Click the audio player below or download this MP3 file to hear Laura Bernstein of CRA Telecom discuss with Dan Baldwin of ChannelPartner.News how channel partners, managed service providers (MSPs) and other information & communication technology (ICT) solution professionals use CRA Telecom to ensure accountable project management of all benchmarks that need to occur between the signature of a new contract and the first invoice for a contracted service.
For more information about how CRA Telecom can provide excellent PMaaS or "project management as a service" for your business, email CRA@ChannelPartner.News.
See full transcript of interview below.
Full Transcript of CRA Telecom Interview
Dan Baldwin: 00:01 Hello. Today we're speaking with Laura Bernstein of Cra telecomm and I've known Laura for quite some time and had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with her. Just a week or so ago when I was visiting the channel partners evolution show in Washington DC and Laura sat down with me, caught me all up on what she's doing and she's back to talk to all of us today. Laura, thanks for taking the time to be with us today. Thanks for having me Dan. And just to summarize for our audience, what I think I know about Laura's business and what she caught me up about last week and what I'm actually thinking about having her helped me with part of my own business is back office support. So what Laura does is um she helps channel partners and consultants with the, everything that comes in to do with order processing paperwork.
Dan Baldwin: 01:04 Generally, the channel partner will go ahead and help the customer, you know, in a vision, a sales engineer, custom craft date design that's going to work up, bring in the sales engineers for the barriers that MSPs or carriers or what have you. But at some point the customer says, okay, I'm done. You know, fooling around. I'm ready to sign and move forward. And when that signature happens that's when a lot of the problems can start because most channel partners and consultants, they're very excellent at bringing in the right provider and a sales engineering a great solution. But then when it comes to everything that comes after the signature and before their first bill, that's when all the things can go wrong. You need someone who is really all about process orientation because in general, that signed order will go to the carrier and you know, the, it might be a multi-carrier solution where you're actually assigning two or three contracts and someone has to make sure that whatever the sales engineers promised would happen actually do happen.
Dan Baldwin: 02:13 A circus get turned up and time training gets a done to the right people. So you have a high use of the applications. And finally when the first bills show up that it actually bills out at what it was supposed to bill out. And so many channel partners use a cra telecom because cra has you know, brought that expertise to town. And so Laura, that being the over view of what it is that I'm hoping to do with my own agency, with you and what you do with others, did I get it right? Give us a little information about how you started this business, how, where it's going to get to where it is today, what you're doing today and what you think you're going to be doing in the near and distant future. Well, I appreciate
Laura Bernstein: 03:00 The introduction and you're explaining what we do. That's a great explanation. A lot of questions to answer. Let's see if I can answer them all. So Cra is glides and Holyoke, Massachusetts. All of our support staff is within the United States. More than 50% of it is local to us. The rest is remote support. And we are a 20 year old business going on our 21st year. And we started out in business doing strictly auditing and of invoices. And that has morphed into a larger suite of products that is today focused on project management, which we call the before, which is what you had spoke, had spoken about. So project management as a service is a a key offering of, of CRH and we, excuse me. So we started out auditing, which is where that expertise came from.
Laura Bernstein: 04:14 And we transitioned from working with the end user directly to supporting the channel almost 15 years ago now, which is what we do exclusively. That is what our business model is. The agents can elect to white label that mission, which gives them instant dep out to invest in a salaried staff, which enables them to scale [inaudible] and the so, so they can use that model and we in that model email out of the agent's domain and or they can bring us directly to the customer's Cra, whichever they, whichever they choose. So the project management as the service is what we call the sort of the before. And then we have the support, which is repair and McAfee's Ds and resolving billing issues on the, the back end. And we, we currently are auditing several thousand invoices a month. And as part of that project management on the front, Dan, as you shared, we are doing the bill review.
Dan Baldwin: 05:33 Great. Now let's, let's talk a little bit about what are the [inaudible], the, you know, sweet spot of customers, types of customers that, that you help the partners manage. Now, I would imagine that single location customers are probably not it unless they're, you know, really big and have multiple divisions. I'm guessing, you know, multi, multi location businesses spread across the country over several carrier jurisdictions. Tell us a little bit, I mean, how do you measure it? The perfect sized customer by dollars by head count? How
Laura Bernstein: 06:10 Sure we, the perfect size customer is a customer that believes that they need help.
Laura Bernstein: 06:16 Sounds, even though that sounds a little simplistic it's, it's very much the case. The, the, the, the strategy or the way for the, the agent to go to market with support is to position the professional support and the added value of that support as a, as choice a and choice B would be to work with the carrier directly and spend, unfortunately, many agents choose option, what they feel is option c, which is them doing the work. So it is more costly to have significantly more than average number would be 25 to 40% more if hire and to maintain the support staff opposed to outsourcing and CRH model. And so there's a cost that obviously chips away at the profitability. And what many agents are faced with is positioning the support or in a way that is profitable for them.
