Fair Share

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The video communications industry not only saw tremendous growth in 2007, but the year-over-year rate of growth also increased. So the first logical question is why, after all these years where we've heard about the great promise of this technology, has the utilization of video communications really taken off? You can't point to a single factor for this growth, but instead to a variety of technology advancements and economic conditions that have converged almost simultaneously to create a market demand previously unknown.

On the technology side, we have seen the proliferation of IP networks at higher and higher bandwidths. Not only are these networks larger, faster, and more plentiful, but they also offer a much higher quality of service compared with just a few years ago. We have seen the quantity of devices that require IP addresses increase exponentially, to the point that the shortage of static IP addresses has driven development and adoption of IPv6.

Video communications quality has also seen dramatic improvements in both audio and video compression algorithms and the hardware to support them. The rapid deployment of high definition in the consumer space also provided a quick transition for the video communications industry from SD to HD. And of course most of these technology advancements are coming to us faster and at lower costs.

These factors and more are contributing to a higher level of interest in video communications across the board, from the end-user to new manufacturers entering into the market. Yet almost every day I speak with systems integrators that see the opportunity but aren't seeing the growth. Many indicate that they are more focused than ever on selling video communications technology, and they are working harder than ever. When I ask the question, "How are you differentiating between product-centric and applications selling," well, the phone becomes silent.

Product-centric selling may include hardware, software, or services; in the video communications world this might include endpoints, infrastructure products (bridges, gateways, gatekeepers, and firewall-traversal), or scheduling and monitoring software/services. Typically these systems are sold to an end-user in the AV, IT, or building management departments. During proposal evaluations most of these types of decision makers are interested in the "speeds and feeds" of the product. As you are about to close the deal, the decision is typically made based upon a "price versus performance" comparison.

Conversely, applications selling may also include hardware, software, and services but the focus is on how these systems will be used to improve or enhance their business processes. These decision makers are interested in how the technology will improve productivity, reduce costs or errors, and shorten their time-to-market; all perfect requirements for the deployment of video communications technology. As you are about to close the deal, the decision will be based more on how this system will fix their business problems versus the product specifications.

The difference between these two sales approaches is not that one is more solutions-oriented than the other, or that one is more tactical or strategic. The difference is identifying your audience and matching your product message to the audience.

If you are presenting to business influencers, don't position your solution from a product-centric standpoint. This will cause you to quickly lose the attention of your audience, and you will most likely lose the deal. For success with this audience, you must understand their business processes and challenges while showing how your solution will solve their problems. Product details are important, but save them for the next audience.

Selling products using an applications approach to the AV or IT guy can cause lost deals as well. If your key decision makers are more product-focused, an application selling approach will come off as too "sales slick" without providing the key details and competitive product differentiation that they require to feel comfortable in moving forward with your solution.

Video communications products play well in product-centric selling or application selling presentations. Know your product as well as your audience and those extras sales calls, product demonstrations, and proposals will provide you with your fair share of the growth.

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