With travel costs continuing to build, IT solution providers should consider including video conferencing in their portfolios. Those rising costs hit small and midsize businesses particularly hard, and cost-effective video conferencing solutions are gaining traction among SMBs. By combining education about these systems with economical solutions, VARs may find video conferencing to be a perfect way to extend sales to new and existing customers. Here, Vu TelePresence's vice president of Corporate Development offers tips on how to make telepresence an affordable option for SMB customers.—Jennifer Bosavage, editor.
Videoconferencing technology is a rapidly growing industry predicted to reach more than $200 million by 2015, according to Gartner. While large enterprises have adopted telepresence as a key communications channel, small and midsize businesses have yet to incorporate this technology into their business models. Most of the systems on the market today require high bandwidth requirements, high upfront equipment costs and steep technical knowledge to operate, while the more economical or free systems do not provide the quality an optimal business tool should. As a result, videoconferencing remains difficult for most SMBs businesses to adopt. (Ed. note: See also, How To Liberate Your Mobile Workforce Using Unified Communications.)
The videoconferencing industry has seen great traction in the enterprise community as organizations are realizing the value it delivers. Synergy Research Group forecasts the industry to near $2.5 billion in 2011, up from $1.1 billion in 2010. But the real question remains how large a role SMBs will play in this market adoption? For the SMB market, the two core challenges of incorporating a telepresence offering into daily communications remain cost and quality. While high quality usually means high costs, there are some solutions on the market that have reconciled this issue to make telepresence an affordable option.
So how does the channel take advantage of telepresence solutions to remain competitive and grow businesses more effectively? How should your organization present and offer these solutions? Consider the following:
Self-engage with the system. Possession is 9/10 of ownership. Being an early adopter is an essential step in the selling process. Fully understanding the benefits and potential challenges your customers could encounter will help support the sale and continued use of the product. More importantly, it positions you as a credible authority and deepens your connection with your clients, which can support future sales efforts.
Seeing is believing. Increase your customer's comfort level by communicating using the videoconferencing system. An IDC study found that companies incorporating video collaboration into their business processes enjoyed the following benefits:
a. 30 percent average increase in productivity based on faster decision-making and review processes that led to faster project turnaround.
b. 35 percent average increase in collaboration with new business processes.
c. 75 percent faster dispute resolution, especially in companies or on teams where language or cultural barriers can create impediments.
For example, LMS Technical Services, an IT consultancy supporting more than 300 small to mid-sized businesses in the New York City/Long Island area, adopted telepresence as a key communications platform. Owner Larry Shulman recognized the need for a solution that would allow him to connect with internal staff and clients while reducing his travel time. Recently, he deployed 36 telepresence units across his office, his home offices and 32 of his 130 managed service clients.
“Deploying telepresence to my clients has worked out better than I expected,” says Shulman. “I now have the opportunity to enhance my personal and my business relationships with clients, which we may not have had over time. This allows us to provide a greater level of service, learn much more about our client’s businesses, and form deep relationships insulating us from competition.” Mr. Shulman’s success with videoconferencing has led to his clients purchasing systems for use between offices and their clients.
Position videoconferencing as a market differentiator. As market competition continues to increase, adding telepresence to the product mix will differentiate companies from their competitors. Highlight the aspects of telepresence that make it a no-brainer alternative to the traditional conference call, including:
For any company that has a business centered around managing clients, deploying telepresence as a management tool will deliver tremendous savings on worker productivity and company cost. “Before I deployed telepresence, I was completely booked with clients and could not even consider expanding my business,” says Josh Peterson, Senior Consultant at Taylor Business Consulting with 8 business consultants based in Chicago. “Soon after deploying my telepresence solution, my client base increased by 30 percent, with more room to grow, and I cut my travel in half. Considering I traveled 1200 hours last year, I will have 600 hours of “free” time now to add more clients.”
As telepresence is growing quickly, there is still a lack of awareness among SMBs in the marketplace. SMBs are in a unique position to take advantage of new communications solutions brought to market that work with the entrepreneurial business model and help to differentiate them from competitors. From a solution provider’s perspective, the SMB market segment represents a huge revenue growth opportunity as an underrepresented entity in the crowded videoconferencing space. Companies not only need to demonstrate their understanding of SMB needs and challenges, but they must also work to define ROI in terms that engage this particular market segment, focusing on cost savings and workflow efficiency. There are many profitable opportunities for IT solution providers to educate the marketplace on the next wave of communications innovation.