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2020: A Look Back at the Year That Changed Telarus, the Channel, and Life as We Know It

By December 28, 2020 No Comments

by Telarus co-owners: Adam EdwardsRichard Murray, and Patrick Oborn

Wow. What a year.

Time to reflect, celebrate, mourn, laugh, cry, and take stock of everything that has happened during 2020, the year that forever will be known as the year that changed everything.

This time the privilege of reporting to you, our family of agents, VARs, MSPs, suppliers, employees, and even future-partners, has fallen to me. In this blog you’ll read about how we reinvested our dollars and built a better Telarus for our partners during 2020. We do this because we want you to know, first-hand, what we’re up to, how we see the industry, what kind of opportunities are just over the horizon, and most importantly, how we spent our money in our pursuit to execute our central vision: to make you more successful.

Our Plans Headed Into 2020

In December 2019, which in hindsight feels like a lifetime ago, we were sitting in a fantastic position: we announced many exciting new programs like the Partner Loyalty Rewards Program and anticiPAY, we continued our leadership in new software tools with the launch of the International Services Matrix, we consistently added more suppliers to our patented GeoQuote tool, and we announced the hiring of many industry thought-leaders, including Koby Phillips, VP of Business Development – Cloud and Dominique Singer, VP of Business Development – Cybersecurity. Sales growth of network services and connectivity was consistently growing, SD-WAN was on the rapid increase, and cloud-enabled communication services continued to grow at a steady pace. Even amid all of this growth, more than 75 percent of businesses everywhere were stubbornly holding on to their on-premises phone systems, email servers, and contact center hardware. 

Starting off 2020 with a Bang

Since Telarus and CarrierSales came together in 2017, our primary focus has been building our advanced services practices, especially Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). In January 2020, we were excited to announce the hiring of Brandon Knight (pictured below) as our VP of Business Development – CCaaS. If you’ve met Brandon, you know that he’s the leading expert on all things contact center. He ran two different contact centers, he was the SVP of Sales for Serenova, and he is the headliner of many industry conferences.

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Later that month, we also announced two other influential industry names: Shane Speakman as our VP of Business Development – UCaaS, and Kameron Olsen as our Area VP of Sales – East. Both of them bring over a dozen years of experience and hundreds of great sales partners who know and trust them.

We shook things up again in February 2020 when we announced that we had hired Taylor Klevins to lead our partner development efforts in northern California. After many years working for a competing master agency and, most recently, a leading CCaaS provider, Taylor comes to us with a ton of experience with advanced services. That same month we also hired industry veteran Don Gaus to look after our partners in Florida. To finish off February, we held our first Telarus Innovation Conference for our partners in Canada! (see below)

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All in all, things were going exactly according to plan.

March 2020

Going into March, we had our entire 2020 almost built out. We knew who we were going to hire, when we were going to hire them, and exactly how we were going to continue growing our business to maximize the success of our partners in all of the following areas:

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We, like everyone else, watched the news as cases of the Coronavirus spread. Never having lived through a pandemic, people everywhere started to panic. They bought as much bottled water and toilet paper as possible, and soon we were presented with the unthinkable: stores with empty shelves.

By mid-March, we saw hospitals worldwide filling up with Coronavirus patients suffering from COVID-induced pneumonia. Governments everywhere began “locking down” their citizens to slow the spread of the virus, and in so doing, immediately made cloud communications as essential to our lives as internet access.

As business owners, we too feared the uncertainty, but knew that we had the right team in place, with the right culture, and money in the bank, to figure this out.

Right Place, Right Time? 

As business owners, we like to think that our planning, strategy, and foresight are critical elements to success. But sometimes in life, no matter how well you prepare or plan, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. We had no idea of the tsunami of opportunity headed our way.

By mid-March, we knew that Zoom was creating a partner channel and was in the process of vetting master agents. On March 9, 2020, we were thrilled to learn that Telarus had been named one of only three master agents for video conferencing leader, Zoom. On March 12, 2020, the next few days, the whole world seemed to be melting down. The stock market fell over 10,000 points, the price of Bitcoin fell 50 percent, and governments around the world announced massive lockdowns. In just a few days, the ‘regular world’ as we knew it vanished, companies (including us) were forced to close down their main offices, and the era of work from home was thrust upon us.

