Hello Dom, thank you for agreeing to speak with us. To begin, please bring us up-to-date on what is happening with Telecom Brokers, now Technology Source.
We’ve always been based in southern California, and currently have our headquarters in Santa Ana. I had been running the business from behind the scenes, and this year I made the decision to come back in with more direct involvement. We felt that the old name looked back toward a legacy environment, and that led to the decision to rebrand. As of June 1, we rolled out our name change from Telecom Brokers to Technology Source. We chose our new name, Technology Source, to last and to be universal as we expand our portfolio. I love technology and as sourcing is what we do, the name was a natural fit that better reflects our mission and our growing corporate identity. We are rebranding across the board to reflect a big push into a broad range of tech services that significantly differentiate us from our competitors. These include big data analytics, digital marketing services, and more. We’re adding MSP, cloud and infrastructure services.
Our leadership team is expanded to include two exciting new members. We have brought in Sonya Zeigler Meline, formerly Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Effortless Office. Sonya is now Vice President at Technology Source, and plays a key role in our forward-looking development, as we work toward building relationships with our clients through highly strategic conversations. We also have promoted Rob Olson to Executive Vice President. Rob has a long record of leading channel sales teams and delivering revenue growth for world-class organizations, most recently as Managing Partner at Converged Network Services Group.
I’m always driving that concept of the “strategic business conversation” with clients. We want to show clients how they can maximize their current budget, rather than look for ways to reduce it. They will have goals to accomplish that are not about saving money, so our approach is to show clients where we can actually save them money, in order to push budget toward those higher value needs. I describe it as showing people that “we can save you money here and get you this over there.” So many businesses need to outsource functions that we can take off their plate while keeping them within their budget.
We have greatly expanded our line of products and services. We noticed that some things, for example WiFi service, wasn’t selling to the IT Department, but at the same time, the Marketing Department is a big influencer on IT decisions. One retail client went with a higher cost provider rather than a lower cost one, because they were able to get intelligence on who was shopping in their stores. That’s a case where IT would look at deploying WiFi as an expense, whereas Marketing would be looking to obtain intelligence on customers. A conversation about cost of service is irrelevant to the Marketing people because they see value in the data. Marketing in itself becomes a revenue generator, therefore the data drives revenue and it is priceless. The spend on the circuit is a non-issue because the data is worth so much to them. That has helped us get WiFi in for a lot of clients. Upselling in general is not such a difficult hurdle anymore because you don’t have to convince people that they need more of these capabilities.
We’ve expanded into digital marketing that allows us to give clients WiFi including an app that provides this kind of intelligence, such as who is shopping in their store. This kind of data helps retailers learn where people are active in the store and where there are dead spots that should be remerchandised because the foot traffic is too light. We can “geofence” their competitors and track when people enter a competing store down the road, then retarget those people for ads via the cellular network. This service doesn’t generate a big income stream for us, but it is what I call the “free popcorn” that attracts people and leads into having those bigger conversations with them.
Another component of our strategy is to do snapshot reviews of all our clients, giving them a report card for their social media, with number of likes and followers, and other services. That in turn leads us to the next step, “Let’s look at your network.” We ask where are you listed, are your phone numbers the same or changed? We encourage people to supply permissions allowing us to do a report and analysis of their network. EtherTel, a company we recently acquired, brought in some valuable ideas that we have adopted, like a growing assessment group that performs these evaluations and screening. We ask them to sign on to a basic agreement before moving forward, because we know that when they are willing to do that low level of basic engagement with you, then your closing rate jumps from about 10% up to about 70%. It’s a good way to avoid spending a lot of time on large opportunities where they take your quote back to another provider and you have wasted all that time.
We are in the process of hiring more channel managers to work with our growing number of partners. We’re developing our highest level partners’ business further by assigning agents to work under them, which helps us avoid becoming top-heavy with management. At the same time we get to really engage with our partners at a deeper level. So far, we have two partners who manage teams of direct reps and we hope to expand this approach further in 2020.
At Technology Source we are differentiated from our competitors because we are not a Costco-style, self-serve warehouse like all the big masters. We get very strategic with our partners, help them with their strategy, prospecting, content and how they market to their customers. We really help them develop their businesses. Intelisys has a saying, “Give us all the top performers.” My motto is “Give me the rest and I’ll make them the best.”
What do you like about working with AireSpring?
For starters, the free 24/7 circuit monitoring that AireSpring provides on its network and via its SD-WAN solution is invaluable. For example, we’ve installed AireSpring’s SD-WAN for our Nashville office, because they were having a lot of problems with the cable company which goes down constantly. The choice there is between the cable-co or AT&T, so with AireSpring’s product we were able to do a little bit of both. In the first year, the cable circuit has gone down three times and our people didn’t even know it was down, until AireSpring notified them of it and indicated they were already working on it. We had used an OTT hosted PBX system which was problematic, especially as in this business we can’t afford to be down. This experience has made everyone a believer in AireSpring and in the technology. When the cable-co goes down now, we love it because we can start calling people in those areas and ask “…are you down?” It becomes a great lead-in to offering the SD-WAN solution from AireSpring. Another thing we love about AireSpring is the way you manage Trouble Tickets. It makes life so much easier, and it’s a huge value-add. Other providers either charge for it or they just don’t do it.
