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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.