CF: It seems like most agencies have historically balanced relationships with at least two or three TSDs. Is that a correct assessment, and do you think the average number of TSD partners will increase or decrease?
JS: Many partners had one (very loyal), and over time, and looking for ways to gain benefits once they maxed out current benefits, would add an additional TSD. I generally see two (which is where tools and enablement programs become valuable). Pushing to three really happens (in my opinion) when a supplier technology isn't available in the primary or secondary TSDs.
DN: Direct selling agents have historically maintained relationships with multiple TSDs to create a diversified portfolio and reduce risk. As the consolidation of TSDs has accelerated, there are fewer TSDs to choose from. Therefore, it’s a logical assumption that the majority of the direct selling agents will ultimately maintain relationships with the largest of the few TSDs that are left standing.
CF: What should a partner be looking for as they interview potential TSD partners?
JS: Supplier portfolio – availability for agency and resell; tools – marketing support; content support; data strategy support; engineering – who can help sell the deal/support the tech structure; financial support; commission – support/data, order reader/efficiency around payment/visibility; project management – around deals/installs.
DN: As a direct selling agent, the first step in determining which TSDs you should consider running your business is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to delivering services that will create long-term value for your clients. By identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to determine the areas where you are lacking knowledge or skill sets which will be critical when determining which TSDs can best support your needs. Perhaps your biggest concern is in the pre-sales process, and understanding how to sell nontraditional next-gen services to your clients. By understanding your own needs first, you’ll be able to interview multiple TSDs to gauge the level of support they are able to provide and the associated cost of that support in order to determine which TSD will be the right fit for your individual circumstance.
It’s important to recognize that the TSDs (just like the service providers/carriers we represent) each have their own area of specialty and/or focus. Making sure that you have the right alignment from a support and cultural perspective will be the key to having a successful relationship. Solicit feedback from your peers to better understand their experiences with the TSDs, and ultimately if all else fails, try a proof of concept (POC) by putting a small amount of business through those TSDs that you’ve identified to be on your shortlist to see if they are able to support you in the areas where you most need help.
Lastly, stay informed by joining a peer group. The marketplace is changing rapidly based on a variety of factors including new preferences in the customer buying experience. The remaining TSDs will need to continue to evolve their service offerings to reflect these changes in order to stay relevant.
CF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JS: The future of TSDs depends on thoughtful people making data-driven decisions that reinforce relationships and deliver exceptional outcomes.