"American Idol" Shows Agents & Partners How to Sell VoIP, SIP & IP-PBX

The "best" solution doesn't always beat the "safe" solution

May 22, 2009 Join TA / Subscribe  TA Home  TA Index

Agents & Partners Fail Their Customers When Taking Them Out of Their Comfort Zone
by Dan 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.

     That 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 matter what Simon Cowell thinks!)

     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. When America's 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 Chris Carabello.

     "The 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 its 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 up)

     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 PAETEC Allworx 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 integrated T1s.

     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 Andrew 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 on it

     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

     These 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 plastic?"

     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 considering.

     Then, if you're cheaper or better or both, hand them the pen.

 

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Got input? Forward it to Dan@TelecomAssociation.com or call Dan Baldwin at 951-251-5155


 


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