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"New Businesses Sharing New Business News "

Excel turns to Internet to boost customer base

By Victor Godinez
Dallas Morning News Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Excel Communications Inc. is looking to change the world of direct marketing by equipping its sales representatives with their own personal Web sites.

Sean Smith, an independent representative of Excel Communications Inc., has been aided by the company's increased use of the Internet.

"Our real strategy behind this is to change the face of our sales force," said Chris Chambless, vice president of e-business development for Excel. "We want to make the business as simple as we can so they can focus on the thing that they do best, which is sell, and not all the office work that goes along with it."

Excel, founded in 1988, sells long-distance phone services to residential customers using commissioned-based, independent sales reps who work as many - or as few - hours as they want.

In the past, its sales workers have pitched Excel's products in person and signed up customers on paper.

But since July 1999, sales reps have been able to direct potential customers to their Web sites. There, customers can read through information about the service at their leisure and then sign up for the service online.

The Internet service is convenient for customers and is more efficient than in-person calls for the company. And Mr. Chambless said it also attracts young sales reps who are computer savvy and looking for a Web-related job. They, in turn, are better in selling to younger consumers than Excel's more tradition-bound sales force.

"This is a business that really has some potential for that segment of the population that we, up until the last six or eight months, haven't appealed to," Mr. Chambless said.

Sean Smith, a Plano resident and former Marine combat sniper, said his work for Excel is stimulating, especially now that the company has embraced the Internet. "Excel is an emotional roller coaster," Mr. Smith said. "It does present challenges that most people haven't experienced."

The Web also allows Excel's sales reps to sign up customers outside the Dallas area, he said. Any time customers  no matter where in the world they may be  buy an item or service through Mr. Smith's Web site, he gets an e-mail notifying him of the transaction.

"That Web site is so powerful," he said. "It's virtually an untapped market."

The Web-based approach works well for John Tuffen of Flower Mound, who uses his Excel profits to supplement the income he gets from his small export business. By relying on the Internet to help sell his phone products, Mr. Tuffen said he now spends only six to 10 hours a week on his work for Excel.

"I flag a lot of people to the Web site, and they kind of like it," he said.

Excel sales workers also are encouraged to recruit other sales reps and get a cut of their profits. Mr. Tuffen uses the Web for his recruiting.

"A lot of people are looking for home-based businesses, and this is a great one," he said. "People are running around, flying everywhere, and they're spending more time away from home, working for big corporations. It's an opportunity if they want to work out of the house and build a business from the home."

Excel has also begun offering products such as movies, books and clothing for sale online in addition to its core telecommunications products. It takes the Amazon approach and marries it to a living and breathing sales rep.

"If you really look at what their whole idea of technology is about, it's about creating a unique experience for their customers that's meaningful to that customer and individual to that customer," Mr. Chambless said. "But they [Amazon] stop short of having a human face to it."

. . . watch for more stories coming soon  

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