Laura Bernstein: 07:29 So Cra has two different ways of, of delivering that. Both we talked about white label than not, but they can also pay for the support themselves where they can take that support and have the end user customer pay and mark up that support. And why they would do that is because of the experiences that they've had in the past, the time drain and also the expertise that comes with knowing all of the pitfalls and being able to deliver success. And if you have one location and you've had a bad experience in the past, then those customers for a simple fiber install are very happy to pay. And you would be surprised how often that happens. And certainly when we get into a context center as a service or unified communications EUCAST as a service, the complexity goes up even for small users and they're even more interested in, in paying for additional support, both the agents and definitely the end user customer.
Dan Baldwin: 08:35 [Inaudible]. So to summarize what I think I'm hearing and what I believe that we talked about in DC is when I first got in the business, you know, in the early nineties it was all about, you know, selling long distance. You signed a simple contract, you turn it over to the carrier and the care and the customer just waited for, you know, their pick to change over. They could dial a number and then this changed over and you know, they got their bill and it was lower. So there wasn't a whole lot to mess up. But in today's world, you've got multiple locations, you have multiple carriers and they all have to be integrated. So instead of just one piece of paper and one bill, you might be sending 10 pieces of paper for, you know, 20 locations. And the customers are mature enough to know that this stuff gets messed up all the time.
Dan Baldwin: 09:25 And what I'm hearing you saying is the partner can go ahead and turn around and position to the customer. Okay, you're signing one contract for all the circuits or one contract for all of the phone systems. And then here's another contract for professional services. And the customer says, well, what's this extra contract for? And that's to make sure that, you know, we've got the contract police in here making sure that everything gets turned up correctly and that it all bills out correctly. And this what Cra telecomm does. If the customer's going to be invoiced directly by CRA Telekom for professional services or that's what, you know, a widgets, ABC widgets, you know, the profession or the partner's companies. Did I get that correct?
Laura Bernstein: 10:14 You did. And so project management as a service is from the agent person from the customer perspective is worthwhile because of your past experiences and how critical those installations are. And the experience has taught us that that is a huge benefit for the end user. It's a differentiator for the agent and provides a, that that layer of project management over existing project managers at the carrier level has proven to be very valuable for the end user. And for the agent. It enhances their offering. It's differentiates them. And that part of our tagline is manage less, earn more because the, the soft costs in all of the time that is spent, if they're doing that themselves rather than paying an employee can be so exhaustive that it significantly is impacting their time to sell and their emotional desire to get out there and do what's necessary to support their families because they're very bogged down in the weeds of trying to implement what they've sold
Dan Baldwin: 11:28 Right. Now. Let me ask you this. If you're comfortable sharing of all of the partner support deals you've done in the past year and all the ones that you expect to do in the next year, what percentage of the partners are white labeling your service as opposed to saying, I'm just going to introduce him to cra and we're going to say, you know, Laura and cra does professional management as a service customer wants to buy it. There's this series just going to build on direct.
Laura Bernstein: 11:58 Sure. Excellent question. So the, the, I have to preface it by what I'm going to share and they'll make sense. So the reason to white label is not to not to hide in any way. The partnership, the, the reason to white label is to have an easier experience for the users so that they don't, they're not introduced to yet another company. And depending upon the size of the company, that's, that can definitely be an issue. And also to build the brand. So, so most of our agents, I say upwards of 90% white label support for those reasons, but are very transparent to the end user that cra is doing the work and they sell that or you know present that to the customer very simply. As we educate Kate, we design and we procure and we don't project manage for a living. And so we partner with a company that does that and that's not exhibited or shared as a weakness. Huge benefit.
Dan Baldwin: 13:15 And you said educate, educate. So the partner really does the educate, design and procure as what you said?
Laura Bernstein: 13:23 Yes, I did. For the, for the customer. So those that's there, they're typically, they're their value add. And the procurement is, you know, taking advantage of their resources and being in the channel and who they know and who they can get to support them. And also their, you know their expertise and the time and all the training and what they're delivering and a lot of agents then the lump in that, that we're going to provision that service. And that's part of what we do. And it's, it's a definitely an offering, but it's a very specific and time consuming offering. And so most agents can look at that and do and see that as if I don't need to do this piece and, or if the customer's willing to pay for that, I can earn more money going out and selling. And life is more pleasant for them usually that way.
Dan Baldwin: 14:24 Right. So then if I am and of course I'm considering, you know, bringing you in to help me for the rest of this year, next year. Because while I super enjoyed doing education, designing and procurement and I also super enjoy project management, delivery of the solution and then auditing it when it builds out. My margin on those last three are certainly different than my margin on the first three and I can help a lot more people if I stick to educate, design and picker because you know, it's just a very long tail to complete all that project management, delivery and auditing. And if I contract with you then my customers in the future, we'll probably be even happier because you know, the last three always, you know, come after you. No, I'm taking care of the first three for newer customers in that way I can really deliver it.
Dan Baldwin: 15:24 But during the lead up to the signature, I bring in Cra and I just tell the customer, all right, it looks like you know, you want to do this. When I guarantee, you know, after sick excellence, Laura does this as project management as a service. So the sounds like the most successful partners will bring you in early, introduce you early and say, you know, Laura team is going to be all about this after the signature. And so that way the customer has the proper expectation, Hey Dan, I was CNU and now all of a sudden that senior, I'm seeing more on her team. How does that make sense and how am I paying for, is that the model that you know, your, your more successful partners are going to be using next year?
