Not all VoIP equipment manufacturers are created equal. Some manufacturers partner with their channel partners, while others compete with them. Some have migration paths, while others require a forklift upgrade. Most offer channel partners a variety of sales and marketing programs, but many have hidden costs. Is the manufacturer stable, i.e., will it be here tomorrow? Does your VoIP manufacturer offer you a TDM option for those customers that may choose not to adopt VoIP now? Knowing what to ask is the key for channel partners to effectively choose and maximize relationships with VoIP equipment manufacturers. Heres what to look for:
Competition: Does the Manufacturer Compete With Its Channel Partners?
Theres nothing more discouraging for a channel partner than finding out that their competition is in a potential deal with the manufacturer they represent. Its important to know in advance if you will be competing with the manufacturer. So ask them if they have a direct sales force, and if so, how it works (i.e., how, when and if they will be competing with you). Manufacturers who dont have direct sales forces are much more likely to treat you like a partner providing support, not competition, when youre bidding on a prospective sales opportunity.
Warranties: Can Manufacturer-Direct Warranties Help You Seal the Deal?
Ask what’s available to you and your end-user customers. Find out exactly what it includes and what it costs. In many cases, the manufacturers warranty is affordable and can be added into the total purchase cost and spread over the term of the lease. As well, you can bundle service warranties with the manufacturers equipment warranty for a full coverage package. This can be very effective in creating one monthly payment that covers everything. In addition, warranties can help you close deals. When a customer is having a hard time making a decision, calculating the total cost of ownership including the warranty can be a key factor.
Migration Path: How Can End-User Customers Save Money as Their Systems Grow?
Ask about the migration path. Do they plan to offer a migration path from current systems to future systems? What is included in the migration path? Will telephones, endpoints or other key components migrate to a larger platform? Whats needed to migrate and what kind of cost can a customer save by migrating versus having to purchase a completely new system? Does the manufacturer provide a migration path from past systems? And dont just take their word for it. Find out the manufacturers history of providing a migration path from past systems. In many instances, the concept of migration cements your relationship with the end-user customer because they know you care about maximizing their communications budget and protecting their long-term investment. Having a smooth migration path also shows that the manufacturer cares about the channel partner and their installed base.
Training: How Can You Maximize the Available Training?
Ask what types of training are available (online, regional, in-house, etc.) so you can mix-and-match the kind of training your team needs. Also ask if the training is technology-focused only or if they offer sales and marketing training as well. With todays complex VoIP systems, its important for the salesperson and the technician to understand both the technology and applications. Think about what types of training you want for your team and how best you can utilize what is offered by the manufacturer. Dont hesitate to share ideas and requests for different kinds of training from the manufacturer. Its also important to know if and what they charge for training so you can make sure it is cost-effective for your business.
Support: Does the Manufacturer Provide Pre- and Post-Buy Support?
As we all know, its not enough to sell and install the system it has to be supported. Ask the manufacturer what types of support are available as well as if and what they charge for it? Manufacturers typically offer a variety of support options including on-site sales and engineering support, telephone technical support, application desk support, and more.
National Accounts Program: Is the Manufacturer a Partner or Competitor?
Ask the manufacturer if they have a national accounts program and how it works. Does the manufacturer sell to and service national account customers, cutting you out of that business? Or do they share the business, coordinating with channel partners throughout the country to sell, install, and service national account customers? The right national account support program can help you add significant revenue to your bottom line.
Government Accounts Program: Is the Manufacturer GSA Listed?
As with national accounts programs, ask the manufacturer about their overnment accounts program. Do they sell direct, or do they give their channel partners an opportunity to participate in government sales? Ask if they have a government accounts program, if their full line is on the GSA list, how the program works, and how you can work with them to sell and service government customers. Again, knowing how they manage government accounts can make a huge difference in your success in this market.
Extras: What Else Should You Look For?
Manufacturers often offer bonus buys, specials and channel partner incentives. Ask about incentive programs for your sales organization and end-user customers such as manufacturer-supplied leads, free collateral, discounted demonstration equipment, end-user sales call assistance, competitive comparisons and more. Some manufacturers can also give you access to discounted products from other divisions, such as office products including notebook computers, copiers, security products, fax machines, laptops, etc., maximizing your value to the customer.
Knowing what the manufacturer offers to support its channel and then taking advantage of those programs gives you a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Larry Meyer is vice president of sales and marketing at Toshibas Telecommunication Systems Division, a VoIP equipment manufacturer.