Channel opportunities continue to be dominated by solution sales. That is, partners are selling multi-technology, multi-vendor solutions to their business customers. But selling solutions instead of pure connectivity inevitably extends the sales cycle.
"We all want to close a sale overnight -- it's how we make our money -- but the reality is, we are being asked to consult now on very high-level decisions that can impact every level of a business," said Ted Schuman, PlanetOne Communications' founder and CEO, during the master agents' Tech Tour in New York City.
But a longer sales cycle isn't a bad thing, according to a panel of wireless and unified communications leaders.
During PlanetOne's East Coast-based Tech Tour last June, Schuman said that its agent partners were bucking the trend of selling primarily connectivity solutions. In fact, an impressive fifty percent of the master agent's sales came from cloud-based solutions in 2016, including SD-WAN and Unified Communications as a Service.
But there's still major cloud buying and selling obstacles for both customers and solution providers. For one, the sales cycle can be "exhausting," Schuman said. Some partners have reported a sales cycle of upwards of two years for an enterprise customer, from project development, to obtaining needed sign-offs, to deployment.
The buying cycle will fluctuate depending on the customer and, perhaps most importantly, "how great the pain is," said Jeff Winett, assistant vice president of north American channel sales for cloud-based communications provider RingCentral.
"We've seen sales cycles at the enterprise level from 30 days to as much as a year and a half, but I think it's about how great the needs are that are driving that change," he said.
It's the solution providers' job to try to determine these pain points and to do so ahead of time, if possible, for the customer, Winett added.
Ross Artale, president and chief operating officer for telecom service provider SpectroTel, said that his company just completed an IT deployment for a large bank. The process took a year from start to finish, and there were many security and compliance checkpoints along the way.
Artale said that partners should expect a longer sales cycle for larger customers, especially Fortune 500 companies. "It's going to take longer because it's harder to break through," he said.
The sales cycle is undoubtedly longer, but the revenue opportunity has grown, too, Schuman said.
"The payout is significantly larger than if we were just single-threaded, selling connectivity," he said. "The hard work pays off."
A recent Comptia study found that six out of 10 companies have more than 40 percent of its IT in the cloud. That means there's room for more opportunity for partners as more businesses not only move to the cloud, but move more of their infrastructure and applications into the cloud.
Customers are often unaware of the benefits that cloud adoption can bring their business. The shift toward mobility will eventually require companies to adapt, said Jonathan Blood, vice president, direct to business and indirect @work, T-Mobile's business services segment.
T-Mobile is currently replacing every desk phone in the city of Los Angeles in favor of cloud-based PBX -- that's 30,000 communication lines.
"This is a city that has realized what they can do now that they're not tying people to their desks," Blood said. "There's tons of desk phones today that are just sitting there going unused. There's a lot of technology out there that people are unaware of."
RingCentral's Winett said that because companies often go down the path of least resistance, partners and vendors have a responsibility to educate the marketplace.
"On-premise services are declining year-over-year, and the cloud is growing consistently year-over-year," he said. "And partners don't need to be experts in cloud, either."
Today, the PlanetOne partner community is continuing to aggressively go after cloud sales, Schuman said.
"In terms of the funnel, with what's being quoted and requested, [cloud sales] are approaching 70 percent at this point, and that continues to be driven by the knowledge our partners have gained over the year and becoming more adept at having higher-level technology discussions."