Laura Bernstein: 16:12 Well well said and yes, that is exactly correct. And we actually help them with the, with the sheet that asks the customer to make a selection as part of that process to choose what kind of support they would like. Meaning do they want to work with the carrier directly or would they like project management as a service and they'd like to purchase that. And that's the time when they do that. And we are sharing those pricing, the prices certainly ahead of time. And the agent knows what the costs are for that and the customer signs off and agrees that that's the kind of service that they would like. So there's an expectation and we have a professional really a, a detailed or secret sauce professional handoff to make sure that when we're, when we're beginning that we're going to knock it out of the park. And that's exactly the way that that's done. Damn,
Dan Baldwin: 17:13 That's crazy. I can't wait to do that first to sit down with a customer says, so do you want the carrier to process this or do you want, or at a process it, oh, I want it done correctly. Or do I want it completely messed up and miss my deadlines?
Laura Bernstein: 17:31 That's, that's how that works.
Dan Baldwin: 17:33 That's exactly right. Great. All right, well let's go, let's do a couple more things and then we can talk again a, again in the future. Let's talk about your teams delivery because I mean, there are other organizations that I think art, there may be there, there are newer that would propose to the partner that, hey, this, you know, we've just broken up and we're all about the back office and you know, we'd never heard of you guys before. You've been doing this for 20 years. I think that your, from what I can tell your expertise is training people how to do it because certainly Laura Bernstein can't do it all herself even though you could probably do it.
Laura Bernstein: 18:13 Amen to that.
Dan Baldwin: 18:15 So tell us a little bit about your process for finding people who can either, I guess, work locally in your Boston based office or even more importantly can do an equally excellent job working out of their Home Office in Iowa.
Laura Bernstein: 18:34 Absolutely. So we are looking for people and start to work with people that are have a minimum number of years of experience in telecom. And so there's two parts when we are looking for support. The first is they're understanding of the landscape and experience. So they need to come to they need to come to cra with a minimal level of that. And that's because the agent community even more than the customer community is has extremely high expectations about knowledge base. And and then what makes us different is that because this is all its theory does and has done for quite a long time, the processes that exist to deliver and deliver well are fine tuned at a level that delivers the excellence that the agents expect. And the training in working with Cra and the, the on boarding is extensive proven and we work with those individuals to get them up to speed, to be able to work the process that exists to deliver at the level that we promise. And that process is what's behind the secrets secret sauce as well as the culture of FCRA and what's expected in our understanding of what's needed to deliver with the agent and the customer expect.
Dan Baldwin: 20:19 Great. That was, that was great. So if you're listening to our podcast and you have a back office experience, you know, you've been processing orders, you know how to do it and you find yourself moving and, and all of a sudden you want to take that expertise that you have and be able to work from home, then you'll certainly want to contact Laura and Cra. Now, Laura, you, we to say at the beginning that you work exclusively now for the last 15 years through partners. And so if a, an end user or CIO says, Oh, I definitely need that or to help me out, they should go ahead and send, we'll go ahead and put out an email address. If you've sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, then what we'll do is we'll make sure that that gets forwarded to a partner who is a sized appropriately to help you out. Or of course, go ahead and talk to your own local channel partner and that channel partner can help you set up with Laura and make sure your orders older or new are all done correctly. Or I want to thank you for talking to our audience. We look forward to following up with you in a month or two. See how things are going. Anything that you want to say to our audience in closing that we forget anything on this first podcast?
Laura Bernstein: 21:46 I don't think so. I thought it was a well done and you asked great questions and I appreciate everybody listening and we're here to help.
Dan Baldwin: 21:59 Okay, great. So in summary, if you're a partner and you're looking to a up your game of everything that comes after the signature, you know, cra is there for you. If you are experienced and processing orders and you need a place where you can work from home and a really be happy processing orders, then cra has a home for you as well. Alright. Thanks for your time and we look forward to catching up with you again in the future.
Laura Bernstein: 22:29 Thank you, Dan. Look forward. [inaudible].
CRA Telecom Earns 2019 SuperPower Award for HaaS & EFS
*** ChannelPartner.News Press Release ***
CRA Telecom Earns Recognition for Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) Program Excellence
2019 SuperPower Awards are chosen by the editors of ChannelPartner.News who are channel partners themselves and uniquely qualified to identify program excellence
LAKE ELSINORE, CA – September 19, 2019 – CRA Telecom, a seasoned information and communications technology (ICT) industry support vendor earned recognition as a SuperPower Award winner as determined by the working editors of ChannelPartner.News who are uniquely qualified to evaluate solutions that provide exceptional value for their end-user business clients.
To learn more about the unique program qualities that earned CRA Telecom this honor, listen to the recorded podcast of ChannelPartner.News editor Dan Baldwin interviewing CRA Telecom's Laura Bernstein at ChannelPartner.News/CRA or email CRA@ChannelPartner.News
Award Artwork: JPG, PNG, PSD