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Selling unified communications services: One VAR’s story

Five years ago, IT resellers had to evangelize the benefits of IP telephony and Unified Communications (UC). Not anymore. Now the technology is aligned with the way people expect to communicate and work -- dynamically and collaboratively, whenever and where ever.

“Nowadays, the technology is accepted, often mandated by users to a company’s IT department,” says Charles Zwicker, director of commercial sales at Weidenhammer Systems Corp., an IT solutions provider since 1978 headquartered in Reading, Pa.

The Cisco channel partner -- which sells into K-12 schools and operates seven offices with 225 employees -- began helping customers migrate to IP telephony and then UC about eight years ago. Selling voice over IP -- or voice over data networks -- as a first step to UC is a no-brainer, notes Zwicker.

“It’s easy to show a customer hard ROI with IP telephony,” he says.

IP telephony is often the catalyst that drives the UC sales opportunity, which is based on soft ROI.  UC unifies voice, data, video and mobile applications on fixed and mobile networks. “With UC, customers have to understand the benefits of improved workforce productivity that come with employees having quick access to the right people and data, the ability to make decisions faster and work more efficiently” says Zwicker.

Weidenhammer’s UC customers most often have multiple locations, mobile workers and the need for a high level of collaboration. “These companies adopt UC applications such as presence and instant messaging right away,” says Zwicker, noting that email and voice are a given. Web conferencing is another UC application that’s going gangbusters with video growing in popularity, he says.

Selling UC becomes easier as vendors provide bundled offerings based on industry standards for interoperability.

“It’s much easier to sell a bundled UC solution, such as Cisco Unified Workspace, that has all the tools and services based on a per-user license than selling UC applications a la carte,” says Zwicker.

Cisco Unified Workplace Licensing is available in four versions allowing partners like Weidenhammer to offer the full suite of Cisco UC applications. Partners can sell the Business Edition, which includes call control, voice messaging, unified clients, mobility and presence. Then there’s the Entry Edition, which is basic dial tone and mobility features for companies that don’t need advanced UC capabilities. The Standard Edition is built on the Cisco UC Manager platform, and includes call control, voice messaging, unified clients, mobility and presence with the ability to scale massively upward in users. Finally the Professional Edition adds video and web conferencing to the Standard Edition.

It’s crucial to work with vendors that support industry standards for interoperability in email environments, telephony and video solutions, and third-party solutions.

For IT solution provides, like Weidenhammer, the move towards industry interoperability standards over the past few years, allows them to bring UC solutions into a customer’s environment without having to rip and replace existing infrastructure.

“When I’m doing an assessment for a UC solution, and a customer has Lotus Notes, for example, I can say, Cisco can compliment those tools, we can enhance what you already have,” says Zwicker.


This was first published in February 2011

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