If you’re in the market for business phone or internet service, you can work through a telecom consultant or with a direct rep employed by a telecom or internet service provider.

It might seem safer to work with a direct rep or that a telecom agent might add to your service’s cost, but there are several aspects you should consider.

What’s The Difference Between A Direct Rep & A Telecom Consultant (Agent)?

Carrier direct representatives sell one company’s services and are steered by their management to sell certain products.  Typically those products are the most profitable and least popular.  If the services were being sought after, they wouldn’t be on promotion or pushed as much.

Agents can sell many company’s services and are always putting the client’s needs first.  That’s because their boss is their client, not the carrier.

This difference makes it more client-friendly to approach a telecom agent instead of a direct rep because the agent can give the client better services and more competitive prices, among several other benefits.

Benefits Of Opting For The Agent Channel For Clients

Do you enjoy calling the local phone or cable companies? No one does. There is another way.

The following are six reasons to utilize a telecom agent when procuring business phone and internet services:


Telecom training isn’t what it used to be. When I started at U.S. West (now CenturyLink), I went through eleven weeks of initial training before answering one customer call. The same thing happened when I worked for Pacific Bell. Eleven weeks might sound like a lot, but that time was jammed packed with instruction, and I continue to use the information I learned.

That sort of training is unheard of now. New reps starting at Verizon, CenturyLink, and AT&T receive limited training and are instructed to rely on sales managers and sales engineers for support. The trouble is, those people are supporting teams of reps and are seldom available.

How is a direct rep that received less than two weeks of training going to be able to recognize an MPLS application, much less configure the network?

High turnover, insufficient training, and fewer sales engineers offering support make it difficult to find a competent sales rep.  


Being a Direct Rep is a young person’s game.  Not too many experienced telecom people are going to be able to put up with the way providers treat their direct sales reps. Limited territories, forced cold calling, twice daily manager meetings… are just some of the indecencies that telecom sales reps have to put up with.  Less experience means less knowledge, and telecom companies don’t have the training budgets they used to.


Agents are ex phone company reps. They started their careers with the phone companies and then transitioned to the agent channel. Typically they have years of experience and have received copious amounts of training. Not only do they possess a high level of telecom expertise, they understand the inner workings of the phone company. That knowledge can be instrumental when working through a service issue or problematic installation.

A direct rep won’t be able to consult with their customers the same way a more experienced agent could.  Agents had to prove themselves repeatedly just to stay in business.  They aren’t limited to one company and the flavor of the month service.

Who they work for:

Carrier reps work for the carriers. Agents work for their clients. Carriers manage their reps’ behavior with comp plans. The result is that carrier direct reps sell the services that offer them the highest payouts and keep their managers off their backs. Carrier reps are only paid to make sales; after a sale is completed, they’re onto the next prospect.

Most agents are self-employed. They rely on their clients for referrals and repeat business. Without it, they’d soon be out of business. Agents can sell services from several different carriers; they don’t care which carrier their clients choose, so they are more likely to provide full disclosure.

A direct sales rep is paid a one-time commission for making a sale and is expected to move on to the next prospect.  Your sales rep is probably your only contact with a carrier when you first start out with that company.

Agents don’t disappear after a sale. They frequently work with a client’s I.T. and phone vendors; they need their clients to be happy so those vendors will continue to refer business. They can’t misrepresent products or services because it would not only upset their customers but ruin profitable relationships with their referral agents.

The sales process:

The choice is yours: contact several sales reps, schedule multiple meetings, and then deal with all the follow-up. That or deal with one individual acting as your customer advocate and letting that person manage the carriers.

The sales process

How many phone companies do you know, anyway? When I ask most people that question, they name their local phone and cable companies and their wireless provider.

Meanwhile, our firm has agency relationships with close to 100 carriers. Limiting your choices doesn’t result in the best pricing and terms. Even if you aren’t familiar with a carrier, your agent will be; agents help their clients make the best choices.


Some people believe agents are middlemen and add to the cost of the services they sell, but agents are only compensated when a sale is made. Meanwhile, carrier reps draw a salary and receive benefits; they require facilities and management – it’s much more economical to operate an agent channel than a direct sales force.

Carrier reps are instructed to “build value,” not emphasize price.

Agents need to prove their value. They attempt to find the best solution at the lowest price possible. They pit carriers against each other to secure the best pricing and terms for their clients.

Therefore, A telecom consultant or agent does not add to your business phone or internet service cost.  A carrier wouldn’t be able to maintain an agent channel if the agents didn’t have access to the same pricing that their direct sales channel has access to.

There is less cost involved with operating an agent channel, so its expense does not add to the cost of the carrier’s services.

Agents operate in the most competitive environment in the telecom industry.  When an agent requests pricing, they do so from several different providers.  The provider understands that and wants to provide its most competitive pricing.


Carrier reps are paid to make sales. Once the sale is made and the service is delivered, it’s a carrier rep’s job to move onto the next opportunity. Carrier reps that don’t behave that way don’t perform and are quickly shown the door.

Agents receive a monthly residual commission that disappears if one of their clients becomes unhappy with a purchased service and cancels or changes carriers. Agents need their clients to be happy with the services they sell for the contract term’s life and beyond. When the term date approaches, they want their clients to reach out to them to renew or find a new service provider.

Long-term relationships:

Carrier reps aren’t paid for the renewed business. You might have the best relationship with the carrier rep that sold you your services, but unless that person leaves the company, you’ll probably never hear from them after your services are in and working.