The fear and uncertainty we were all feeling was also felt on Wall Street, where just about every company with “in-person” business models got trashed on March 12, 2020.

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There was no playbook for running a business with 100 percent of your team working from their homes. Luckily, Telarus had transitioned to RingCentral early in 2018 and worked seamlessly with our non-Utah staff using video, chat, voice, and collaboration tools they provide. Other businesses who were still using on-premise phone systems weren’t so lucky.

Calls to our sales partners, and eventually Telarus, began to pour in. Zoom, and video conferencing in general, rapidly became a top seller as companies scrambled to find ways to communicate with their co-workers and connect with their customers. Schools scrambled for ways to hold online school. In a matter of days, decades-old resistance to cloud-based communications evaporated. The conversation changed from “Why do I need cloud-based unified communications?” to “Why should I buy my cloud-based unified communications from an agent as opposed to directly from the provider?”

Once the initial ‘mad dash to the cloud’ subsided in April, we saw many companies holding their wallets and not making any significant changes or signing any long-term contracts. Business owners were waiting patiently to see if any government stimulus money was headed their way and did everything in their power just to stay in business. The difference between winners and losers seemed to be determined more by the industry you were in rather than your thought leadership, cash management, or ability to execute. Businesses reliant upon face-to-face interaction were hit extremely hard.

As we saw the number of COVID cases continue to increase, industry events began to get postponed and eventually canceled. Our first casualties were our Telarus Innovation Conferences. At these TIC events, we would fly to a city and train our partners in an all-day event to sell and advise on UCaaS, CCaaS, and cybersecurity solutions. Like others in our industry, we relied heavily on in-person events to connect with our sales partners and suppliers. These interactions were critical to our ability to receive feedback about the things we’re doing right and, more importantly, the things we can improve.

To adjust to this new reality, where our understanding of the virus changed daily, where public health officials gave different guidance in different states, and where businesses remained locked down, we knew we had to come up with new and creative ways to find new sales agents, to educate and train our existing agents, and to provide white-glove service to our top-producing agents, all from afar.

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Telarus Virtual is Born

After the lockdown began in March, the Telarus Marketing Team started to brainstorm ideas for live and recorded video training. The first training we launched was called “3 Things You Need to Do Before Sending Your Employees Home to Work Remote During the Coronavirus Outbreak – A Survival Guide for Business Owners,” and subsequent training calls ensued. Our most popular partner call was “How to Request PPP (Government Payment Protection Program) Funding.” We did an enormous amount of research and helped our partners not only survive the difficult times but be a beacon of hope and information to their clients.

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After our initial release of thought leadership, our marketing team built an impressive lineup of live events (over Zoom) and recorded interviews with the industry’s top names. With so many interviews and events taking place, our team re-imagined our empty office. We converted the space into a massive television studio set that we affectionately named: Studio 19 (as a shout out to COVID-19). Since its construction in May 2020, we’ve hosted interviews from all of the industry’s top suppliers (C to C interviews), hosted the industry’s top engineering talent (Behind the Desk), and even played a few live games of JeoParody!

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But the real marketing innovation was a game we call “Race to the Summit,” where our partners can earn points attending these online training, reaching out and interacting with our suppliers, and completing certifications. The first season of Race to the Summit culminated on August 10, 2020, and we ended up in a three-way tie for first. We flew each of the three finalists to Utah, where we spun the wheel to determine the winner. Mary Muir, one of our newest agents from Detroit, Michigan, opted for $25,000 in cash instead of a 3-year lease of a Telsa Model S. At the finale of Race to the Summit, Season 2, Craig Fields of Amnexus in Cincinnati, Ohio, also opted for the $25,000. We were thrilled to see even more participation (see below), excitement, and learning. We’ve seen hundreds of partners expand their universe, get out of their comfort zones, and make sales in product categories that had previously alluded to them, and we couldn’t be more excited!

