& Partners Fail Their Customers When Taking Them Out of Their Comfort Zone
Baldwin, TA Founder & Executive Director
I have two teenage sons. One listens to as much
music as a 30-gig iPod can hold. The other never listened to a single song
in the 17 years until a month ago when I heard music coming out of his
room. I stopped and asked, "What's that?" "The
coolest song I've ever heard," he replied.
was my introduction to the TV show "American
Idol" (I guess I don't watch enough TV) which theoretically picks the
nation's "next best singer". Well as America learned this past week, the
show doesn't pick the winner - America does - and America will pick the
person (or telecom solution) they feel the most comfortable with (no
Just as conventional TV wisdom suggested that Adam Lambert would win
American Idol last week because he was the best singer, so too do many
telecom providers and distributors think VoIP and SIP will sell on its
excellent technical merits. Not so.
uncomfortable, like in the middle of a recession, lead with safety.
When America's uncomfortable...lead with safety
The concept of "leading with safety" when selling SIP and VoIP was
excellently summarized by
Gary Kim in his recent
IP Business Magazine article where he quotes Savatar's
Mick Ahearn and Meta Switch's
single biggest mistake retail providers make when trying to sell hosted IP
telephony to small and mid-sized businesses is that salespeople start with
features, when they should start by reassuring buyers that 'it is a
reliable phone system,'" Ahern says.
The sales pitch has to begin with “it’s a high-quality phone system that
is reliable and lets you keep your phone number,” Carabello follows.
"Only after those two positioning efforts should sales personnel then add
that hosted IP telephony 'makes your life simpler,'" Kim summarizes.
Say, "VoIP is a safe PHONE SYSTEM" (and then shut
My own recent VoIP selling experience certainly mirrors Kim's analysis
that business decision makers want to buy a "safe" phone system - not a
VoIP or SIP or IP-PBX phone system. My biggest sale last year was selling
a nine location, 140-seat
IP-PBX to a multilocation California law firm. Eight of the nine locations
were connected with
TelePacific MPLS T1s. The smaller location was set up
as hosted VoIP site off the Allworx IP-PBX. The private network was fed
redundant Internet access and dial tone through two seperate TelePacific
Fortunately I didn't know much more about the technical aspects of the
"VoIP" I was selling than my prospect knew. (I don't need to know more
than I do though because I work with
Cohen of ATEL
who is the perfect combination of VoIP sales engineer, old school sales
manager and a great technical sales closer.)
When I cold called into the opportunity (while targeting multilocation
California law firms) I got my prospect on the line while in a frustrated
state (she was literally reviewing seven different VoIP phone proposals
when I first called). "It's a good thing I got through to you," I said.
"Why?" she wanted to know. "Because VoIP is the best phone system if you
choose the right one - and I just happen to be an expert a picking phone
systems for multilocation law firms just like yours!" I replied.
Customers will buy VoIP when you put a white T-shirt
Did I mention that America is looking for safe & familiar? In last week's
American Idol finale, America picked the familiar and easy-to-understand
(and white T-shirted) Kris Allen over the dark and mysterious Adam Lambert
(who had the best voice by far). When I sold VoIP to that very
conservative law firm last year, Allworx was the white T-shirted
contestant while Shoretel was wearing black fingernail polish.
While I confess I don't know as much about engineering multilocation MPLS
and VoIP voice and data networks as I should, I do know how to listen for
the subtle verbal hints where a prospective customer reveals to you "how
they want to buy".
On several separate occasions my prospect went to great lengths to state
how they didn't use or need three quarters of the options on their 15 year
old NEC system and they certainly saw no need to spend "tens of thousands
of dollars" extra on whiz-bang VoIP features. (I knew then they were
buying on price.)
She also asked repeatedly if the phones we were proposing had a flashing
light that let the attorneys know they had a voice mail message waiting.
(I know they would likely not use or buy the graphical user computer
interface VoIP software.)
You know what sold $70,000 worth of Allworx IP-PBX and $5,000 a month of
TelePacific MPLS & integrated T1s? The fact that their current phone
vendor was going to charge them $15,000 to move their current 15 year old
NEC system to their new main office and the nearest "new phone system"
they were being offered (Avaya or Shoretel) cost $30,000 more than the
Allworx we proposed.
We basically said, "It's cheaper than moving the broken down NEC phone
system that you have now, it's 30% less than the next closest new phone
system option you're looking at (with no annual license fees) and ATEL
will be your single point of contact for everything - phones, dial tone
and data. Sign here, press hard."
I confess I never actually said our VoIP option was "safe". I guess our
simple three point close just seemed safe in comparison to the other black
fingernail and dark eye-liner phone system options she was looking at. I
also rarely said "VoIP", I don't think I ever said SIP, and I might have
actually said that MPLS was equal to "magic pixie dust" that carriers now
sprinkle on data networks that currently rely on problematic VPN tunnels.
Bottom Line? They don't care if it's VoIP - as long
as it works
days, telling a customer that a proposed phone system or service uses VoIP
or SIP is like telling them the phone hardset is made out of plastic. "So
what? Who cares? Aren't they pretty much all made out of some sort of
For those of you who sold dial tone in the mid nineties, remember the
"copper or fiber optics" debate? Again the customers could care less.
Want to sell more VoIP or SIP? Stop saying "VoIP" or "SIP". Go "old
school" on your prospects. Just tell them how the price & dependability of
whatever you're proposing compares to the other viable options they're
Then, if you're cheaper or better or both,
hand them the pen.
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