ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells
May 2006
Volume 1 / Number 3

Rich Tehrani

My recent presentation at Tech Data’s reseller conference was one of the most beneficial talks I have ever given. I always solicit audience feedback and this session had more feedback than any other I have given recently. When I say beneficial — in this case it was beneficial for me and, from what I gathered from the audience, they got a lot out of it as well.



When I got to the conference, I had a presentation ready to go as I always assume the audience will be shy. But by the fifth slide or so, someone asked about how he can assure quality in phone calls across the open Internet and I explained that you can’t at the moment, but you can work with a service provider who will give you an SLA and help you achieve the quality you seek. Someone else in the audience then chimed in about managed networks. The room erupted into a discussion about this topic for a while and we touched on the fact that even an ATA has mechanisms to assure that voice is given priority.

We (the collective — the VARs in the room and I) narrowed this answer down to the quality of voice in the office and the quality once it leaves your office. These are two separate things. Some knew this already but it was beneficial for the newcomers to get this straight early on. When I got to my slide on interoperability one of the resellers explained how there isn’t much interoperability today and it is tough enough to get the equipment running and working through firewalls. He went on to say with all this complexity, forget convincing endusers that they have a need for SIP so things can work together. This VAR is installing very large systems, certainly not what a typical reseller would make a living doing. I explained how many vendors are wholeheartedly embracing SIP and some of these companies don’t even sell phones but rely on Polycom and others. This to me is a sure sign of companies listening to customers.

At one point I mentioned that Avaya says they are supporting Cisco IP phones with full functionality. In fact I was in a meeting with Avaya’s Lawrence Byrd recently when he told me this is happening. I said that the SIP interoperability issue seems like it is solved for the foreseeable future but we have some time before it all plays out. The resellers were skeptical but I promised them that Avaya was responding to customer demand. They asked if the support exists today and I said as far as I know it does.

Someone in the audience asked why you would need multivendor support and I explained that there are acquisitions that happen all the time that make this an important need. In addition, something I didn’t mention is that having interoperability means you can buy equipment based on features and functionality and gives a better cost/benefit ratio. In addition it allows you to be secure in purchasing decisions — even if one of your vendors goes under.

Someone in the audience likened the Avaya (quote - news - alert) news to Apple supporting Intel chips. I agreed saying that Intel chips have allowed Apple computers to achieve better price/performance. From there the discussion turned to the subject of SIP trunks, which everyone acknowledges are working well and moreover these trunks (so far) do not suffer from interoperability problems. In my presentation, I explained to the resellers that I am in contact with vendors 95 percent of my time and the most refreshing conversations I have are with resellers who are actually implementing products. I learn more from a bunch of resellers in 30 minutes than I can in any other place.

I also explained that in the magical world of vendors — everything does indeed work perfectly. There was lots of head nodding and laughter at this point. A few minutes later, one of the resellers raised his hand and said he has thrown all 3Com equipment out of his office and his house, and is looking for an alternative. I wish now that I would have asked why he had problems with 3Com, and more importantly why he had their equipment in his house. Another reseller started to talk about the Linksys One product and said it was great. Yet another reseller mentioned Allied Telesyn (news - alert) and how he loves their products. At least one other person acknowledged how good their products are. The sole complaint was a lack of a call park button on one of their devices.

The group voiced their concerns about pushing products that are available on the Internet or through retail outlets. Most of the room agreed that it is better not to sell products that are available through some of these low-price retail outfits but some didn’t think it was a problem to compete with retail channels as they see themselves as also having value in connecting equipment on the network. I told the crowd about Epygi (news - alert) as a good alternative for the low-end market. No one seemed to have heard of them but many wrote the name down. I explained that the voice business will not last forever — well it will, but margins will be squeezed and more products will go retail. I told them they need to focus on applications; if we don’t do this now we as an industry are doomed, I said.

