Before last Friday when I toured master agency TBI's Chicago headquarters on a VIP tour (for the first time), I'd never really thought of TBI as a top tier master agency.
Even after winning Qwest's "Million Dollar" award in January of 2013 when I shot this video of TBI founder Geoff Shepstone, conventional wisdom held that TBI's only serious competitive advantages were a terrific Qwest agreement (for agents just dying to sell Qwest) and a high employee count enabling TBI to throw human labor at order processing problems. (To be fair, TBI was not the only large master agency in 2013 that seemed to solve operations challenges with human labor instead of better software).
But over a friendly dinner in Iowa last week on my Best/Worst of 2017 Road Trip, Geoff challenged me to meet "the New TBI" at one of their regular "VIP tours".
So last Friday I accepted the challenge of an old friend, attended a 3-hour TBI VIP tour led by some very capable young executives and heard four reasons my own clients might fire me if I didn't send their next order to TBI to confirm or refute TBI's claim of the very best order processing back office among ALL master agencies (top tier or otherwise).
I'm Trying "the New TBI" Because my Clients Require "VIP" Order Processing (That's Still Missing from Other "Top Tier" Agencies)
To be honest, I've never had the owner of a national master agency challenge me to take a "VIP Tour" to confirm for myself that his (or her) master agency is at least a top tier agency if not operationally superior to all agencies. (I don't even know if the other master agencies even have a VIP tour). But long story short, the TBI VIP tour was very impressive primarily due to the following four claims that, if true, would make a huge difference for my clients.
1. TBI Has a Training Department that "Certifies" Employees to Process Orders
Nothing is more frustrating than having order processing mistakes delay the correct and swift installation of an order. Fun master agency parties don't make up for botched customer orders because master agency operations people quote (or fail to check a carrier's quote) or provision an order incorrectly.
There ought to be a rule that master agencies can only spend the MDF (market development funds) money they get from their carriers on partner parties only AFTER every order processing employee has been trained to PERFECTLY process EVERY order EVERY time.
I'm sure other master agencies "train" their employees but I've never had a master agency introduce me to their "Training Department" personel and say, these people certify our order processing employees before they ever touch your customer's orders.
2. TBI's Backoffice is 100% Oracle/NetSuite Powered to Hold Carriers 100% Accountable
I believe every master agency save one uses some version of RPM or MasterStream software to track customer quotes & order commissions but no enterprise level software that I'm aware of to hold the carriers accountable to install customer orders on time. Three years ago, TBI switched all their backoffice systems to run on Oracle/NetSuite and specifically developed this ERP (enterprise resource planning) software to track carrier orders to ensure all orders installed for the customer in the shortest time period possible.
Now of course all master agencies WANT the carriers to install orders as fast as possible (since that gets them paid sooner) but from what I can see, only TBI has an enterprise grade ERP software solution that estimates on-time installation on every carrier order not yet installed every day.
So instead of me having to harp on the master agency every day when I think an order is not going to be installed on time, TBI is already harping on the carrier becasue they already see what I see but on every order every day. TBI "presses the Red Button" with the carriers so I don't have to press the Red Button with TBI.
TBI's Oracle/NetSuite back office software appears to give them a unique competitive advantage over every other master agency that will make a significant difference on client satisfaction outcomes.
3. TBI Has an Inbound Call Center That Can Screen My Consulting Leads
The worst thing about successful marketing is that 95% of the new client leads generated are from small business owners that want to know if I can save them money on their $140 per month cable internet bill for their single location business that has a contract that expires in 9 months.
TBI has an inbound call center that can answer a white-labeled phone number I put on my new client advertising, take care of the single-location cable internet inquiries and then set an appointment for me whenever the occasional 10-location lawfirm lead comes in. This is a huge operational time saver as it gives me more time to spend on my top clients without sacrificing new client prospecting.
4. TBI is "Best" at Teaming Partners with Big-3 Carrier Direct Reps
Every mid-sized business worth having as a consulting client is assigned an AT&T, Verizon or CenturyLink account executive who is constantly hounding them for orders. Every once in awhile it really makes sense for the customer to have the direct carrier account team work with whatever the channel team is developing or proposing.
However, few master agencies, in my experience, make any serious attempt to get the carrier to "team" an opportunity with both the direct rep and an independent partner. TBI though, claims to have the best relations and best contracts with the Big-3 carriers. Will TBI show that they are in fact the best at getting team deals approved with the Big-3? Our business clients would certainly percieve that as a big benefit if they can get that done more often.
Bottom Line: Real Master Agency Unique Differentiators are Few but TBI May Have Four
Only serious testing with real orders will prove if TBI's stated "VIP" differentiators survive the everyday reality test but as the "top tier" master agencies unfortunate enough to have me as a direct partner can attest, few partners "kick the tires" better than Dan Baldwin.
My decision to place any customer orders with TBI does not mean the master agencies I've placed orders with in the past are suddenly less worthy.
The great thing about today's industry is that if a partner is processing enough orders, he or she can spread them around to test different master agency's operational and order provisioning excellence.
This must be done to do what's in the best interest of our clients - get the order correctly provisioned in the shortest period of time.
I for one am not going to wait to have another partner introduce my client to TBI's back office.