The one thing I can guarantee about telecom is that it is always changing. The hot technology of today will be replaced by the hot technology of six months from now. Unless you work in the telecom industry, it is very difficult to keep up on the changes and figure out how your company can best use them.
You need a support team. In telecom, just as in life, everyone is a potential source of information. Keep that in mind when it comes to your phone service. Some of the people to whom you have access could save you thousands or millions of dollars on your phone bill over the course of a year.
Every carrier has a sales force whose members would love to meet you if they haven’t already. The sales people come in two flavors, the carrier sales rep, and the independent sales agent. They are distinctly separate creatures and should be treated as such.
- The carrier sales rep works solely for, and is paid by, one carrier (whether a long-distance carrier, a local carrier, a wireless service provider, or another carrier). Whatever your application is, the rep finds some solution, based on the technology the carrier has available.
Remember, this solution may not be the best solution for you, but it is the best solution the carrier can offer. For example, maybe you need a low-cost calling option for your sales force in Germany. Instead of offering you international toll-free numbers, the carrier sales rep may offer calling cards with international origination.
- The independent sales agent is generally a better person to chat with. She probably represents four or five different carriers, all with different strengths, weaknesses, and support levels. The best thing about an independent sales agent is that the agent doesn’t have any allegiance to any one of the networks.
The agent will sell you toll-free numbers from MCI just as quickly as she’ll offer outbound dedicated circuits from Qwest and calling cards from Broadwing. The independent sales agent really doesn’t care which options you choose, just as long as you’re happy and you renew your contracts.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, talk to your carrier sales rep first. This person is outstanding if you’re fishing for new ideas. Start your conversation by asking the rep to go over your existing telecom services; then discuss what you want telecom to do for you. Ask what alternatives the carrier has for accomplishing those goals.
I promise that if you present a salesperson with a telecom problem, he or she will come back with at least one solution, even if it’s not the best one. If you don’t have an existing long-distance carrier sales rep, you can have one assigned to you by calling the customer service department and asking to speak to someone.
If you have anything more complicated than single-line local carrier services, you need a hardware vendor. If you have a phone system, you may already have a hardware vendor that you call when you need service. The technician that actually services your hardware probably loves all things complex and convoluted.
Reps and techies for hardware vendors are outstanding individuals to chat with when you are about to make any change to your phone service. Your vendor rep or technician probably knows the latest technology on the market and would love to tell you about it — you may even get more information than you ever asked for or wanted.
The best thing is that your hardware vendor already knows what kind of phone system you have — and whether the latest gadget can actually be installed with it.
If you inherited your phone system, you may not know where it was purchased. Likewise, if you don’t have any phone system to speak of, you need to find a vendor on your own.
You’re better off finding a vendor today than waiting until your system goes down or you’re ready for an upgrade. Finding a new vendor who can give you an accurate assessment of your current telecom system can take three months or more. Your sales agent is generally a good person to ask for references on hardware vendors.
Over the course of a career in telecom, sales agents bump into good vendors and bad vendors. Your agent can happily refer you to a competent and professional company, often offering testimonials about how this or that person helped the agent or a colleague out of a tight spot.
Ask for at least two different companies, just so you have some options. Hardware vendors generally specialize on certain makes or models of specific phone systems, so your first question should be, “Which phone systems are your specialties?”
If a vendor only handles Newbridge channel banks and you have an Avaya system, you need to keep searching. Honest vendors have no problem referring you to a business in the industry that specializes in the hardware you have.
If you strike out with your sales agent and their referrals, don’t give up; contact the manufacturer of your hardware. Not sure who made your hardware? Take a small walk to your phone closet. No idea where your phone closet is? Follow these steps to find out more about your system and use the info to track down a vendor:
Track all of your phone lines to the place in your office where they converge into one large plastic or metal box.
That’s your phone closet. On the outside of the box, you see a manufacturer name and model. For example, the outside of the box might say something like ADTRAN TSU600 or Newbridge 3624 Mainstreet.
Write down the names on all the boxes your phone lines go through before they leave the phone closet.
Be especially careful to note anything that has the words MUX, multiplexer, PBX, or key system. The more information you have the better.
After you acquire information about the manufacturer, track down the companies on the Internet.
Somewhere on the manufacturer’s Web site you will see a section for service. Many manufacturers even include vendor locators.
Track down two or three of the nearest service companies and ask to conduct a phone interview.
You are looking for a rep that is professional, responsive, and knowledgeable. If you’re not filled with confidence when you chat with a rep, you probably won’t be filled with much confidence when you see the company’s techs stumbling through your equipment.
When you’ve settled on a vendor, you need to have a rep come to your site to give your hardware a once-over. This meeting gets the vendor familiar with your system — and you familiar with the technicians.
Use this little meet and greet to have the talk about how your system is serving your company’s needs. The manufacturer may have released a new card that gives your system twice its current capacity, three times the current number of features, and costs half what you would spend to repair the system in the event of its impending meltdown. You won’t know this information until you ask — this is definitely a conversation worth having.