Everyone seemed to agree. I mentioned that vendors are integrating their products into software such as MS Outlook or Internet Explorer. I further went on to talk about CRM integration and Just in Time Communications. I gave an example of having an instantaneous conference call with a group of people — where they are connected via chat, or phone, and the type of phone (wired, wireline) is immaterial. I also said that we would have full screen sharing/collaboration capabilities and that this is the future and will make us much more productive. I continued that we need to wow our customers with enthusiasm. We need to show them where things are going. I cited the Nextel example and discussed how much more productive people are when they use these walkie-talkie like devices. I also — in full disclosure — said I hate these phones because the beeping is so annoying. Some of the room agreed and have actually switched back to regular phones due to customer complaints. But for applications where the noise is not a problem, these phones really speed time to decision.

In the end the audience got it and they seemed to agree. But they are not convinced of SIP interoperability. The discussion came up that many of the smaller vendors use SIP and do in fact interoperate. Surprisingly, many of the resellers in the room are concerned about reselling products from companies they have never heard of because they aren’t sure these companies will be around tomorrow to support and service the products. The irony is that most small equipment providers don’t realize how important it is to market to this group to ensure resellers will seriously consider them. Sometimes small VoIP equipment entrepreneurs are their own worst enemies as they have great products but think the world is obligated to find out about them and resell and buy their products without actually telling anyone about what they do.

Marketing and promotion is all about branding and giving off the image of a company of stature. Unfortunately many of these companies are led by engineers and will never understand how important it is to build their brand. For the majority of entrepreneurs, brand building is on the list of priorities just after opening a satellite office in Antarctica. Being an engineer myself I understand how introverted we can be as a group — too bad so many VoIP entrepreneurs have the engineers making budgeting decisions in PR and marketing. To be honest I was stunned at the extent to which VARs tend to avoid companies they never heard of. Back to the talk, the group seemed very Cisco oriented with the exception of Allied Telesyn and Shoretel. Not surprisingly there was much Linksys knowledge in the room as well. The group actually seemed anti-Avaya and others echoed the negative 3Com sentiments to me after the talk was over. I am not sure if this group is isolated in their opinions or whether there is a trend forming here. I will be speaking in Atlanta soon to more resellers and hope to delve into the concept of brand perceptions further.

I did ask the room about telecom knowledge and about 30 percent of the room has sold telecom equipment for at least ten years. There were a bunch of VoIP newcomers as well. In all, Tech Data did a great job getting these resellers to Kentucky to become educated on VoIP and other topics. Without a strong reseller market and without the proper training, there really is no enterprise IP communications or SIP market.

What’s New With Tech Data?
I had a chance at the event to sit down with Charles Bartlett, Jr., the VP of Product Marketing of the Networking Division of Tech Data. I asked him how his business is doing and he told me companies are looking to outsource more and more of the things that are not their core competency. Some examples he gave were manufacturing and logistics. He says there is a trend to outsource sales and marketing as well. I asked about how strong his reseller base was and he told me there are 90,000 resellers worldwide that purchase from them and about 30,000 of them are active at once. One of the benefits the company offers their partners is access to a sales and marketing solutions center consisting of products and services from 80 Tech Data business partners. The telephony program is small but growing at the moment with 300 resellers in this program. In the late nineties I witnessed the traditional computer distributors showing a renewed interest in telephony as well. At that time many vendors complained to me that the costs were too high to get involved with the traditional distribution channel. I told Chuck this fact and he said that his company can show a significant ROI for a product that the market wants.

They also can be flexible with smaller companies, coming up with an agreement that allows Tech Data to see less up front and more margin on the back end of the agreement. But they are looking for the right type of partner, which means you need to have a product that fills a gap in their product line or delivers a price point not currently found in their portfolio. Tech Data is also aggressively recruiting telephony resellers as this part of the business is doing very well. In terms of the success of the telecom division, Chuck tells me they have experienced 35 percent compounded growth in the telephony SBU for the last three years. And, that’s not so bad, now is it?


Return to Table Contents

Today @ TMC
Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas