Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Lead Source Emerges

As I sat in quiet meditation on the flight from Salt Lake City to Boston, I took a mental tour of the past year's events that had transpired since the 2007 Channel Partner Show in Seacacus, New Jersey. Back then I was presenting my first marketing plan to our vendors. The plan included things such as Telarus Agent Conference sponsorships, trade show booth sponsorships, joint press releases, and co-branded magazine ads. Up to that point, Telarus has never exhibited at any trade show, we had never run an ad in a magazine, or engaged in any other form of marketing. The Telarus brand was built purely a result of public perception of our agents, our staff, and the founders.

Without any traditional marketing, we were still able to grow the number of agents, VARs, and referral partners from 0 to 20,000 in under 5 years. "How was it possible for us to grow organically and by word of mouth for so long?" I thought.

In my opinion, it all boils down to value. The stated goal of our company is to "make agents more successful with us than they would be on their own or with any other competing master agency." The only real way to provide value, in my estimation, is to help agents make up for areas in which they are deficient.

Some agents are great at selling, but horrible at finding leads. Others, like equipment dealers and network integrators, have the business, but lack a system that makes ordering and tracking telecom circuits easy. Others lack the back office software they need to scale their business so they can break through the glass ceiling of customer saturation.

By having a balanced approach to value creation, Telarus has attracted new partners each and every month since we opened our doors in 2002. Our first priority was leveraging my search engine optimization skills to generate warm leads. One thing that most agents always need is warm leads, even more than a top tier commission. Agents gravitate to companies who help them grow their business, not just provide contracts and process their orders. It took a few months to jump start the lead engine, but once it fired up in 2003, our agents have received over 500,000 opportunities as a result.

The second piece of the equation that we sought to provide agents was productivity tools that enabled agents of all backgrounds to become telecom consultants. GeoQuote, the main productivity tool in use by Telarus agents today, has required a massive and continual investment to build and maintain. I estimate that we have spent north of $2M to build and maintain that piece of software alone. And its not done yet. We are still struggling to get all of the data we need from our vendors so GeoQuote can accurately quote all of the products our carriers have to offer. Right now we can only quote about 50% of all offerings. However, with the help of our new GeoQuote Specialist, Danny Steer, we hope to change that equation. In the long run, our agents sell what they see quoted in GeoQuote. More products, more quotes, more business.

As the plane readied itself to land in Boston's Logan International Airport, I thumbed through my 2009 Marketing Plan that I had printed and ready-to-go in anticipation of numerous vendor meetings at the trade show. This time, I was able to think of more ways to generate leads - ways that would truly bring new and valuable business to our carriers as well as make a lot of agents rich. The simple scheme should have been an obvious one, but I failed to see it until recently. By realizing that Telarus has a CRM that can manage large numbers of leads effectively, and that many Telarus agents are eager for new leads, and (this is the one point that wasn't apparently obvious to me for some time) carriers have lead lists generated by their marketing research departments, I was able to create a new program called the "Vendor Provided Lead Calling Program."

That's right! Telarus can be more that just an Internet lead shop. Telarus has the technology, the people, and the resources to function as a carrier's de facto outbound call center. It's genius: a call center that costs a carrier nothing for phone minutes, for cubicle space, for telecom hardware, for salary, for bonuses, for health care - nothing. The carrier only has to invest in the marketing research, turn it over to us, and pay only for performance. Imagine that! Paying nothing for a TV ad if it got zero response rate! Paying nothing for a billboard that yielded no results!

To put it mildly, the Vendor Provided Lead Calling Program won rave reviews from every carrier I pitched it to. The success of the program will rest on my ability to ensure that the lead lists we receive are accurate, targeted, and compelling - so that the entire program doesn't turn into a dry ice cold calling exercise that isn't interesting to agents.

The program entered its pilot phase this week as Broadweave, new owner of the iProvo municipal fiber network, outsourced its outbound calling campaign to Telarus. Though it is still to early to tell how successful it will be, we know that we can modify it to meet our agents' very high expectations.

I don't know why I didn't think about this sooner!

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