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To partners that had their doubts in the past, telecommunications provider TNCI Operating Co. is ready to recommit to the channel and is looking to prove it to partners, according to CEO Laura Thomas.
'We're back, and we look forward to growing with the channel. We are going for double-digit growth in our agent channel in the coming year,' Thomas told CRN in an exclusive interview.
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TNCI Operating Co., a provider of voice-, data- and cloud-based services, was established in 2013 as a byproduct of three providers. The company's namesake, TNCI, was a Boston-based telecommunications reseller, and two facility-based carriers -- Austin, Texas-based PointOne and West Coast-based Pac-West Telecomm Inc. -- make up TNCI Operating Co. today.
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Before the consolidation, the former TNCI sold 100 percent of its services through channel partners. But many partner relationships didn't survive the roll-up. Agents were eliminated from the program during the transition and contract terms were changed for some of the agents that remained, Thomas said.
'We really went through a period of time where people were very uncertain about the longevity of the company,' she said.
But TNCI Operating Co. has re-emerged, and because 98 percent of the provider's sales are driven by the channel, it's critical for the company to win back the favor of solution providers, according to the company. TNCI is hoping to welcome back former partners -- and recruit new partners -- to the family, Thomas said. The provider is working with about 15 master agent partners.
TNCI Operating Co. is planning a rebrand to introduce a new name and has made significant investments in products, infrastructure and people. To start with, TNCI has been expanding its network footprint and increased its head count by 20 percent across all areas, including tech, finance and sales.
'This is a company in transformation,' Thomas said. 'We are doing a significant amount of investment and are very close to announcing our rebrand among other announcements that will show the industry our commitment, and that we think this is a great industry with a lot of potential.'
TNCI Operating Co. offers a 'hybrid' approach to telecommunications, according to Thomas. The voice business makes up the majority of the company's revenues today, which is being helped by competitors stepping away from voice offerings or raising their rates.
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'We still find that enterprise and midsized business still want those [plain old telephone service] POTS lines,' Thomas said.
The company also offers cloud-based services, including a PBX product hosted on its cloud platform. The mix of cloud and traditional voice solutions are great for partners helping customers make the transition, she said.
About 50 percent of traffic traverses the provider's network and the other half is resold from other providers, which allows TNCI to loop in many providers to give customers a unified services for their voice and cloud applications, Thomas said.
In an effort to reinvigorate its channel strategy, Thomas talked to agent partners.
'I wanted to get a sense of what it would take to show partners that we were really serious about growing this business. We worked with specific agents and said, 'Help us find a channel manager that you're comfortable with that we can hire that can help leverage your business,' ' she said.
Accordingly, TNCI brought on industry veteran Michael Masini, former Windstream vice president of channel sales, appointing him vice president of channel sales for TNCI Operating Co. four months ago.
With the help of Masini, the provider has revamped its commission rates and partnership terms so its agent contracts can be more competitive. TNCI also eliminated growth requirements. 'We believe that growth will come based on the investments we made,' Thomas said.
'We wanted to make sure we had a channel-friendly agent agreement, and I will say that since its release, it really accelerated time spend on agents' negotiations, which have been almost nothing,' Masini added.
TNCI is now giving agents more control and flexibility of pricing for its products and services, Masini said. To help get partners up to speed, the provider has created updated marketing and educational material for partners, including a new library with short videos. 'We think this is a more compelling way to introduce content than standard brochures,' he said.
TNCI also recently developed a Connections Portal for agents, subagents and even end customers. The portal will provide access to quoting tools and commission reports for partners, Masini said.
Since coming on board, Masini has helped to quadruple the number of internal channel managers because success will start with them, he said.
'We are building a roster of the highest-caliber channel managers. The ones who have come on board since July are all experienced, and all recommended to us by our partners. With TNCI being a little smaller, channel manager input really matters,' Masini said.
The channel matters in the telecommunications industry because products in this space are much more complex compared with legacy voice products and services. Customers are relying on agents as tech advisers, Thomas said, noting TNCI's sharpened focus on partner education. The provider also recently rolled out a Cloud certification program for partners.
'The channel is really the most efficient and quickest way for me to grow my sales,' Thomas said. 'There is also a better retention rate on customers sold through the channel because these [solution providers] have had these relationships with customers for years.'
TNCI believes its hybrid strategy will be a benefit to partners and their end customers because partners will be able to offer competitive voice products, and then as their customers are ready, cloud services.
'We are getting a lot of positive feedback, we are turning on new agents and the existing agents are starting to come back,' Thomas said. 'Certainly we hope over the course of the next year people start sitting up and taking a look at us.'
PUBLISHED OCT. 29, 2015