Applications Challenge

Applications Challenge

Not convinced that the true value of CTI is being explained to the end user, Comms Business Magazine partnered with OAK Telecom to put together a channel CTI Focus Group to look at the issues.

Most observers will acknowledge that the channel is great at selling PBX systems to SME’s. But are they also good at selling the applications that sit on top of that PBX communications platform. The consensus seems to say no. But why?

We thought there could be many reasons and were pleased when Oak Telecom shared their views with us as to why this should be the case. Oak has an interest in getting to the bottom of the problem – they have a portfolio of products for the channel that addresses the SME space with applications such as screen popping, database integration, voice processing and call recording as well as their core call management. However, it made eminent sense when they suggested getting a group of channel players together around the table to give CTI a ‘once over’ and come up with some suggestions.

So it was, that in mid-July a dozen channel people players sat around a table at Heathrow to explore answers to the questions:

  • To what extent has the channel adopted CTI?
  • Is there a fear of selling CTI within the channel?
  • Do we need better product training and application understanding?
  • How to successfully sell CTI?
  • What does the future hold for CTI?

Helping Oak and Comms Business Magazine with the answers were;

Name Company
Simon Smith PBX vendor Toshiba Business Communications
John Wright Opus Telecom, one of the largest PBX resellers.
Bernie Dodwell Vendor Alliances Manager at Distributor Westcon
Vanessa Armstrong PBX vendor Siemens Communications
Ken Moody ESG, a voice and data reseller
Mike Ballantine PBX vendor Aastra Telecom
Trevor Pomeroy Metier Consultants
Lee Essex Oak Telecom
James Emm Oak Telecom
 

CTI means different things to different people, but generically it would be useful to determine just what it means for users.

Lee Essex, product manager at Oak Telecom, “In my view CTI is about improving both internal and external communications. Business today is keen to ensure they offer their customers excellent service and many of these companies have a database or CRM package they have invested in. However many organisations fall down in how they use that information across their business with their staff and customers. At a basic level, CTI could force the user to input data from customer interactions so that the information was available across that business thus allowing better and faster information flows. In the ‘discovery’ phase of an incoming phone call having relevant information to hand provides a better service. Take an example of a person calling in to a help desk, they receive some advice, the advice does not work for them and so they call back. CTI tracking of the call will reveal who that person had spoken to and what they had been told. This works to the benefit of the caller and the help desk. That’s the main benefit as I see it – the flow of information.”

James Emm, joint CEO at Oak Telecom, “We find in practice that different customer use different elements of our product to others. A customer may be interested in using our SmartPhone to establish call history and extension status across his company but have no interest in screen popping calls in to Goldmine or Act.”

Bernie Dowell, Westcon. “Shouldn’t the question be, ‘What are the business drivers that makes people buy CTI. One of the main reasons I see is compliance: the need to be able to prove what was said and any advice given was sound.”

 
   
Simon Smith   Lee Essex   Mike Ballentine
 
Tell Me Why?

James Emm, “A salesman visits a customer who uses Goldmine throughout their organisation and explains that by installing a new telephone system the customer will be able to not only integrate that customer base in to the telephony solution for screen popping of client information without any user intervention but also be able to dial clients directly from Goldmine. Why does this approach for a system sale usually fail?”

Vanessa Armstrong, Siemens, “I think it is a question of how the reseller positions the argument in the mind of the customer. Just telling the customer you have a telephone system that works with an application he has already got is not going to get the sale. Instead focus on how the customer differentiates themselves in their market and then start to articulate the benefits of CTI in terms of this business requirement . CTI will personalise the relationship with their customer rather than de-personalis ing the experience.”

Ian Hunter, editor Comms Business Magazine, “Is it not fair to say that the three business requisites for today are to control costs, retain customers and gain competitive advantage and that any technology we sell should be able to address these business needs and provide a return on investment.

Ken Moody, ESG, “As a channel partner we have a different approach. ESG has its own bespoke application for the advertising and media sector and we spent some time before deciding upon Avaya as a communications platform. We have had to write a bespoke interface for that application for it to work with the Avaya PBX. As our company has grown we have partnered with other database suppliers and sell the application as a value added product in its own right.”

Ian Hunter, “ Having three PBX vendors in the room we have to ask how, given that their primary task is to sell telephone systems, do they approach selling the value added applications such as CTI with their channel partners?”

Simon Smith, Toshiba, “Whilst is was true to say that only a few years ago our primary activity was selling extensions today we have a wide portfolio of applications to bring to market. One of the fundamental changes in the market is that now the PBX is often just another resource of information residing on the local or wide area network in the same way as say as database. O u r expertise is in selling PBX systems and we partner Oak for their expertise in CTI to add to the potential for the customer . CTI is becoming a core competency to exploit this PBX resellers need to work in partnership with the CTI vendors.

