The question du jour asked by MSPs, VARs and telecom dealers (we’ll call them all “Solutions Integrators") seems to be “How do you know when a customer needs UC (unified communications)?
The answer is easy — and complex at the same time. First, as my colleague, Blair Pleasant of COMMfusion likes to remind her audiences, “unified communications" is not a product or a group of products. It is a strategy for integrating elements of voice, data, video and mobility to provide solutions to a wide range of customer business issues and problems. Second, depending on the customer issue that is being addressed, a “UC solution" could include elements of just voice and data; or voice, data and video; or voice, data and mobility. ... Well, you get the picture.
At the crux of the answer to the question du jour is the issue of how the channel partner/solutions integrator relates to a customer. Is the sole point of contact the IT manager (now that telecom managers are mostly extinct)? In today’s environment of converged technology, the IT manager may be the point of entry, but it is the line of business manager who has the pain points that can best be resolved by one UC solution or another. For example:
- Does the sales department have mobile workers who need information that resides in the office and who need to be readily accessible to customers?
- Does the claims department in an insurance firm need to speed up the claims process to remain competitive and improve customer satisfaction?
- Does a doctor need a way to collaborate with other medical specialists?
- Does a school district need to give their teachers more time to teach by reducing the time they spend traveling to district-wide meetings?
- Does a small business need ways to appear larger so that they can compete in the global markets opened up by the internet?
Consider this: In today’s tight economy, the IT department’s budget for new technology purchases has often been reduced to almost zero. But if a channel partner can show a department how to do more with the reduced staff now in place so that their customers remain satisfied and loyal, a sale is likely! Or if they can show that school district how to reduce travel and time expenses associated with those district-wide meetings — again, a sale is likely!
Have you noticed that IP telephony products (VoIP) are often a difficult sale. Why? Because generally, a VoIP phone system doesn’t really solve a business problem. However, the UC applications that can be used with VoIP will provide real value to the customer.
So for the question “ How do you know when a customer needs UC?" the real answer is that you’ll only know if a UC solution is appropriate when you uncover issues or problems that can best be resolved with a solution that integrates voice, data, video and/or mobility in some form or another. The opportunities can be found in most verticals and from small business to the enterprise customer. Identify those opportunities and watch your revenues increase and your margins move higher and higher.
Pam Avila is founder of Sierra Summit Group , a consulting group formed in 2002 to address the challenges of building a convergence channel. She also is the channel expert on discussUC.com, an industry resource with more than 11,000 members worldwide. Avila is also the creator and manager of the annual UC3 Summit event. Her channel expertise comes from both managing channel sales organizations and mentoring a nationwide group of “convergence" VARs and telecom dealers called CT Pioneers, which was later merged with CompTIA. She is a member of the 2012-13 Channel Partners Advisory Board.