special TA vendor and member co-op to get TA in front of all the computer equipment VARs, MSPs and networks service integrators in the US through all the VAR & MSP tradeshows and events in 2011. Thanks to everyone who's shown interest in supporting this project in exchange for TA getting you in front of the VARs and integrators.
Unfortunately the list of decent VAR and MSP events we've identified for 2011 would keep TA on the road for 300 days next year so we're currently in the process of deciding which events we need to attend in person and which events we can support from afar via newsletter items, webinars and TA's forthcoming VAR Co-op Directory.
Whether we get in with the VARs/MSP organizations though via on-site tradeshow presence, webinar or newsletter (or all three) TA will develop a special 2011 TA Member & Vendor Directory for VARs & MSPs that want to profit from voice and data or simply make sure their customers get the best service from an expert TA member and/or vendor.
TA's just completed identifying all the VAR & MSP organizations to work with. These are the organizations that we'll be distributing our directories to. The directories will be distributed in the form of a website and emailable PDFs. We hope to have the TA member and vendor order form for the special VAR & MSP directory available this week.
The tentative directory investment will be as follows:
Local Metro Listings: $49 per month for Vendors and $24 per month for Members with a one-time setup fee equal to the monthly fee. Local listings are by "metropolitan statistical areas". Listing order will be determined on a "first come, first served" order. Prices will be raised or lowered once per quarter to accommodate demand. Members and vendors with existing listings will have first right of refusal each quarter. Listings are pro-rated if they start mid-month. Listings are billed in advance on the 25th for the next month. Listings can be cancelled with 30-days notice. No refunds on listings.
Premium National Listings: $195 per month for Vendors and $95 per month for Members. Members and vendors that have local metro orders that exceed $195 or $95 respectively will get a premium national listing.
Subject Matter Expert Listings: ICB. Necessary listings that don't easily lend themselves to metro listings (conferencing, 3G/4G wireless, etc.) Will be handled on an individual case basis.
Reserve Your Spot Now:
We're working on the listing order for now but if you're OK with the price points listed above and you'd like to reserve a listing position starting today, please send an email to Dan@TelecomAssociation.com with the details of the VAR/MSP listing you're interested.
FAQ Conference Call Friday 11/19 at 11am Pacific:
Position listing reservations are now open. TA will have a conference call this Friday from 11:00 am - Noon Pacific. To roll out all the program details and to answer questions.
The dial-in number is 605-475-6402 and the code is 804 429.
Telecom Association is membership organization of 3,800 voice
& data telecom agents, channel partners, independent IT consultants, network
service integrators, equipment VARs & vendors founded in 1995 who refer,
recommend or sell technology solutions to business customers and share sales &
marketing best practices.