This is a question I’ve wanted to explore here for some time, as it sets the tone for how you go to market with Unified Communications. For vendors who can lead the conversation with a lot of hardware, the starting point is pretty straightforward, and usually built around replacing some or all of the customer’s telephony infrastructure. The majority of UC is still premise-based, so there is a lot to talk about there. In most cases, the pieces are being replaced or upgraded – phones, gateways, SBCs, servers, etc.
At that point, the discussion is likely about telephony, either getting started with VoIP or expanding the existing VoIP deployment. In either case, with hardware, you’re working from familiar territory, and presuming the relationship is strong, this is a great entry point to broaden the conversation. Of course I’m leading up to UC, but the approach has to be right. If the customer knows about UC, then it’s safe to dive right in. However, in many cases, UC will be new to them or their views may be skeptical. This requires a different approach, and that’s what I’ll explore over the next couple of posts.
There are really two aspects to consider, and I will focus on one of them here. The first has to do with who starts the conversation, and the second pertains to the thinking around being premise-based or hosted. Let’s go with the former and consider both sides. The more opportune scenario comes when the customer asks first about UC. This is good not just because it signals buying interest, but also you – the vendor or channel partner – get to hear what the customer thinks he/she wants.
If you’re attuned to the subtleties of UC, the latter gives you important clues as to what the value drivers might be. Even though the customer is asking first about UC, chances are you have more expertise and that gives you leverage to become a more strategic partner. They may still find UC to be a vague concept, so to capitalize on their interest you need to speak their language.
Before continuing that thread, let’s go to the other side and consider the approach when you’re the one starting the dialog. As mentioned, presuming you have a good relationship and there’s hardware to be talking about, the window is open for UC. The customer may only be thinking about VoIP or telephony, so you really need to listen for clues that indicate deeper needs. You won’t have success trying to abruptly steer them in a new direction, so a more consultative approach is needed.
Whether they start the UC discussion or you do, the key is to focus on trends that are impacting their business, and tying that back to how UC can be an enabler. Unless they really understand the UC concept, it’s going to be difficult to sell them on UC as a technology solution. VoIP was easy for them to understand, but as you know, UC is less tangible. Rather than focus on the technology, the UC conversation needs to be about the business and helping them keep up with the trends that everyone is trying to deal with. To illustrate, here is one issue you can raise that will bring context to what UC can mean for their business:
How are you adapting to the changing nature of the workplace?
Every business struggles with this on many levels, and depending how strategic you want to be, there is a lot to explore here. You could pose this as an open-ended question and let them define the “changing nature” of their environment. What you really need to do is identify just a few aspects of change and determine where and how this creates pain or challenges. Here are a few examples you will likely hear right away:
- Competition is relentless and we need to keep costs down to match everyone else’s prices
- Customers expect everything faster – order processing, delivery, service, etc.
- Our employees are overwhelmed with information and aren’t as efficient as they’d like to be
These should sound familiar and you could no doubt think of many others. You don’t have to be a management consultant to help your customers, but you need to think like one to draw these issues out and then position them through a UC lens. The customer may not connect the dots this way and instead only view the problems in hopeless isolation. This is where you can truly add value and turn them into opportunities by showing how communications technology has a role to play.
I know this is easier said than done, but with the right approach you can absolutely succeed this way. It’s really a matter of knowing how to steer the conversation, and I’ll provide more starting points for doing that in my next post.