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November 2007 | Volume 10/ Number 11
Enterprise View

Telecom Consultants-A Channel Like No Other

With everything that changes in the telecom world, one thing stays the same. As a vendor, if not enough independent consultants know who you are and are confident in what you can do for their clients, you will invariably miss out on good opportunities

Mark Harris, Executive Vice-President, CallTower.

There’s good reason why some telecom vendors have always made room in their marketing budgets for relationship building with independent telecom consultants. This way, these typically major vendors always knew which consultants they could count on to gently direct business their way come RFP time. In today’s nouveau telecom industry though, the world of consultants and how they operate is changing. And so should the way vendors manage and support them.

The telecom resurgence - VoIP meets Web 2.0 meets Unified Communications - has brought a choice of business solutions the likes of which we’ve never seen. At one time, not so long ago, an enterprise buyer would engage a consultant to choose a new PBX and voice mail system- a time when plain vanilla voice mail wasn’t yet plain. Now he faces a myriad of modern terms like IP Telephony and Unified Communications, and totally new product segments like Video Conferencing and Mobile Everything. Soon, he will even have to consider Microsoft.




This resurgence is now incrementally fueled by what feels like a new market but that really isn’t. Ironically, given its immense girth, the SMB market has only recently come into vogue. Once served with feature-rich but essentially low-end key systems, this segment of buyers must now choose from as many options as its big brother, the enterprise - if not more. (See Figure 1.)

Perfect Storm

Combining these market forces means that, well - it’s a great time to be a consultant. The industry evolution makes for far more complexity for the end-user buyer to navigate and for far more buyers looking for complex solutions. In fact, the consultant value proposition has grown more compelling than ever before, and to more segments of buyers.

Every opportunity creates its own challenges, however. For the consultant, it’s no longer enough to align himself with leading vendors alone. The new buyer will expect these “experts” to know something about everything.

Consultants as Channels?

As for the vendors, how should consultants fit into their plans now? And what, if anything, can vendors do to make today’s consultants better consultants tomorrow?

Start by considering the consultant not as a reseller, not as a referral partner but as a channel of influence. After all, The Brookside Group reports that telecom consultants influence as much as 25 percent of telecom product and services purchases every year. Wow. Find me a channel that can do that.

Consultants are dispersed - they can’t be managed centrally like other big channels. However, in order to pay dividends, they require just as much attention and nurturing.

Here are some basics to consider:

• Qualify. Reach out to the consultants who best map to your business world. It’s quality, not necessarily quantity that counts here.

• Talk to them. Use easy to digest sound bites and consistent messages that instill confidence in them. Make your messages regular and relevant to their business, not just yours. They’re neither buyers nor sellers. They’re influencers.

• Tools. Build content that speaks to them and tools that position them as expert interfaces between their customers and you.

• Make them shine. Do what you can to give them and their customer the confidence it takes to leap forward. They have only themselves and their time to sell.

• Help them grow. Educate them on your market, technology, solutions and customers so they cab bring more value to existing and new clients.

• Stick with it. Don’t start and stop. As with any large channel, an effort must be sustainable to pay dividends.

Times are good it seems for almost everyone these days. The buyer has a breadth of choices; the vendor has a depth of customers (and/or plenty of VC cash) and the consultant is busy working the wide spaces between, adding immeasurable value to the equation. Treating consultants as the channels they are can only help our industry continue its very fast forward motion. IT

Larry Lisser is the President of ChannelStrength (http://www.channelstrength.com), a Bay Area-based company that works with communications providers to identify, engage and launch sales and influence channels that penetrate new markets and generate sustainable revenue sources for its clients. llisser@channelstrength.com.

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