You recently added POTS lines and Viasat® satellite, so you keep adding to your products. In terms of what to plug into your SD-WAN box to make it more effective, AireSpring has the cable-cos, broadband, satellite and wireless. You can take each location and see what makes sense to right-size that location and still keep costs down, and combine the legacy MPLS Mesh network. The more locations, the better, but even single locations can get managed services with Trouble Ticket management. Even a local RE/MAX real estate office can now have access to it. That feature alone takes a lot of the pain away from me as an agent because the client isn’t calling us complaining. If there’s a problem, their service slows down instead of goes down.
What would you say is the secret to being a successful agent?
We believe in starting with that strategic conversation that I mentioned earlier about a client’s general business objectives, building trust and giving them the “free popcorn” products and tools, then moving on to more strategic services which improves the “stickiness” with the client. SD-WAN for example, is a huge seller, even for single locations. When I first started hearing about SD-WAN all the agent trainings were about SD-WAN as a replacement for MPLS and in multiple locations. MPLS has been our biggest money-maker along with Dedicated LD, which has gone the way of the dinosaurs. I noticed that in addition to our multi-location customers, we've also been successfully selling AireSpring's SD-WAN service for our customers with single as well as multiple locations, because it helps them with redundancy and all the other features.
Also, to be successful you have to partner up with an agency that truly supports you and helps you build your business. Sonya, our new VP of Technology Source is bringing in MSPs and VARs. She works together with their direct teams to help with their marketing, support and sales efforts. We help them with their discovery calls and can engage if they actually need a rep to do so. Our business model saves the MSPs and VARs from having to staff up, because we become an extension of their staff. We can be like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, getting on discovery calls with the client in their name and helping them augment. Then we can make recommendations as to the provider and push it out to the best matched one. Other masters have you enter into a portal to do that, but we find that people need more help figuring out what they want before they can effectively use a portal. It’s this kind of support that really helps agents succeed.
What is the “next big thing” you think agents should be aware of in 2020?
Changing attitudes for one thing. The only thing I do know for sure is that the status quo used to be a huge barrier, companies didn’t want to embrace change. That fact was the barrier to the sale. Now, everyone wants to change, they DO want the new technology, they want new apps, new stuff and so we no longer have that barrier. All the early adopters have moved forward so now everyone else is following and it’s a question of how many of them we can get to move forward and guide them along that path. Everyone is trying to catch up to their competitors who were early adopters, which makes them easier to move into the new technologies and cloud computing. The next step is that they want the new network, the mobile sales force, and all the apps.
Another driver is the growing trend toward a mobile and remote workforce. Real estate costs keep going up and up. My last office tried to raise my rent to $25,000 a month, which made me decide I could move more people to work from home, without the need for more real estate. I did exactly that and reduced my office expense by creating a mobile workforce. Many companies are doing this and they need to migrate to cloud-based services to make it work. We actually bring this up in discovery calls to get the client thinking about the benefits of cloud hosted apps and services and show them how to save money. I feel the channel can expect sales of cloud hosted applications to increase even more in 2020 and beyond.
I think another factor to consider is the chill that has spread across the channel as the result of some service provider bankruptcies this year. One of the reasons that we like AireSpring is because it is a debt-free and profitable company. I hope that activity settles down and gets resolved, so everyone can feel more confident about getting paid in the future. People are concerned about what to sell and who to partner with that will reliably pay them. I think these things will improve next year. A lot of partners out there have been afraid to make investments or hire people to push more revenue into the channel out of fear that their residual income might be cut off. I hope confidence in the channel companies and programs will drive a lot of people who only sold hardware or limited services in the past to make that a bigger part of their business.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of telecom?
I am the official DJ for the Alliance of Channel Women and I do their big gala event twice a year. I also DJ for friends and family, like engagement and birthday parties, or backyard parties. I’m available and I work cheap! I just do it because I love it. I choose the music that best fits the crowd. I grew up DJing house parties. I don’t do fancy weddings and the type of thing where you make announcements. I want to enjoy it and be relaxed.
We recently spent a lot of time fixing up our 10,000 square foot house, including the “night club” music room, fully equipped with a disco ball. That’s where we’ll be hosting our holiday party for the company. I have a lot of musician friends that come over to play my instruments, keyboards and guitar. I hang out with them and do jam sessions—I’m the house DJ. I know all about home remodeling now and have realized it doesn’t happen in half an hour like it does on HDTV. I admit that I hate golf and all sports. I pretty much just enjoy money and music, and cars. I recently bought a matching set of Porsche Turbo S in saffron yellow metallic. There are only 6 in the whole country. I bought one for Rob Olson, our new EVP, as a company car/bonus for his promotion.
Dom, thank you for taking time to talk with us today.