Get Back To The Basics Of VoIP In 2009
During the past year, Business Solutions has covered some of the key trends in VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol). In February, we mentioned the importance of offering security measures to protect your customers' VoIP networks. In August, we discussed the growing popularity of IP video conferencing and offered VARs some advice on how to sell IP video conferencing solutions alongside VoIP. More recently, I covered the topic of hosted vs. premise-based VoIP solutions and why VARs may want to consider selling both.
In theory, VoIP solves many business problems and provides new opportunities and efficiencies to companies. But if a VAR doesn't fully understand the technology and the needs of the customer who will be using it, the benefits VoIP offers quickly become nothing but problems. We've all heard the VoIP horror stories — dropped calls, poor voice quality, echo, and jitter. The thing is, your customers have heard these horror stories too, and many are leery of VoIP. Although you know as a VAR that VoIP as a technology is ready for business, you will likely face many objections from your customers because of its complexity and reputation.
As you look forward to 2009, don't look for the next big VoIP advancement or the newest cutting edge VoIP application. Get back to the basics — understanding the fundamentals of a quality VoIP phone call and being able to offer it to your customers is the only way you will be able to successfully overcome their objections. Here is some practical advice to assist you:
n Know your customer's current and future bandwidth needs. Bandwidth is the first thing you should consider before rolling out your customer's VoIP solution. VoIP requires voice packets to traverse the network two ways in real time, and if there isn't enough bandwidth to support this, calls will be dropped. Connect to your customer's network using network monitoring hardware or software to gain an understanding of their network traffic patterns. Once you understand the network traffic patterns, work with your customer to determine the number of simultaneous VoIP phone calls they need to support, remembering to take the company's future growth into account. Knowing your customer's usage ahead of time and considering the volume of VoIP calls they plan for will avoid instances of dropped calls when rollout of the VoIP solution is complete.
n Determine if a hosted or premise-based solution is the best fit. It may be fitting for SMB companies to deploy hosted VoIP solutions to keep installation times short and capital investments low. However, companies that are looking to customize their applications may choose a premise-based VoIP solution. It is important for you as a VAR to consider what your customer wants to accomplish with its VoIP solution and to educate your customers about the TCO (total cost of ownership) as it relates to their goals rather than just the initial price of the solution. Being knowledgeable about both hosted and premise-based solutions and offering choices to your customers helps you to be viewed as a trusted advisor rather than a salesperson.
n Remember the importance of ongoing support. When implementing any new technology, especially one as mission-critical as VoIP, it is important for your customers to know they can turn to you when they have questions. Many of the companies you deal with may not have large, highly trained internal IT staffs and will rely on you for help. Your customers will need you to assist in adding new users and applications, managing security and software updates, and handling other issues that are bound to arise with the new deployment. Being available to walk them through these processes will improve their initial VoIP experience, in turn helping to improve VoIP's reputation.
Let's face it — VoIP is complex. If you don't believe that, listen to some of the horror stories companies will tell you about botched installations. As a VAR, you are in a position to educate others about how VoIP can be beneficial rather than problematic. The key to this is a successful implementation of the technology. Offering advanced applications to customers who are already uncomfortable with the idea of VoIP is only going to push them further away. In 2009, take the time to truly understand the complexities of VoIP, and follow the advice above to prove to customers that the technology really isn't that scary.