Mike Ballantine, Aastra Telecom, “We have undertaken a series of road shows for our channel partners to keep them up to date with product developments. At t he CTI road show partners got confused. We found that we were struggling to get the whole concept across effectively. There are two markets, there is screen popping and database integration, demonstrating the benefits of the PBX itself. The other way is to offer better telephony via CTI, here we too partner with Oak.

 
   
Bernie Dodwell   Ken Moody   Trevor Pomeroy
 
Lead with Applications

Vanessa Armstrong, “One of the things that is impacting the ability to sell CTI in the market place is that the traditional way of selling telephone systems is not working for CTI. We need instead to lead with applications because it is the applications that will drive through the benefits of convergence and IP telephony to the end user.

Simon Smith, “Do you think we need more convergence in how telephones and how traditional data applications are sold. Do we need a different business model? If you take a large SME and look at a CRM deployment there would be an awful lot of scoping work to do. This would be a paid for exercise in applications based resellers but not for telephony reseller save for a few resellers at the top end . ”

James Emm, “We are beginning to sell more and more CTI applications but the pace of acceleration has been slower than we had expected . It has not been hard for Oak to get acceptance of our products in the portfolios of PBX vendors and alliances with people like Avaya for our Enterprise products. This is on the basis that they need to address vertical markets with products that have been proved to work with say, Oracle. Avaya can only test a percentage of products and our product covers a number of other vertical markets for Avaya to sell into .”

I believe that the heart of the matter, when it comes to selling CTI solutions, can be exampled by asking the question ‘how long have you been using email as a major communications medium?’ I used email extensively during the late 70’s and do in my day to day work today. I think for some reason that the real world is quite a few years behind where we are and CTI will be the trusted application of the future like email is today .”

Mike Ballantine, “It has been interesting to see how broadband and IP networking have opened up the remote office and homeworker market which in turn has moved the market on in terms of skill sets to sell these applications.”

Ken Moody, “I think also, from the perspective of the traditional reseller that new skill sets are in demand. They need to be able to talk to the IT manager now as well as the administrator that orders all the lines. That is where we have found a lot of success .

Ian Hunter, “As resellers, how do you feel vendors are putting over their case for CTI applications and motivating you to sell them?”

John Wright, Opus Telecom, “We have access to a wide range of CTI applications from our vendor partners but would say that the business drivers are not necessarily in the domain of the IT managers. I don’t think so. It’s not a great secret, but from a salesman’s’ perspective you want to deal with the decision maker and the IT manager is more concerned over the impact of new applications on his network than the business reasons for pushing the company forward and cutting overheads. For that, you often have to deal with someone higher up in the company.

Trevor Pomeroy, “As a consultant you can go to the IT manager and discuss a strategy but you have to engage the business in a huge way to find out where they are going and what their drivers are. More often than not it is the business group than the technology group within an organisation that is taking us on to implement projects.”

Ken Moody, “If a company is dependent upon a certain business application, say a database, then if you can prove to that application provider that you have a value added proposition, e.g., CTI enabling their application, then often you will find that they will in effect do the selling for you.

John Wright, “Correct. We have done a certain amount of business as a result of working with business process application suppliers and CTI enabling their products. If we can contact them early in that process then the CTI becomes just another part of the overall project.

A key to being successful in selling CTI applications is to open the customers mind to what the applications, what is available and how it will benefit the business.

 
Skills/Training

Ian Hunter, “Let’s explore the availability of training and accreditation. What can resellers expect from their vendor partners and is this enough to equip resellers with the skills required to professionally sell CTI applications?”

Lee Essex, “There is fear at all levels, voice reseller, data reseller and customer, regarding CTI applications. What Oak has looked at achieving is to alleviate that fear by going through an education process at two levels. We need the guys who install and support the applications to be comfortable and of course we need the sales people trained to be able to identify opportunities and specify solutions.

Everyone here has been on various training courses but what do we take away from the course. We are aiming to provide a motivation to take the applications forward. Our recently launched accreditation scheme starts at a low level and builds the understanding slowly – a gentle approach to simpler products that eases in the database integration. Telecoms itself has been evolving in recent years from talking lines and extensions to talking about solutions, business drivers and return on investment. Rather than just delivering a box everything has turned in to applications, applications. Telecoms is going through an education process at the moment and we need to aim to meet those needs with training and accreditation schemes that get over the fear of these issues.

One of the ways we are doing this is to provide our resellers with an attractive deal on taking our product to use themselves in house. We have been extremely pleased with the uptake by resellers of this offer which seems to have hit the nail on the head. The confidence that this provides the resellers is translated in to the sales process when they are in front of customers. Where they are comfortable talking about the applications.

Ian Hunter, “What investment in time are we talking about here for the reseller?”

Lee Essex, “Technical courses are just one day which provides and overview of the products, how to install and configure them. Sales training is around two to three hours and this is usually carried our by our account managers. Focus is on establishing customer requirements for both Enterprise and SME users. Enterprise customers has probably made a large CRM investment already and our task is to extend that ROI by adding telephony integration value.

Ian Hunter, “At the end of your two and a half hour sales course what will the sales person be able to do?”

