Is Unified Communications Still a Hot Channel Product?

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Vendors and distributors alike have bet heavily on unified communications as one of the big technologies that SMB companies will look to deploy. But the global financial crisis may have stalled the market. NEC Unified Solutions is opening its customer database to channel partners in an effort to jump-start sales.

The reports are everywhere that small and midsize businesses are cutting back on IT purchases due to the impact of the financial crisis and continuing global economic downturn.

Many industry watchers have said unified communications will be a hot technological area for SMBs going forward—with products from names like Cisco Systems and Microsoft.

For NEC Unified Solutions, the UC arm of Japanese telecommunications giant NEC, the impact through the channel has been serious. Sales through the channel at NEC Unified Solutions have fallen 7 percent in the first half of the company's fiscal year compared with the same period a year ago, according to Larry Levenberg, vice president and general manager of national channel sales for NEC Unified Solutions.

But sales of the company's UC for Business unified communications solution formally launched through the channel in August 2007 have grown 500 percent from the company's second half of the fiscal year 2007 (Oct. 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008) to the company's first half of the fiscal year 2008 (April 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2008).

Productized for the channel, the solution was designed for businesses with 500 or fewer employees. It included several different modules such as a console, UC and call center built into it. The technology was sold in two ways: as software only, or as a turnkey product that included the server hardware.

To help its channel partners in today's tough business climate, NEC Unified Solutions is planning a handful of new programs designed to increase interest among end-user companies, Levenberg told Channel Insider.

First, Levenberg says, NEC Unified Solutions will offer a trade-in program for its existing customer base. While previous trade-in programs have provided end customers with a certain percentage off the sale price, with the new program "we are actually going to look at the equipment they have and get aggressive about buying back those phones. They could get significant dollars," Levenberg says.

The program was conceived in part as a response to the global financial crisis.

NEC Unified Solutions plans to open up its database of customers to channel partners to pursue these deals, according to Levenberg. The company thinks that 60 percent of its customer base of 30,000 is still active, and Levenberg's goal is to churn 20 percent of that.

To help partners make those sales, Levenberg says, NEC Unified Solutions will offer sales training on the increases in efficiency to be gained by deploying a UC solution.

"If you dig deep enough into a business you find the places where companies can save money, and even in hard times people will respond to that," he says.

Levenberg also says NEC the week of Nov. 10 will announce a product bundle designed for the channel to sell to SMBs that includes the Unified Communications for Business server bundled with telephones. The bundle includes 4 hours of professional services.

The first bundle will be aimed at general business, and subsequent bundles may be aimed at verticals such as hospitality, health care or finance.
Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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