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Selling international services to U.S.-based multinationals has gotten the attention of many telecom agents in the past 18 months or so. And who wouldn’t be interested in what is practically a greenfield opportunity? The perfect storm of drivers includes the sluggish U.S. market, businesses of all sizes going global, agents increasing comfort with bigger bandwidth sales and customers’ increasing interest in outsourcing procurement for multilocation communications.

Many of the first movers report getting into the international telecom sales by chance – namely upon customer request – and have gone to their U.S.-based global providers such as AT&T, Sprint Nextel Corp. and Global Crossing Ltd. to make the deal work. Others have been pioneering partner relationships with international operators. But more recently international operators are seeking out U.S. agents. Case in point: four international carriers – China Unicom (Americas) Operations Ltd., NTT America, Pacnet Services (USA) Inc. and PCCW Global – exhibited at the Spring 2010 Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

China Unicom Americas’ partner program is relatively new, debuting in fall 2009. Patrick Zhang, deputy general manager of product and marketing, said the event “demonstrated the timing of our program couldn’t be better.” He said the carrier’s reason for launching a channel is due to the relationships business customers have forged with third parties to manage their communications services. “Building a channel program opens the door to establishing relationships with these influential entities,” he said.

In addition, Hutchison Global Communications USA (HGC) is launching its U.S. program this summer and Telstra International is relaunching its 3-year-old program later this year.

“There are around 40,000 individuals associated with the commissioned agent channel today. The channel is mature and its operations [are] transparent. It is too big to ignore,” said Andrew Kwok, senior vice president of international business for HGC, explaining why the company is launching a U.S. program later this year. “We believe an optimal mix of HGC sales force and indirect sales channels can enable us to effectively reach our target enterprise customers in the U.S. and further grow our business in the Americas.” Kwok said the company expects the channel to “become a significant revenue line item.”

Tata Communications Americas’ U.S. partner program is a bit more mature, starting in February 2008 with a referral program and evolving into an agent program a year later. In that time the company has found numerous benefits from VARs as an extension of its sales and support team in markets where it does not have a local presence. In addition, “VARs can bring specialized value-add to our product offerings for specific markets,” said Dave Ryan, executive vice president, Tata Communications Americas. “Combining Tata’s capabilities with VARs’ means the customer doesn’t have to assemble separate suppliers for an integrated solution. We are able to manage their entire project for them.”