You work directly with that individual throughout the entire sales process, only to be left in the hands of faceless provisioning and customer service people after you sign. Don’t expect much contact from your sales rep after the sale, because he or she is paid to do other things, and very few providers offer compensation for renewals.

This isn’t a big deal if you’re ordering something basic like business phone lines and DSL, but if you’re implementing an MPLS network or converting to SIP trunks, you want your sales consultant working with your telecom and I.T. vendors.

Agents can help you procure new services, add or reduce service, renew or shop your services when your contracts have reached term. You can work with the same agent for years. That person will come to know you and your company. Working through an agency allows you to keep your vendors involved, establish and maintain a long-term relationship with your telecom consultant and frees up your time for other job responsibilities.

The Other Side of the Coin

An Agent channel is not only beneficial for the clients, but also for the phone companies or the carriers. Below are some reasons for the existence of these channels from the Carrier point of view.

Benefits Of An Agent Channel For The Carriers

Almost every provider has an agent channel. Phone and internet providers want to maximize the opportunity to secure new business, so having two separate sales channels makes sense.

Any business phone or internet service provider should understand why they need a telecom agent channel to capture this type of business.

New Revenue Stream:

New Revenue Stream

Agents tend to be more experienced and possess a network of contacts that refer them to new businesses. A carrier without an agent program turns its back to this new business stream. They’d also be passing on experienced professionals that are able to apply sophisticated telecom solutions, like MPLS or SIP trunks.

Lower Fixed Costs:

Telecom consultants, or agents, are only paid when a sale is made; they’re independent contractors. Other than the limited staff’s expense to support an agent channel, there are no other costs until deals are completed. And because the costs are mostly variable on the agent side, a carrier can better adjust to changes in the market economy versus managing the fixed costs a direct sales staff requires.

Long Term Clients:

Telecom consultants earn a residual income, paid out over time, so they have a vested interest in their clients’ long-term satisfaction with the products or services they sold to them. A telecom consultant only receives compensation if the service remains with the business, and they pay their bill, so they want to make sure they utilize the correct telecom solutions.

Referral Business:

Some potential clients lean on outsourced phone vendors and tech support professionals because they don’t employ company staff to fulfill those job responsibilities directly.  These vendors service and manage the company’s entire phone and computer equipment and all that’s connected to it.  They earn maintenance and service fees but almost always end up working more hours than they bill for.

They expect to be compensated for their time, and the residual commissions that a telecom agency pays them help them supplement their income and cover the gap between time served and time paid.

I worked on both sides: direct sales and with an agency.  As a direct rep, the businesses described in the previous paragraph referred me to their I.T. or phone vendors when I approached them about my services. But the vendors were not interested in what I had to say if I couldn’t compensate them.

It makes better economic sense to use the agent channel and not a mechanism of carrier direct representatives to compensate phone vendors and tech professionals for referred business.

The carrier pays the direct reps a salary, commissions, and benefits. Using them for referred business is actually misutilization of resources. They are better utilized in getting new business instead of referred business.

Drawback of an Agent Channel For The Carriers

The providers that don’t utilize agents typically take a monopolistic approach in their business strategies. They tend to be rigid, slow-moving, controlling; they offer above market pricing, and they’re behind the industry in their product offerings.

For instance, incumbent phone companies were slow to offer SIP, and when they did so, their pricing was high.

I worked for a competitive local exchange carrier that was very aggressive. I was competing for a deal with another direct rep and an agent representing my company – three people representing the same provider, fighting for the same piece of business. You would be correct if you guessed that this customer received the provider’s lowest possible price.

Meanwhile, certain providers have shut me out, even though my client asked me to secure pricing for them. That’s because the provider wanted to keep their pricing and profit margin as high as possible.

Channel Integration: When Direct Reps & Agents Come Together

Some carriers offer channel integration to customers.  Channel integration is when an agent representing a carrier works together on a deal with the carrier’s direct sales team. This provides the customer with the best of both worlds; they receive the personal attention that a telecom consultant or agent provides and direct representation from a carrier rep.

Carriers agree to this arrangement because they feel that it offers them the best chance to win new business.  Both sides take a commission hit to make it work, but the general feeling is that it’s better to work together and receive some compensation than forge ahead alone and receive nothing.

Channel Integration: When Direct Reps & Agents Come Together

Despite the customer benefits, few carriers offer channel integration.  My telecom consulting firm has only worked with three carriers that offered the arrangement, CenturyLink, T.W. Telecom, and Integra. T.W. Telecom forces agents to work deals involving certain products and services, like MPLS and SIP trunks, with direct reps. Integra is a smaller provider in CenturyLink’s territory and offers the program to compete with CenturyLink.

CenturyLink is the largest provider to offer true channel integration.  CenturyLink’s channel integration is a real plus to large business customers.  Large businesses have massive telecom spends, and channel integration provides them with a much higher level of visibility of CenturyLink’s pricing plans.  Businesses that take advantage of the program can feel comfortable that they are receiving CenturyLink’s best pricing and services.

A business in the market for new telecom services or conducting an RFP, that wants to receive the highest level of service possible, should consider CenturyLink, because they offer channel integration.

CarrierBid offers customers a “channel integration” experience to all of our clients. Our professionals are former carrier account managers. We know how carriers operate and methods to retrieve their best pricing and most responsive service.

To experience all the benefits of working with a telecom agent or receive more information about CenturyLink’s channel integration program, or any other telecom service, call CarrierBid today or complete the form on the right side of this page.

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