Approaching the VoIP Target
Part I of 2
By Greg Praske
Voice over IP is continuing to gain recognition, acceptance and
customers. As a channel partner, the VoIP sale is becoming more and more a part
of life. Successful partners know selling VoIP is distinctively different from
traditional long distance, local or even Internet sales. Greg Praske of master
agency Association Resource Group offers the insider view on why voice over IPand,
most importantly, the applications it enablesoffers a way to move from
providing commodities to becoming a true business consultant, offering real
value to your customers.
A Wall Street Journal article a few months back confirmed a major economic
trend. A review of price data showed that in the previous year, prices for
televisions were down 12 percent, while cable TV services were up 5 percent.
Also, toys had fallen 10 percent, while child care rose 5 percent. Sports
equipment was down 2 percent, while sports event admission was up 3 percent.
Photo equipment was down 7 percent, while photographer fees were up 3 percent.
The lesson in all this? Goodbye commodity, hello services.
Unfortunately, if youve been marketing telecom for a few years, youve
seen our products become commoditized. Weve witnessed considerable rate
attrition that depresses our marketing revenues. A few years ago, we were able
to provide dedicated long distance at 5 cents per minute and earn a 15 percent
commission (that works out to .75 cents per minute for our marketing and customer
support efforts. Then the rate fell to 4 cents, but we were able to boost our
commission percentage to 17 percent, resulting in a modest drop to a .68
cents-per-minute return for our marketing and support. Then, the rate fell to 3
cents and we fought to get our commission raised to 20 percent. And, it keeps
You may have offset some long-distance attrition by adding Internet to your
portfolio. Then the same thing happened and maybe you added local to offset the
continued long-distance attrition and the new Internet attrition. Then, perhaps
you added more data products and conferencing, just to offset continued
attrition across all products.
Now, along comes VoIP. At first, it wasnt ready. But now, those concerns
are being overcome: IP gateways are integrated to the PSTN; Quality of Service
resolves jitter; equipment improvements streamline installations; PBXs are
IP-enabled; and security solutions are available at a reasonable cost. VoIP is
getting ready for prime time.
So, as a marketer of network services, how are you going to play this one? Do
you see VoIP as simply a delivery method to drive down usage costs even further?
Do you see VoIP as the conduit to truly bundle voice and data?
At ARG, we see VoIP as something entirely different. For us, VoIP will enable
our agency to continue our long-term plans of moving from product provider to
solutions consultant. Were not going to only support our clients in reducing
their telecom costs and making their yesterday systems operate more smoothly. Were
going to provide our clients tools that are going to increase their companys
Yes, VoIP may enable some low-cost providers to compete for traditional voice
services. Interestingly, all of the major carriers have announced initiatives to
play in that game which seems to boil down to toll/tax avoidance.
But, the excitement, the pizzazz, the wow lies in the applications that
are enabled by VoIP. Here are a few of the tools you can provide to make your
clients more successful:
- A comprehensive voice disaster-recovery solution that duplicates the
companys call processing, while allowing those answering the calls to
be dispersed anywhere in the country. What is it worth for your customer
to keep receiving their calls despite losing their physical facility, or
a crash of their PBX, or a localized storm, or God forbid, a terrorist
- A virtual PBX. How helpful would it be to provide all of the
functionality of a traditional PBX, and then some, without requiring any
capital investment? And, allow your client to scale up or down quickly,
without any additional investment? Forget the maintenance contract
theres nothing to maintain.
- Enhanced call routing. The larger companies can deploy skills-based
ACDs, IVR systems to automate more of the call process, unified contact
processing to integrate voice, e-mail and chat, predictive or preview
dialing, and much, much more. How much can you increase your clients
productivity, without requiring a multi-million dollar investment?
Companies deploying all of the above tools will often experience 300 to
400 percent greater productivity. If you can help a company raise their
productivity that much, will it make sense any longer to consider
shipping the jobs overseas?
- Automated, network-based call back. You can eliminate the long hold
time. Your client can offer their callers the option of holding their
place in queue and requesting a callback when someone becomes available.
How much would that enhance customer satisfaction?
- Outbound call campaigns with fulfillment. There are lots of companies
that can blast out automated voice messages. But, how about providing
that service with an option to let the called party connect to a live
operator? Or to cast a vote on an issue or answer a simple question? How
many marketing campaigns can be enhanced with an outbound voice element?
- How about offering a real telecommuting solution? You can provide a
seamless experience to the caller: no home answering machines and
ability to opt out to another extension, just as if the caller was
routing inside a corporate headquarters. You can provide a supervisor
reporting tools to make sure calls are being handled, that teleworkers
are available and measure productivity. You can help your clients lower
their lease expenses, attract better talent and enhance employee morale.
- Automated surveys. Maybe youll just allow a company to transfer
their callers to an automated survey at the end of a transaction to
measure customer satisfaction. Or, maybe youll want to help your
client conduct a full-blown outbound market survey. You can make it
happen quickly and deliver a full report of the results – for a fraction
of the cost of a stamp.
Are you ready to move into the customer success business? Instead of offering
local, long distance and Internet service, how about business continuity,
productivity, customer satisfaction, marketing and teleworking services?
The technology is here. Major carriers and specialized providers will be
previewing their products at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in March
in Las Vegas. MCI, UCN, Qwest Communications International Inc. and SAVVIS
Communications Inc. are a few that are launching significant VoIP offerings.
The first step for agents is to gain an understanding of whats available.
Identify those services that you can provide to make your clients and prospects
The second step is to establish relationships with partners that are going to
help make you successful. We live in a world that operates at Internet speed.
The opportunity is now. Will it be here in 18 months? Who knows? Make sure youre
aligned with a partner that can assist you in implementing these customer
success services now. This is clearly a business where it will make sense to
take a smaller piece of a much bigger pie, so that you can deliver the service
The third step is to get out in the market. Talk to your clients and
prospects. What are they doing in there business? How could these VoIP-enabled
services make your client more successful? Consult. Offer solutions. Get away
from the commodity. And provide the business-success service.
About the Author:
Greg Praske is CEO of Association Resource Group, based in the Washington D.C. metro area. ARG is a 12-year-old telecom consulting and brokerage business with a staff of 24 highly experienced and dedicated individuals, including direct sales, solutions engineers, order project managers, implementation engineers, account managers and client services specialists. ARG also is a master agent and founding member of the Agent Alliance, a collaborative group of master agencies focused on perfecting the art of providing channel-partner based services.