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Keeping the Bills Paid

Our partners also stayed liquid during the pandemic, taking advantage of our anticiPAY program to immediately borrow money they needed to hire rock star employees who found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic. Many of these same agents paid us back in full by the end of the year, having taken advantage of the time-sensitive opportunities presented. Most of all, as you’ll see below, our agents seized the initiative by leveraging our sales engineering and business development (SME) teams to help their clients’ transition from an on-premise world to a cloud-based work-from-home environment. We coined the term “Year of Transformation” as our 2020 slogan, but little did we know what an understatement that would be!

Telarus Partner Summit-ish

This year we were scheduled to host Telarus Partner Summit, the worldwide partner conference that continues to break records, at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. Our only problem was the local health officials in Nashville had banned gathering larger than 50 people, and based on last year’s attendance, we were planning on around 1,000. We inquired with the Gaylord Texan and other locations to see if we could do something scaled-down. It quickly became apparent that we’d have to hit the ‘pause button’ on our eight-year tradition of spending three days with all of our partners and suppliers in one amazing location.

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That’s when the Virtual Partner Summit was born. In August, around the same time the real Telarus Partner Summit would have happened, we conducted virtual training and held an awards ceremony with 50 percent of the attendees safely distanced at the Hale Center Theatre in Sandy, Utah, the other half over video conference. We announced the 2019 sales achievers, partner choice winners, and wrapped it all up by assembling water filters with Doc Hendley as his family. Doc (pictured here speaking to our staff and sales partners) is the founder of Wine to Water, one of the most amazing humanitarian non-profit organizations in the world.

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Partner Recognition

No pandemic was going to keep us from one of our favorite parts of Telarus Partner Summit: the Awards Banquet, where we get to shine a light and publicly recognize all of our partners and suppliers for their remarkable achievements and success with Telarus. This year, during our virtual Partner Summit, we were excited to recognize Elite Telecom Solutions as our top producing partner of 2019. Elite, appropriately named, has been a consistently rising star in our family, and they are doing exactly what any successful agency needs to be doing: continually reinvesting in their business. From lead gen, marketing, and operations, Elite is making all the right moves to make sure they stay on top in 2021.

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We also had the absolute honor to induct three new companies into the Telarus Hall of Fame, a distinction that can only be received after years of consistent production. Based on their body of work over the years, we revealed and welcomed our three new inductees into the Hall of Fame:

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If our office ever re-opens to the public again, you’ll see platinum records on the Hall of Fame Wall with their names on them. They are a constant reminder of why we show up to work each day and why each commission dispute, each price quote, and each phone call matter.

New Sales Records Fall

Heading into the third quarter, we saw all of our ‘big deals’ – many of which had been on ‘pause’ during the early stages of the pandemic – start to move again. Many deals over $100,000/month came in, and we celebrated our partner’s success and took pride in knowing that a Telarus sales engineer, business development VP, or some other Telarus resource had played a pivotal role in helping get these larger customers to say “yes.” Our ability to go ‘client-facing,’ even if it’s over Zoom, under the agent’s brand, is something that took a ton of time, investment, and tweaking to get just right. The jump in sales was dramatic: September 2020 sales doubled the February 2020 number, setting a record that almost fell again in October 2020.

The great thing about these accomplishments is that it came from a broad base of partners across a broad base of products. Over 60 percent of the new sales were non-network related, meaning they were UCaaS, CCaaS, public/private cloud, colocation, cybersecurity, managed IT, mobility, and IoT deals. We credit this to the renewed focus on training our partners virtually, using our in-house technology experts that continue to make them look good, and to a very quiet but maniacal focus on excellence in our day-to-day support – from the Partner Support Managers on down. In this pandemic, we’ve learned that marketing gets us the at-bats, and operations and engineering keep them coming back.

