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Selling VoIP network readiness projects

Many value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators offer VoIP site asssessments free of charge, at the risk of losing business to competitors. This tip explains how to provide a higher-quality assessement that customers will be willing to pay for.

As a VAR doing IP telephony projects you're doubly motivated to properly prepare your customer's LAN and WAN. First, if the network isn't fit for purpose, poor voice quality can torpedo your project and the customer will point at you. Second, more work, more scope equals more hardware and labor revenue.

Everyone knows you should do an evaluation of the network, like a site survey, to see if it's ready for VoIP and if it's not, to determine what needs to be done. There are two ways you can approach this. Many VARs offer potential customers a site survey free of charge as part of the sales process to win the bigger VoIP project. But if you're smart, you can charge for the site survey, and give yourself a better chance of winning the VoIP business.

The danger of doing the evaluation and design work for free is that if you do too nice of a job, unscrupulous customers will take your findings, recommendations and designs then implement them themselves, or worse, give them to your competitors to implement. It's generally best, for several reasons, to do this work for a fee, as a deliverable. The way to make this palatable for the customer is to offer a lot of additional value above and beyond the old "network assessment" whose only deliverable is a paper report that no one ever reads.

Here are some ways to do that:

Don't just focus on deficiencies; find optimizations. For instance, while it's not the primary scope, as part of your project you may be able to consolidate WAN or Telco circuits, servers, data center floor space, etc. Or you may be able to find a cheaper and faster WAN service, or find rack space in a cheaper location. You might leverage open source software or any number of other things to reduce the customer's costs, and each of these offset your fees, making your deal more attractive.

Kill lots of birds with one stone. If you have to buy new network equipment to support a project, such as switches to support Power over Ethernet, then they probably offer other functionalities at no extra hardware or software cost. For instance, they probably support IEEE 802.1x Port Authentication for extra security. Offering and leveraging these features, especially if you can do it for nominal extra expense, can go a long way to differentiate you from your competition.

The key to these first two points, of course, is to make sure the customer knows that when you do the network assessment and design as a project, finding all these optimizations and synergistic opportunities is a major goal. Once you've done a couple of these and can provide some numbers to demonstrate cost savings, this becomes a very easy sell.

Last, leave some automated reporting behind. For most pre-sales quickie evaluations, you might go in and measure typical VoIP trouble-spots like delay, jitter, packet-loss, etc. The deliverable is usually a one-time report. To make the paid network assessment more attractive, include a copy of the software or hardware tool you use, and permanently install it so that the customer can continue to get reports or have some visibility into network performance. Not only will the customer appreciate this, but it's like free advertising, since it's only a matter of time before the tool will show they're outgrowing the network. And if the tool has your name all over it (because you put it in all the splash-screens and report titles) then they'll be more likely to come to you for the upgrade projects.

About the author
Tom Lancaster, CCIE# 8829 CNX# 1105, is a consultant with 15 years of experience in the networking industry. He is co-author of several books on networking, most recently,
CCSP: Secure PIX and Secure VPN Study Guide, published by Sybex.

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