How To Make the Case for Unified Communications


Unified communications can save companies significant amounts of money and create a solid base for improved productivity among employees. Francis, chief sales and marketing officer at UC vendor Zultys, shows IT solution providers how to overcome hurdles customers put up when considering a move to unified communications. — Jennifer Bosavage, editor

In the business world, if technology can't either save money or make money, it's hardly worth the implementation. Unified communications (UC) is one technology that has the potential to do both. In comparison with traditional business phone systems, UC can save companies a boatload on their total investment, while laying the foundation for accelerated productivity among their employees. With UC, companies have a single system to manage all digital means of communications, and a single interface to access all messages. They can hear voicemails, answer emails, use instant messaging, send and receive faxes — even engage in videoconferencing from a single application, whether in the office or on the road. UC popularity is indeed growing. A November 2011 InformationWeek UC survey reported that the percentage of respondents who have deployed and are using UC jumped six points to 36 percent in the past year, and the number of those undecided about UC is down as well.

Despite UC's proven benefits, IT resellers and solution providers in the IP communications industry consistently come up against the same objections from potential customers who can't see past initial investment to the broader list of benefits. Following are some common objections IT resellers and solution providers encounter when approaching these potential customers, and corresponding responses that can help close the deal.

Objection No. 1: "I can purchase a more traditional phone system for substantially less than a Unified Communications solution."

That's true, some typical business phone systems may cost less than a UC solution — at the outset, at least. By embracing UC, companies are realizing a number of capabilities that deliver rapid ROI and that lay the foundation for the aforementioned productivity benefits. The net-net? Deploying a UC system will rapidly recover the upfront investment, and effectively eliminates any costs associated with monthly lease payments.

IT resellers and solution providers offering a UC solution that includes SIP trunking can highlight even more savings. With a SIP trunk, a phone service is delivered over a business-grade IP network using the open SIP standard; for some applications the Internet may be used. Monthly cost savings of more than 50 percent can be readily achieved. Beyond this, IT resellers and solution providers must educate their customers about the extra flexibility, scalability and disaster recovery benefits that SIP trunking offers.

[Related: How To Successfully Execute IT projects Without Fail]

Objection No. 2: "I don’t know enough about UC or which solution is right for me."

As any sales professional will tell you, the key to success is upselling: Getting the sale is a great accomplishment; "super-sizing" that sale is even better. This objection presents the opportunity for IT resellers and solution providers to provide a consultative role to the customer, ultimately driving extra revenue through upselling. It also opens the door to a potential long-term business relationship in which the provider is seen as a business partner helping find the right solution fit, rather than a supplier of a commodity product.

Objection No. 3: "The system is too complex — both hardware and software."

At first glance, the response to this objection is to demystify UC by explaining its basic architecture and the different types of UC solutions available. But it's also true that some IT resellers and solution providers embrace complexity, as it drives professional services revenue. Conversely, many IT resellers and solution providers prefer to offer a less-complex solution, instead placing the focus on improving their customers' processes and deployment technology to in turn improve business. It's worth noting, however, that IT resellers and solution providers looking to include voice in their offering should be aware that it requires a specialized skill set that must be mastered. IT resellers and solution providers often have the impression that voice is just another service for which they can buy a server-based product, stick it in a rack and expect it to perform. But customers have specific expectations about how their phone systems will work, and often want to keep the customized features from their old solutions. IT resellers and solution providers must therefore understand the customers' requirements around existing functions, and must know how to leverage features of the UC solution to satisfy those requirements. And because most customers cannot afford any downtime coming up to speed in voice functionality (whereas for email and other data services they can often accept an outage or two), it goes without saying that minimizing complexity in a voice/UC solution for a customer is critical.

Objection No. 4: "It is too difficult to tie together all of the disparate systems I have across our offices.”

In the face of this challenge, customers might look to an overlaying UC solution like Microsoft Lync, which is a UC platform integrated into Microsoft Office that UC-enables existing phone systems. However, the inherent complexity and reliability issues this approach presents make it less appealing. A rip-and-replace approach (that is, replacing with a UC system), while potentially more costly upfront, will ensure lower ongoing maintenance costs, reduced carriage costs and improved employee productivity — across all disparate offices.

Objection No. 5: "It is too complex to integrate a new UC system into our business processes."

Today’s UC solutions offer myriad interfaces and APIs that allow for integration into business processes, and that integration is a key driver for cost savings and efficiency gains across a business.

Once those five basic concerns have been addressed and a customer is ready to buy, it is critical to communicate the importance of building into the customers' budget monies for training. Proper instruction on the UC system's features and functionality is crucial to helping the customer fully reap the improvements in efficiency and reduction in costs.

By communicating all these key messages to potential UC customers, IT resellers and solution providers can hopefully claim a UC "convert" and set the customer on a path to business transformation.