Lee Essex, “ They will be able to identify what level of CTI is right for that customer, identifying the benefits for each customer. As a new technology too many people are just picking up of the features.”

 
   
John Wright   Vanessa Armstrong   James Emm
 
Margin in Skills

Ian Hunter, “The accepted differences between voice and data resellers when it comes to generating margins has been that the voice reseller makes a decent profit on the initial sales and takes further revenues downstream in the form of yearly maintenance contracts. The data comms way would be to front end the sale with consultancy, implementation and services costs. Is it the case that the voice reseller only contacts a customer post sale when the lease is due to expire on the PBX?”

John Wright, “We are making more contact with the customer on a regular basis today but we have to examine the skills of the salesman and the way in which they are remunerated for it to work properly. The person needs to be well educated, with good sales and technical skills and you have to find the right pay structure for him to be able to visit his existing customers every six months and ask if everything is all right and show the customer some latest application. The margins are necessarily as great as they would be in an initial sale. The temptation for the very skilled salesman is to concentrate on the new sale or a large expansion of existing systems rather than the ‘drip drip’ of regular visits with smaller sales and margin values.

 
IP Enablement

Vanessa Armstrong, “One of the reasons I believe that the CTI market may be slow is that the application was originally ‘sold’ to the channel at a time when the technology was immature and the number of customers that could benefit from the applications of the time very small. I recall that many resellers who started to sell CTI at that time ended up getting their fingers burnt and that this has lead to many resellers today believing that the cost to their business may be too high to focus on selling today’s applications as they believe it will not generate the sufficient revenue streams.

Today however we have convergence and IP to the desktop and the reseller can see that happening. There is a growing market for CTI with some real applications but we have to now re-educate the channel in to believing that there is a genuine opportunity for them to make margin.”

Mike Ballantine, “CTI is product whose time has now actually come. We have all been talking about it for a long, long time but today the applications are deliverable. Broadband has been a big driver in enabling applications and there can’t be many businesses across the UK that does not have an employee with broadband installed at home. Consequently they can use an IP keyset at home and CTI is just an extension of that. We see VoIP and CTI as very much hand in hand, so much so that Aastra has developed an engineering course that addresses the two topics together. Perhaps SIP is the way forward for the integration of these applications; it is being adopted as a standard by most vendors and delivers the applications.”

Simon Smith, “Toshiba has launched an accreditation scheme and I agree with the earlier comment that the time has come for CTI applications. When you look at simple it is to integrate with off the shelf CRM applications such as ACT! and Goldmine it really should be a no brainer opportunity for resellers to exploit. Not all resellers however will be able to handle a more ‘exotic’ or bespoke opportunity and there has to be a route for them.”

James Emm, “The basic applications should take care of themselves if the reseller has undertaken the training leaving vendors such as ourselves available to provide the necessary support for the more complex projects.”

John Wright, “It comes to the fact that salesmen will sell what they are most comfortable with. We have spent a considerable time ensuring that our sales force sells beyond the 6+24 PBX and it has not been easy. We now need to go a step further.”

Vanessa Armstrong, “We are approaching a point in the market where informed customer are asking their reseller suppliers more and more about applications that may benefit their business and resellers will need to have the answers ready or the customer may well look elsewhere.”

 
Summary

If you get twelve people in a room to talk about an application such as CTI you are bound to get twelve different perspectives. There were some clear conclusions and advice for readers (see Selling Tips) but one thing was clear enough – resellers should make the investment for you and your sales team in training. Whilst education was definitely seen as being a positive move in the right direction John Wright of Opus made a great point on the day, “Don’t reach the stage where have got some really smart guys but not selling anything!” Remember to keep your eye on the main ball in play.

Finally, as James Emm of Oak Telecom said, “Come and see some CTI applications in action at the Convergence Summit 2005.”

 
Reseller Sales Tips
1. All customers are different and CTI applications are full of features. One may be knocked over by screen popping a database whilst another is more interested in establishing a list of lost call for the day. The only way to find out which feature is significant is to understand their business and ask questions.
2. Technology has been to blame in many instances of distancing suppliers from their customers however; we need to get the message across that CTI can claim back that personalisation.”
3. Certain sections of customer are well informed and pro-active when it comes to CTI applications and will ask their communications suppliers about applications for their business, resellers will need to have the answers ready.
4. Realistically assess your skills and ability to supply CTI applications. Talk to your vendors and/or distributor about filling in any gaps you have identified. If they can’t help you then find another supplier who can.
5. Business drivers and decision making are not necessarily in the domain of the customer IT manager. Look for where the business is being driven from and understand the customers objectives and business processes.
6. Don’t talk features and technology – talk business benefits. Show how applications can help control costs, retain customers and gain the user a competitive advantage.
7. Use CTI technology yourself. Vendors will be pleased to supply applications at an advantageous rate so that you become familiar with their use and understand their business benefits better.
8.Try and build skills and customer references in a specific vertical market.
 
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