SMBs Want Business Advantage with Converged Solutions

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Small and midsize businesses are increasingly interested in converged voice and data solutions, and business advantages—not cost—are driving the trend, according to an IDC survey.

VARs have a significant opportunity to sell converged communication solutions to small and medium-sized businesses in the next two years, and business advantages, not frugal customers, are driving the trend, according to IDC.

A July survey by IDC revealed two-thirds of polled SMBs (302 companies with 50 to 200 employees) recognize that a merged voice and data technology would be an advantage to their business and 40 percent are currently evaluating a converged solution. Another 18 percent are deploying a solution within the next 18 months, and 13 percent have already done so, the survey found.

"The space is blowing up right now," said Lynn Smurthwaite-Murphy, vice president of sales for Westcon Group Inc., a networking and communication distributor. "The opportunity is now. People are either deploying or considering it."

The trend is being driven, according to the IDC report, by business value. Sixteen percent of respondents had recently added an integrated business application such as caller ID integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and 47 percent said such a solution would add business value to their operation.

"It's definitely the horse before the cart; business is driving the technology and not the other way around," Smurthwaite-Murphy said. "What's driving users to spend money [on convergence] is the same as everything else in business: shareholder value and that comes from competitive advantage. … The justification has changed from cost savings to business value. Now it's all about killer applications and the advantage they offer."

Pointer Click here to read what VARs are doing in the VOIP and IP telephony sector.

The trend has driven VARs back to the concept of solution selling, where demonstrating the competitive business advantage is key to making the sale, Smurthwaite-Murphy said. Most often that advantage, she said, is expanding and simplifying the way personnel and customers work together, such as click-to-dial directories and converged mailboxes for e-mail, voice mail and video.

Selling such solutions requires a special understanding of a business. "You're fixing a specific business problem," she said, and thus vertical sales knowledge, especially in health care, finance, real estate and retail trade, she said.

To educate its VARs on the intricacies of selling convergence solutions, Westcon has launched a two-day fast track seminar on the technology, available products and sales techniques. The program will be held nationwide, but begins Oct. 18 and 19 in New York.

The Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a vendor-neutral industry trade group and patron of the IDC study, is working with vendors, distributors and solution providers to develop a baseline professional certification that establishes a standard for an IT professional's ability to install and support converged solutions.

For VARs selling the solution set, the competition has come mainly from traditional telecommunications outlets such as Verizon and cable providers. Outselling them means beating them on customer service, said Stuart Chandler, chief executive officer of Optivor Technologies Inc., a Baltimore-based network VAR.

"A good deal of our customers come to us after they've been to the telecom," he said. "We get them when their expectations are pretty low. We keep them by wowing them with what we can do for them."

For Optivor that means personal attention ("their CIO has my cell phone number," Chandler said); basic training for all staff, right down to the receptionists; and full training in voice, data and video for anyone who works in the field.

That level of customer service has led to customer loyalty, return business and service contracts, Chandler said.

The complexity of the solution and the sale creates a close relationship between customer and reseller that is unique in the business, Smurthwaite-Murphy said.

"You are solving a business problem for them and providing an advantage that goes way beyond just beating a price quote that can be beat by the next guy next time," she said. "You've shown them a different way to compete or a better way to sell; you've given them a more material benefit than a price savings. You almost don't need to worry about price wars because you have provided something they will consider a good expense, and they will be back if they want that again."


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