Supplier Awards Start to Roll In 

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We LOVE getting awards and accolades from our supplier community, first and foremost, because it’s a direct result of our sales partners’ success. When we win awards, it means agencies worldwide increase their commission revenues, hire new staff members, increase their marketing budgets, and reinvest in their businesses at ever-increasing rates. It also validates our strategy of providing as much technical support, marketing, and financial assistance as our partners want to consume. The “we want to bolt on to your business and be your true partner” strategy is working, and here are some awards that prove that model:

  • AT&T – Platinum Elite Solution Provider (2021)
  • Comcast Business – Pinnacle Master Agent (2020)
  • Lumen (CenturyLink) – Diamond Partner (2020)
  • Verizon – Platinum Partner (2020)
  • RingCentral – Platinum Partner (2020)
  • Vonage – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • Nextiva – Top Master Agent (FY 2020)
  • LogMeIn – Titanium Partner (FY 2021)
  • NICE inContact – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • Spectrum Enterprise – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • Cox Business – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • AireSpring – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • Masergy – Highest Growth – Master Agent (FY 2020)
  • iTel – Top Master Agent (2019)
  • WOW! Business – Top Master Agent (2019)
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Sales Keep Rising Through the Health Crisis

At the onset of the pandemic, no one – including the suppliers – knew if customers would pay their bills or not. Since our commission revenue is tied to the payment of those bills, our own income became uncertain. Like a chain of dominoes, we didn’t know if we’d be looking at a significant ‘pay cut’ in 60-90 days into the future – the time it takes for our commission cycles to run – or not.

Just to be safe and to avoid having to lay off a single person, Telarus temporarily tapped the breaks on new hiring until we could gain enough visibility into our future cash situation. By Q3 2020, it became apparent that not only was commission revenue not decreasing, it was increasing at a record pace!

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The great news is two-fold when it came to our 2020 sales numbers. First, they continued at a healthy double-digit pace, as you can see here. But more importantly, for us anyway, is to see that more partners were selling ‘advanced services’ (services like UCaaS, CCaaS, Security, Cloud, and Mobility/IoT) than ever in our history!

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Advanced services (dark blue) accounted for over 50% of our total revenue in 2020, all while we continued to grow revenue in our traditional network services portfolio. We were able to accomplish this by recruiting new partners who have a specialty in ‘as a service’ offerings and training our legacy partners on how to have advanced services conversations. Since every dollar you see in these charts represents commissions our partners are collectively earning, it gives us great pride to see these trends absolutely headed in the right direction! Our investments in advanced services experts and our partners’ time investments are truly paying dividends, as you can see here.

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Telarus Staff: Class of 2020

Telarus HR has been busy in 2020, especially in the fourth quarter, when we hired 30 of our 40 new 2020 team members! Here is a complete list of the new faces now working hard for the success of our sales partners:

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As you can see, we’ve made significant investments into our sales team, business development team, supplier management team, human resource team, commissions and revenue assurance team, partner support team, cable support team, account management (as-a-service) team, specialty support team (both AT&T and Lumen), and most of all our marketing team. We consider and treat our employees like family so that, in turn, they treat our valuable partners like family. We feel so privileged and blessed to have so many new faces on our team eager to work hard for you.

Unique Value Through Exclusive Suppliers

In 2020, we continued executing on our strategy to bring new and unique solutions into our supplier portfolio because we know that having innovative solutions that businesses can’t easily or readily find on their own makes our agents more valuable to their customers. This year we added an incredible slate of vendors that are both new to Telarus and new to the Channel in general. These exclusive suppliers, almost all of which offer services that help businesses succeed and thrive during the pandemic, include:

  • For2Fi – offering massive 200GB to 500GB 4G/LTE internet access plans on the biggest networks
  • Lightning MD – offering user-friendly medical billing and telemedicine services software-as-a-service
  • StratusWorx – offering hyper-fast cloud workspace solutions that help companies virtualize just about any software
  • Everbridge – software helps companies manage critical incidents like natural disasters, pandemics, and social unrest using UCaaS technology
  • Olumo – Olumo asks your employees benchmarked questions 1-2 times per week via text message (or email) and populates an actionable scorecard for your company, with steps you can take to strengthen your Workplace Experience.
  • Thought Horizon – Patented, end-to-end managed social selling platform will help you discover business opportunities by putting Social Media to profitable use with powerful analytics
  • Minim – AI-driven managed WiFi and IoT security platform
  • Crowdstorage – employs an innovative storage architecture that utilizes extra space on hard drives to build a network
  • Defendry – AI-powered tech solution to help save lives from the current active shooter epidemic in the workplace and schools
  • Foresite – cybersecurity solutions empower organizations with vigilance and expertise to proactively identify, respond to, and remediate cyber-attacks and breaches where they occur

