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How to sell voice over IP for service providers: closing the deal

Saving money supporting one network instead of two isn't enough; customers need reassurances, training, guarantees and help overcoming inertia.

Read Part 1 of this story on making the case in the initial pitches for VoIP projects.



Another concern solution providers often must combat is voice quality and call continuity.

"I think people have a pretty good understanding of VoIP," Howland said. "There's still a lot of caution. People want to ensure they can deliver good voice quality."

There are tools available designed to help managed service providers, solution providers or an organization's internal IT department monitor, track and ensure performance quality. Clarus Systems, for example, creates automated Cisco IP telephony testing and documentation solutions, offers software for systems integrators and enterprises seeking enhanced visibility into its IPT environment.

More on selling VoIP
Part I: Making the business case for VoIP

PBX to VoIP strategies

VoIP feature selection

The Redwood City-based developer's ClarusIPC Certification and ClarusIPC Operations were designed to validate that all aspects of a Cisco IPT environment meet actual user requirements at deployment and throughout the life of the network, according to Richard Whitehead, chief technology officer.

"There are an awful lot of trials and pilot schemes going on. We have long-term aspirations to be the vendor of choice," he said. "We're trying to get people from pilot to core production. Our technology allows the remote testing of telephone systems. It enables [organizations] to handle things like branch-office rollouts. We enable them to centralize the testing. We've virtually eliminated the Monday morning trouble ticket. The issues you may have on Monday morning shouldn't have anything to do with infrastructure changes."

One large financial services customer was able to roll VoIP installations out to about 20 branch offices a weekend, said Whitehead. Previously, the client was able to only implement VoIP at one site per weekend. And it could only do installations on weekends in order not to disrupt its employees, he said. "To stay on track, they needed to bring up 15 branches a weekend," said Whitehead, noting the organization now is actually ahead of schedule. "There are many points of presence. This could have been a distribution nightmare."

Clarus' management tools allow managed services providers or IT departments to track configuration, changes and adds, ensure all phones expected to go live actually were installed correctly and take over a phone for services. "It's very powerful for centralized tech support," said Whitehead. "We can literally take over control of the phone. They can continue to work trouble tickets once the user has gone home. They can do a side-by-side comparison with a similar phone to see if it's an infrastructure problem or a user problem."

Overcoming inertia, finding the right budget

Another concern solution providers face is inertia, a mentality that views the existing system as working and adequate. Pockets of VoIP adoption are occurring throughout organizations, perhaps at a branch or division, said Ascendent's Howland. "Typically, these large organizations have different phone systems. We provide a solution that allows users to have single-number availability," she said. "Adoption for VoIP has been steady [but] enterprises really only install VoIP when they need a new phone system. A lot of enterprises are doing a migration path: They use VoIP in one location. Once they fine-tune it, they start moving it to other locations. I really think VoIP will grow faster as the old PBXes run out of warranty. They're going to buy another TDM."

Integrators also should take advantage of the converged aspects of VoIP implementations. One customer that wanted VoIP but did not have the budget looked elsewhere, said Whitehead. "They were able to tap into a $1-million paging budget and use the telephone for paging," he said.

Smaller businesses may provide a faster-moving opportunity for solution providers, since the systems are smaller, the financial savings are enticing and the chain of command is much smaller. "It's easier for them to replace their phone system," said Howland.

"We do see a fair amount of adoption in the very high-end enterprise and in the SMB space," Westcon's Potter agreed. "The mid-market generally has to be given a much more specific value-proposition."

Partnering with more than vendors

Not surprisingly, developers and distributors are working hand-in-hand with partners to further expand VoIP adoption.

Westcon offers an array of tools, ranging from a sophisticated multimedia presentation tool to lead-management tools, said Potter. "We're just starting to pilot multi-vendor configuration solutions," he said. "You have to be able to bid that out and put it on a proposal very quickly, because otherwise you'll lose the margin."

Working with its vendors, Westcon provides online training and webcasts, as well as "Fast Track," face-to-face sessions that generally last two days. In addition to technology, these classes encompass sales training, he said. "A lot of the vendors provide really good certification training," Potter said. "There's generally a 20 to 30% productivity difference between people who went through the training and those who didn't." For its part, Socket works closely with distributors Ingram Micro and Tech Data to educate solution providers, said Phillips.

ShoreTel, which sells exclusively through the channel, recognized it needed to provide a strong product line, healthy margins and sales tools in order for its partners to be successful, said Timmerman. "We want to ensure they understand the competing technologies so they can be articulate and convincing when they discuss the differences," he said. "We have a fairly intensive training program where we provide both technical sales training in sites around the country. We also have road shows and our annual Channel Partner Summit."

"That's a great chance to bring the partners together because they learn from each other," said Timmerman, noting that last year's event drew 600 attendees. "We track partner satisfaction. We have a pretty sophisticated customer satisfaction and partner satisfaction rating system."

Immersion also works. Most Ascendent partners implement VoIP onsite, providing them with technical and sales knowledge, as well as a showroom, said Howland. "We try to provide them with as many sales tools as they need," she said. "We train the sales reps and the sales engineers. We often do a live demo with customers so they can see how it works."

Likewise, Clarus is available for pre-sale contact. "We find integrators are incorporating us into the sales cycle," said Whitehead.

Training, training, training

A lthough many developers -- most notably, perhaps, Cisco Systems Inc. -- have their own certification programs, other organizations are stepping into the fray. VCampus Corp., manager of the Convergence Technology Professional (CTP) certification and affiliate of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), recently unveiled the CTP 2007 certification exam, which focuses on verifying that employees, technicians and channel partners possess the essential skills needed to address the rapid convergence of data, voice and video.

"We're finding that, increasingly, companies don't need just techies," said James Stanger, Ph.D., VCampus chief certification architect, at the Reston, Va.-based company. "They want people who understand the ramifications of their business decision. We're finding companies we've been talking to are very interested in making sure their sales people know what their capacities are and what their limits are. Otherwise, you start making promises you can't keep."

By taking advantage of the many offerings -- education, joint sales calls, discounted technologies and lead-generation programs -- both traditional data and traditional telecom providers can earn dollars by helping customers make sense of VoIP.


Let us know what you think about this story; email Kevin Fogarty, News Director.

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