Q&A: Launch Your VoIP And UC Sales
Experts give VARs tips on how to successfully sell and implement VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and unified communications (UC) business.
Business Solutions, July 2009
John Grady, director of SMB marketing and channel development, NETGEAR: The most significant trend has less to do with the VoIP system and more to do with the underlying infrastructure that supports it. Today’s businesses are implementing wireless LANs, video, and other advanced applications that either take up a great deal of bandwidth or, like VoIP, are very sensitive to latency and Quality of Service (QoS) within a network. As a result, VARs need to ensure that their switching and wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure is able to support converged networks.
Sam Koury, sales director, northern region, ShoreTel: In this economic climate where every IT project is scrutinized to determine business value, there are two important trends. First, projects with a tangible financial return (supported with concrete examples of how this will translate to financial benefit to the business) that are integrated into the budget recommendation are getting approved. Those that do not include this level of justification stall. Second, IT projects that drive top line revenue growth (i.e. contact center) seem to be getting higher priority when it comes to budget.
Jeffrey Szczepanski, VP of R&D, Allworx Business, a division of PAETEC Communications: The most rapidly evolving trend relates to the integration of smart phone mobile devices into the business’ communications infrastructure. This, in effect, makes cellular phones and smart phones more like extensions on the business phone systems. The benefit to SMBs is communication flexibility relative to availability and location transparency, while providing a common point of contact for customers and partners.
What advice do you have for VARs that want to sell VoIP/UC solutions?
John Gaillard, VP of sales and business development: First, understand your current customer base. If you operate in a particular vertical, you need to determine what needs it has. Perform an opportunty/needs analysis of your customer base, and then seek to understand how to offer UC resources to address those needs.
Grady: Carefully audit your customers’ networks and determine what applications they’re running now, as well as what they plan for the future. By doing so, you can get a better understanding of what your customers require in terms of VoIP, but also how other network elements need to be augmented or replaced.
Koury: Many VARs are attracted to the higher margin business UC/VoIP offers but typically approach the business from either the data side or the traditional voice side. This often means they have deep experience on either side of the business, but usually not both. Make sure you have traditional/legacy voice expertise on staff in addition to your data network expertise. Just about all of the projects you bid on will be replacing a TDM (time-division multiplexing) solution. It’s very important that VARs know that environment well enough to make prospects/customers comfortable and insure there is no loss of feature functionality in the transition.
What are some ways a VAR can distinguish its VoIP solutions from its competitors?
Koury: Most VARs are still out there matching features, functions, and prices as if the telephony market was commoditized. The fact is, we have been and continue to be in the middle of a disruptive technology shift that requires business process understanding to provide true solutions. Best price is interesting, but best value is what wins over customers. Spend your time understanding how and why customers use their existing technologies to run their business. You will find in almost all cases that they have manipulated business process to accommodate technology limitations and in a lot of cases do not even recognize this fact. If you can help them streamline their business with your solution, you will surely differentiate yourself from your competitors who are more worried about how many buttons each phone should have than what the customer uses these buttons to accomplish.
What mistakes can VARs avoid when implementing VoIP and UC solutions?
Gaillard: Many times, salespeople want to oversell a solution. It’s important they understand the business of the customer. Selling UC isn’t just talking to the phone manager or IT director; it’s talking to the business unit heads and asking what problems they’re facing. VARs need to determine what customer problems can be solved with a UC application. Don’t think of yourself as a phone provider, but rather a solutions provider. You might have to change the way you sell. Be more probing.
Grady: VoIP is so sensitive to network performance that if you don’t have the right infrastructure in place, the quality of the calls will be poor, and VARs will be facing a lot of angry customers. The switching infrastructure, both wired and wireless, needs to be able to support more than just VoIP systems, but also other applications (such as video) that the business may incorporate over time. A VoIP deployment may be a great opportunity to “future-proof” your customer’s network.
Koury: Many VARs have sales people who are in such a hurry to close the deal, they forget to truly understand the customer’s requirements before they spit out a proposal matching speeds and feeds. This can result in an incomplete solution design, so the system ends up not meeting the operational needs of the business.
Here’s a simple analogy for a VoIP installation. A car will only ride as nicely as the road you test drive it on. The best vehicle will not impress you if you test drive it on a pothole-ridden road. Likewise, the best VoIP solution will not work well if you rush to install it on a network that was not designed and/or configured to support it properly. It is the VAR’s job to assess the network and consult the prospect on the work that needs to be completed to make the VoIP installation a success. Do not install a VoIP solution unless you have proven to yourself and your customer that the network is ready to support it.
What kinds of integration issues should VARs be aware of when selling and installing VoIP?
Gaillard: More than most industries/technologies, UC is rapidly changing. Therefore, today’s VARs selling UC need to be more well read on the industry. A VAR’s knowledge of UC applications/software and industry trends is going to have to increase. Many communications VARs only know the lines of the products they carry. When talking to customers, VARs need to be able to speak to all the different applications available today.
Grady: VARs must consider the capabilities of the existing network infrastructure when designing a VoIP solution. For example, does the network support Power over Ethernet (PoE) to support easy setup of VoIP phones? Does the switching infrastructure have “stacking” capabilities so that customers can expand their network as their headcount grows? Does the network deliver auto voice VLAN (virtual LAN) capabilities and rate limiting to reduce deployment time and ensure a latency-free VoIP experience?
Finally, if you’re going to implement a WLAN, make sure that it can support voice over-WiFi. If VARs take these issues into consideration when selling the VoIP system, they will be ensuring great customer satisfaction, great network performance, and potentially increase the amount of their sale.
Koury: Common integrations include CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), and SFA (sales force automation). These tools, tied to a communications platform, can create efficiencies that can make a real difference in your customer’s business, such as lowering cost of sale, increasing touches from a sales perspective, lowering time to resolution for professional services organizations, and so on.
A very important integration that should not be overlooked when selling into the enterprise space is the ability to interact with the TDM phone system that is likely in place. Most enterprises are not comfortable (if it is even physically possible) with performing a weekend cut-over of 100% of their system. Nor will they be comfortable creating voice mail and/or phone system “islands” of some of their locations as they roll out a new technology.
Szczepanski: A major benefit of VoIP is the integration of both voice and data into a single managed infrastructure. Over time, the seams between voice, data, computing infrastructures, wired devices, and wireless devices will all continue to dissolve. While this implies a much more sophisticated (or even complicated) back office infrastructure for the typical SMB, therein lies the opportunity for the VARs.