THE SMALL AND MEDIUM
business (SMB) market continues to be fertile ground for technology resellers and solutions providers with credentials in the VoIP arena.
A recent survey of more than 200 members of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) found 74 percent of them have either sold VoIP solutions to small businesses (fewer than 100 employees), or expect to do so in the next year. Another 57 percent said theyve made, or expect to make, VoIP sales to medium businesses (100 to 1,000 employees).
The most common solution deployed by SMB customers is VoIP to the desktop (72.8 percent). Other solutions sought by SMBs include point-to-point trunk line VoIP connections (54.4 percent); point-to-multipoint trunk line VoIP connections (49.5 percent); and in-building or in-campus mobile voice over wireless (33 percent).
CompTIA members reported a high degree of satisfaction from customers who have deployed VoIP solutions; 85.5 percent of respondents said their customers are very satisfied or satisfied with the technology.
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By a wide margin, reduced telecommunications cost is perceived as the biggest customer benefit of VoIP (see chart). A full 88 percent of organizations surveyed identified cost savings as the top benefit, followed by better utilization of IP network bandwidth, improved collaboration capabilities, improved functionality for applications such as call center, and enhanced in-building or in-campus mobility.
More than two-thirds of the organizations surveyed (67.4 percent) said they expect their spending on, or influencing of, purchases of VoIP products and solutions to increase in 2006.
Asked which type of deployments will be most popular with customers over the next two years, 74.3 percent of survey respondents chose VoIP to the desktop (see chart). This was followed by point-to-multipoint trunk line VoIP connections, point-to-point trunk line VoIP connections, and in-building or incampus mobile voice over wireless.
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While the survey results are generally bright for the VoIP market, a few dark clouds also are present. For example, the survey suggests some channel companies are still in need of VoIP education and training. Among organizations that have yet to offer VoIP solutions, 28.3 percent said they dont know how to make it a profitable solution offering; 20.8 percent said their sales and marketing staffs dont have the skills to sell these solutions; and 41.5 percent dont have the proper skills for technical or support requirements.
SELLING BEYOND COST
Organizations deploying VoIP solutions almost always find some costs savings. But the specific areas in which companies find cost savings vary, as does the payback period. Each customers savings will depend on factors such as the solution it chooses to deploy, its rollout plans and staffing levels.
While reduced cost continues to be a strong selling point for VoIP, savvy customers are demanding more return on the significant expenditure theyre expected to make to implement a VoIP solution. Its up to the reseller/solutions provider to articulate where the value can be found; and it makes sense to identify the value in business terms the customer can understand. For example, the ability to support presence-awareness tools can make it easier for the customer to find sales reps or other key personnel when theyre needed. Features such as click-to-call, Webbased voice mail, integrated conferencing, auto-attendant capabilities and call routing may be attractive to other customers.
Hosted VoIP solutions are gaining momentum in the SMB market. A hosted VoIP solution is attractive because it enables the SMB to focus on its core business rather than allocate resources to implement and manage the system. It also allows them to avoid a significant investment in the initial deployment and allays worries about the cost of trying to keep up with the changes in the technology that continue to occur at a rapid pace.
There are many ways businesses are migrating to converged applications. For some, the move will be based on comfort levels with the technology. For others, depreciation schedules or obsolescence of legacy voice equipment or budget availability will be the driving factor. Most firms will be using a mix of voice services and technologies, old and new. Each customer will rely heavily on its trusted partners to help it make the right purchasing decision. The reseller/solution provider can help the customer establish a business case for VoIP adoption, create an implementation plan and choose a vendor. The resellers ability to convey the value of VoIP beyond cost is critical to positioning and selling these solutions.
John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, a global trade association of 20,000 member companies in information technology and communications.