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Khali Henderson

Khali Henderson, editor in chief of Channel Partners, draws on more than two decades of experience covering telecom and IT for her observations about the technology and business trends impacting the channel.

Contact Khali at:
Email: khenderson@vpico.com
Twitter: @khalihenderson
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/khalihenderson

Shifting the Sales Conversation

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IP communications products are natural sellers in a recessionary environment. At least that’s what we’ve come to learn from this one. I don’t know that we’re terribly surprised. Convergence of voice and data enabled by IP is inherently more efficient and cost-effective than traditional methods. And that cost savings is a major hot button for businesses of all sizes in the current trying economic climate. Turn it into a pay-per-use service and you’ve got an even bigger hit in that department. Recent conversations with hosted VoIP service providers bore out this fact. All reported significant gains in customers/seats since the start of the downturn.

We can argue all day long about the merits of hosted versus on-premises VoIP solutions, but that’s really beside the point. Either way, these customers were sold based on the cost benefits the solution provided. For many, it was simply getting rid of PRIs and putting in SIP trunking for free site-to-site calling.

That’s a good conversation to have, especially when it’s netting orders. But it’s not the conversation that salespeople need to ensure sustained sales over the long term.

Is this where I rant for what seems the billionth time about solution selling? Yes and no.

Solution selling is a no-brainer. Smart sales organizations figured out a long time ago that they can up the chances of making sales by solving business problems. This is not unique to telecom, either. But what may be unique to telecom is that the way we just drop the solution-orientation once we get to specifying the system. We fall back on the number of lines, the number of voice mail boxes, the line features, etc.

I’m not blaming the salespeople; they are just doing what they need to get the order placed. But how unnerving must it be as a customer to settle on your “business solution” only to see it cataloged as random licenses on a quote form. Would you even know what you are buying?

Finally, it seems that vendors are seeing the fallacy of that approach. Let me give you an example. Avaya Inc. announced Monday a whole new approach to buying its unified communications solution, IP Office, that enables buyers to define what they are buying by the user profiles. There are six new “role-based solutions, including “teleworker,” “mobile worker,” and “customer service agent.” So, for example, if a company has 10 teleworkers, they get 10 teleworker licenses that include all of the features a teleworker needs even though previously this combination of capabilities would have crossed several technology-based application licenses, including a VPN license, a one-X Portal for IP Office license and a Phone Manager Pro license. Now, it’s simple for customers and salespeople to see exactly what solution they are buying down to individual user on the quote and invoice.

You’ll agree that this is a big step away from selling technology for technology’s sake. But we can go further and stop talking about the technology even in relation to how one uses it. Communications – even amazingly cool unified communications – in that case is not the product, but an enabler of some other desired business benefit. This is the underlying premise behind IPcelerate’s next-generation framework, announced Monday at the VON Conference & Expo.

IPcelerate is enabling premises-based and hosted UC platforms with the ability to create applications that allow the salesperson to insert themselves into the customer conversation about improving their business processes. In the case of a hospital, the salesperson is now capable of discussing more efficient patient management or insurance verification or physician management or all of the above. It’s no longer just about phones or phone service or even about connectivity or messaging or unifying communications. Sure, the means for improving the processes use elements of communications technology, but the perceived result is not a communications solution. It’s immediate business impact. The beauty of that, IPcelerate argues, is that the solution could be paid for out of core, non-telecom budgets, which may not be as quick to dry up or be delayed – even during a recession. And, when the market rebounds, it gives salespeople many more opportunities to get in front of the customers to solve their business problems.

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