Before you can even start to talk about unified communications, you’d better be able to tell your customers what exactly it is.
What is unified communications? “Some people think it’s just VoIP [voice-over-IP telephony] but it’s not,” says Leon Friend, product technical specialist at Avnet. A better definition might include all the things that unified communications does.
For a start, it ties lots of media together, such as voice, video, email and instant messaging. It does it in real-time and often in places outside of the office – in fact, anywhere an employee needs to work.
Vendors describe the goal of unified communications as providing a single experience, in the office or on the road. That single experience can raise productivity, lower costs and improve efficiency in a business. It’s a great story for your customers – but a hard one to sell and turn into reality. The upside is less competition and higher margins, which is a worthy goal for any reseller business.
Step 1: Assess your skill sets
While unified communications can be a highly technical area and an integration minefield, familiarity with the hardware and software is only half the game. The real battle is learning to deal with the breathing, fleshy part of the solution – the end user. Engineers and administrators deploying servers, firewalls and switches have most of their conversations with the IT manager.
Unified communications, on the other hand, is a business process and requires dealing with the end user who, unfortunately, may not always know the answer to critical questions.
Users sometimes need help outlining all the scenarios in which they use the phone and how this works in the business. Building a user profile for each employee requires strong consulting skills, which aren’t easy to find.
“We are having to hire more people who realise this is not a box to install,” Tom Morgan, CEO of unified communications reseller eVideo Communications, says. He sees his competitors struggling with “legacy staff” in technical or sales who don’t understand the difficulties in selling and installing UC.
“Most of our people are a lot younger, but we hire for will and then train them for skill. There’s no point having a skilful person who knows it all but doesn’t convey it to the customer,” Morgan says.
“We prefer to get the right attitude and then train them more rather than have them skilled and trained up in the old ways.”
If your business can’t afford the outlay on staff or training, then perhaps look at leaving the integration work to a full-service vendor, such as the cloud-based M5 Networks.
The key business stakeholders are very different, too. The power communications user in almost every organisation is the receptionist – whose opinion on a solution’s usability might carry more weight than the IT manager’s.
“You have to talk to the receptionist and cover off all their concerns,” Avnet’s Friend says. “A lot of key business stakeholders will consider that as long as the receptionist is happy we know we can receive all our phone messages.”
Bigger organisations might require conversations with the call-centre manager rather than the IT department or CEO. This requires again a very different sales cycle and more demonstrations before winning the sale.