This impressive “Class of 2020” group joins our complete list of Exclusive Suppliers, shown here:

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Telarus Supplier Class of 2020

Our supplier management team was also busy in 2020, adding other valuable suppliers to our portfolio. We consider it our mission to bring on the brands that your customers are asking for, and this is the complete list of providers that you can now source through Telarus:

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Most notable to the portfolio were a few “800-pound gorillas”: Zoom Video CommunicationsEquinixMegaportRogers, and Telus – giving our partners who specialize in UCaaS, private/public cloud, and Canadian-based services a considerable boost.

Columbia Capital Partners with us to Help Fuel Growth

Adding more fuel to the fire, on December 1, 2020, we announced our partnership with Columbia Capital, a private equity partner who specializes in technology infrastructure companies. Their prior list of clients is impressive: PresidioZayoCologixCloud Sherpas, and New Signature. Telarus is proud to join that elite group of industry leaders who have partnered with Columbia Capital to accelerate their growth.

Since we announced the partnership, many people have asked us, “why did you do it?” and “why now?” 2020 was a year of quiet consolidation in the market. While most of us were working from home focused on our job functions, firms outside of the Channel have been acquiring assets, including sales agencies. Other master agents have been part of this rollup, too, with more being announced each month. It’s easy to see that ‘real money’ is coming into this space, and Telarus will be ready to impose our will on the industry when opportunities that make sense present themselves. With Columbia’s help, we plan to capitalize on this trend in 2021.

Massive Plans for 2021 

On the organic growth front, we continue to keep the throttle down on hiring for two reasons: we need to continue to raise the bar of our partner experience, reducing the time it takes for them to get critical information back to their customers. Second, we need to continue investing in areas that we think our future successes will come: account managementfinancial productsdigital mediaonline learning systems, and in-house experts with in-depth, focused, technical knowledge that will allow our partners continue punch outside of their weight class, get involved in deals where they are not the technical experts, and to perform non-sales related tasks that are critical to the business.

We’ve also got a massive event calendar planned for 2021, including a hybrid mix of responsible in-person and virtual events. With almost a year of experience seeing how technology is being used to Band-Aid the world together during the pandemic, we are excited to share with our partners even more winning recipes on how they can help their customers adapt and thrive in 2021.

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This pandemic has been ruthless in causing damage to some industries while sparing and even benefitting others. We have been blessed to be in the right place, with the right technology, with the right team, at the right time, helping our sales partners benefit from the global demand for cloud-based communications services and infrastructure. We also benefit from knowing that we’re helping humanity adapt and even thrive in this new world when we get up for work each day.

Giving Thanks by Giving Bank

Lastly, as we close the book on 2020 and look forward to 2021, we are incredibly proud of the increased focus on giving back. This year we gave more money to more charitable organizations than all our past years combined. This life is about more than making a buck – it’s our responsibility as human beings to make the world around us a better place.

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The amazing organizations that we were proud to partner with and support include:

2020 was indeed a “Year of Transformation.” We saw the best of humanity, the best of the agent community, and the best of ourselves. While many of us have experienced life-changing pain personally, professionally, and spiritually, we couldn’t be prouder of how our team, our partners, and our suppliers have stepped up to the plate to do their own small thing to make the world better. Together we made a difference. Together we sold more than at any time in our history. Together we blew past our goals amid a global health emergency. Together we gave back.

We invite all of you to join us in 2021 as we continue to innovate with new software tools, new online learning systems, exclusive cloud-based suppliers that are disrupting the industry, and new financial products that will make sure that you stand ready to seize all of the many opportunities that are sure to head your way next year. We invite you to join us in our efforts to raise money for those less fortunate than us. We invite you to be part of our family of top-producing trusted advisors focused on being the best they can be. We invite you to be a part of something extraordinary in our industry.

Here’s to an amazing 2021! 

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Patrick, Adam, and Richard