How to sell VoIP

Despite the familiarity of Internet-based phone systems, customers need education and reassurances to get over misgivings.

Multiple worlds are colliding in the voice over IP (VoIP) landscape.

Legacy telephone carriers and service firms, as well as traditional network and integration businesses, are targeting organizations slowly but steadily investing in the promise of VoIP. Corporations are investigating myriad solutions in both the hard-wired and wireless worlds. These sophisticated systems involve networking, wireless networks, telephony devices, management software and a host of tools designed to ensure reliability and continuity, said industry executives.

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There are VoIP solutions for everyone, ranging from consumers to enterprises, from SMBs to government agencies. The consumer market, for example, is expected to reach $3.8 billion by 2010, compared with $1.1 billion last year, according to a report by In-Stat, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based market research firm.

In 2006, 3.8 million households switched to VoIP, said analyst Bryan Van Dussen. "As retail VoIP expands, wholesale VoIP will accelerate quickly," he said. Wireless VoIP adoption also is growing: The total market for VoIP Wi-Fi equipment is expected to reach $82 billion by 2012, with North America composing the largest part of the market at $35 billion, a Juniper Research report found.

"The ability to reduce enterprise communication costs and international roaming costs is a major driver for VoIP over Wi-Fi technology," said Basharat Hamid Ashai, analyst at the Hampshire, England, based research firm. "With the proliferation of WLAN networks in enterprises and public hotspots it means that calls in those areas can be routed over a more cost-efficient network. As consumers and enterprise users start to offload some of their in-home and in-office traffic to Wi-Fi VoIP, consumers are likely to ask for reduced tariffs. To the extent that operators are able to save on network capacity upgrades, they may be able to pass these savings along to the consumer."

As such, most members of the VoIP reselling community are demanding quality training on the technologies, as well as ways to sell, market and support these solutions.

"Selling voice over IP is a big challenge for the traditional voice reseller -- they're not used to the [computer] technology or the margins – and a big challenge for the data network guys as well -- the language and taxology," said Duncan Potter, vice president of worldwide marketing at Westcon, a division of Westcon Group Inc., and a specialty distributor of networking communications and security products and solutions, based in Tarrytown, N.Y. "You've got to understand the environment, and you've got to know how to sell it and position it."

Making the sale

Using VoIP, an organization or individual can reduce the costs of long-distance communication, and slash the maintenance price-tag attached to maintaining more than one network, said Steve Timmerman, vice president of marketing at ShoreTel Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based provider of IP telephony solutions worldwide. "A lot of companies find they are able to implement a [VOIP] phone system and maintain it for a lower cost," he said. "It's delivering on the promise of the converged network."

But unlike the IT world, in which downtime can be a distressing-but-expected event, organizations that integrate data and voice networks generally demand 100% uptime, executives said. Ensuring reliability, therefore, is job one for a successful VoIP implementation. The first step in any converged network installation, then, is to conduct a stringent network analysis, said Heather Howland, senior manager, marketing, at Redwood City, Calif.-based Ascendent Systems, a subsidiary of Research in Motion, which develops voice mobility solutions.

"When a customer is installing voice over IP into their environment, they really need to do a thorough network assessment," she said. "You now have data and voice traveling on the same network."

While there are workarounds to data delays, voice is another matter.

"With data, you can expect packet re-tries to overcome some of the hiccups," said Peter Phillips, vice president of marketing at Socket Mobile Inc., which develops and distributes a broad range of data collection and network connectivity products for mobile devices such as PDAs, smart phones and tablet computers. "When you're dealing with voice those holdouts become a lot more problematic."

In addition, solution providers should be well-versed in wireless networking, and have the ability to accurately determine the number of and positioning of access points around a corporate campus, said Phillips. "That ensures someone will have a seamless call or transition from access point to access point," he said. "You've got to have the right hardware; you've got to have the right Wi-Fi network. You need a pretty good voice client that potentially ties into your PBX."

Thus solution providers looking to install VoIP must be well-versed in network assessment -- or develop a partnership with another company with that expertise in-house. Otherwise, the entire implementation most likely is doomed for failure.


Read Part 2 of this story, on how to overcome remaining objections to VoIP projects.



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