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January 23, 2008

The New World of Selling VoIP

By Erik Linask, Associate Editor,
Internet Telephony magazine

If you were fortunate enough to be in Miami this morning, you might have heard Rich Tehrani wonder how IP Communications will play into the growth of technology in general. Indeed, communications choices are expanding, and there is a growing demand for IP Communications services and products from the SMB space, which will doubtless impact the technology space as a whole. Why is this happening? As Tehrani explained, SMBs have finally realized there’s this thing called VoIP in which they really need to invest, and he says 2008 should prove a bright year.

 
This renewed interest from SMBs, of course, presents an enormous opportunity for the reseller community, as it is impossible for vendors to sell directly to the business space with any chance of capturing market share.
 
Given that, at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO, TMC (News - Alert) gathered experts from the reseller and vendor community to discuss how resellers can make the most of this latest trend. Conference Chairman and TMC president Rich Tehrani hosted a session as part of Reseller Day, Learn How to Make Money Selling VoIP, which included Robert Messer (News - Alert), CEO of ABP Tech, a distributor specializing in open source communications; Joe Adams, Chief Technology Evangelist at Interactive Intelligence, which has had its all-in-one interaction manager platform since 1991; Nick Branica, CEO of IPitomy Communications, which develops SIP-based solutions for the SMB space; Don Gant, vice president of Business Development and Channel Marketing at business communications system developer Iwatsu Voice Networks; and John McDonald (News - Alert), vice president of channel sales at VoIP provider PhoneFusion.
 
Among the trends for 2008 — and this is really a continuation of an ongoing movement — is continued adoption of SIP-based communications technology. Gant explained that among the benefits of SIP is it alleviates the need for voice cards, analog equipments, and other legacy equipment that is mainly taking up space. Incidentally, illustrating how big the SIP space is becoming, the Ingate-sponsored SIP Trunking workshop at ITEXPO continues to be an SRO event. If you’re in Miami, make sure you stop into rooms B114 & B115 on the first floor of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
 
Adams suggested the looming recession is certain to put tremendous price pressure on vendors, which, in turn, will shift the focus from strictly IP telephony to how to create communications enabled business processes (CEBP). Messer added that, indeed, while we all like saving money, the key for resellers lies in innovation, in creating solutions that easily sell themselves.
 
Another continuing trend is bound to be an emphasis on security, though most of the panelists agree security is something most end customers just want built into the box, which makes it a difficult selling point as a separate solution.
 
However, for Messer, “security” brings to mind an entirely different product — the IP camera, which he says is in high demand today. “The IP cameras we have available today create tremendous opportunities because of their functionality,” he explained. In fact, Messer suggested that all resellers would be wise to add to their product offering.
 
Of course, the greatest single development in the IP Communications space of the last six months was Microsoft’s (News - Alert) launch of its Unified Communications portfolio, which, naturally, presents a new competitive dynamic for many vendors.
 
Gant explains, however, that the way to make money selling VoIP is to focus on customers’ needs and businesses, and to design solutions around those needs — solutions that can later be replicated for customers within the same vertical.
 
Messer adds that the key is to sell quality products — something with which customers are going to be happy with, and something for which you won’t have to provide much support. In fact, the best opportunity lies in resellers seeing themselves as partners to their customers.
 
McDonald agrees that stickiness is vital to success in this environment.
 
Adams acknowledges that Microsoft will, without doubt, create churn in the VoIP space, but, more importantly, he say, they will also cause people to actually start thinking about VoIP and the various solutions that are available, and the security implications of those alternatives.
 
He also says that while Microsoft has, indeed, made a splash, at the end of the day it is nothing more than an IM application on steroids, and end-to-end integrated communications solutions will win in most situations, so Microsoft, despite its hype and marketing spend, may not dominate the IP Communications space as it would like.
 
Tehrani concluded by asking the panelists to describe the singe smartest thing they have seen resellers do. The message was consistent across the panel: focus you efforts on your customer relationships, which can be done in several ways.
 
Resellers need to marry core competencies with customer needs, said McDonald. And Adams noted the importance of “eating your own dog food.” In other words, it is much easier to sell if you’re using the technology you’re selling — “that makes a good argument.”
 
Gant added that technology is changing rapidly, and often, it end users are unable — not to mention unwilling — to delve into how to best implement solutions and products. “Technology will not sell itself, so it all means little if you can’t translate the technology into benefits for the end user.”

Resellers need to understand how to sell the technology, he said, so customers are able to use it rather than having it collect dust on a shelf
 
Branica concluded by saying bundling is a tremendous achievement — especially in cases where services and products have been bundled together to create a complete application. “Your responsibility is to learn and understand the products and be able to support them.”
 
Clearly, there is a major opportunity for SMBs here. The question is, which ones will follow the advice they hear at Reseller Day at ITEXPO and become market leaders?
 
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Associate Editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY, IMS Magazine, and Unified Communications.  Prior to joining TMC, he was Managing Editor at Global Custodian, an international securities services publication. To see more of his articles, please visit Erik Linask’s columnist page.
 

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