Most unified communications companies sell their solutions through channel partners (CPs) and value added resellers (VARs). But these product specialists and system integrators are not always the direct link between an OEM’s solution and the client.
And while clients sometimes chose to hire an independent telecommunications consultant to manage their UC deployment, channel partners haven’t always seen the benefit of getting another firm involved.
“When I started consulting, the relationship between partners and consultants was adversarial,” says Byron Battles, a CTI expert and consultant for almost thirty years. “Many partners and sales people felt that consultants were impediments toward getting directly to the client,” seeing them as either competition or gatekeepers who kept them from doing their job.
“When a channel partner learns that a consultant is involved, they should embrace it, not reject it,” says J.R. Simmons of COMgroup. “Rather than work around us, they should realize that the consultant is a person who can validate the CPs technology as part of a bigger whole.”
More and more CPs are discovering the advantages of developing strong relationships with consultants. “Our common endpoint provides mutual benefit: a satisfied client,” says Ernie Holling of InTech. “Both the consultant and the channel partner work back from that.”
With the client’s satisfaction in mind, a consultant is not there to squeeze the VAR, but to help them put their best foot forward–which ultimately means more money in a channel partner’s pocket.
How do telecommunications consultants benefit channel partners? We didn’t have to go very far to get some answers. ShoreTel’s Consultant Liaison Program Advisory Board includes eight top industry experts, five of whom offered the following benefits:
1) When consultants are selling their own services, they’re selling the channel partners’ services.
Many consultants do lots of their own marketing. That’s how they get business. They’re out there writing articles, bidding on projects, attending conferences, contributing as subject matter experts. They’re meeting new prospects constantly, and it’s common for clients to seek them out.
“Consultants in the long term can be a VAR’s single biggest source of revenue if they’ll just see us that way,” says consultant and IDG contributor Stephen Leaden. “Many consultants are very active in the VoIP space–very active.”
2) Consultants’ “problem solving” focus creates trust
Good consultants aren’t looking to deploy a particular solution or make a sale. Typically they are subject matter experts hired to solve operational problems that incorporate, but extend beyond, communications strategies. Often their clients require solutions that integrate UC with network and enterprise application upgrades, overhauled staffing patterns and new operational workflows.
When addressing potential UC solutions, “clients are somewhat conditioned to discount what a channel partner says because they know the partner’s goal is to make a sale,” not necessarily to address broader operational issues, saysSimmons. But by presenting a UC solution system integrator as part of a larger plan, “we increase a client’s trust in their VAR.”
3) Channel partners don’t get paid to gather information
A client’s business requirements will often require hours—even days and weeks—for discovery. As Battles points out, consultants are hired to conduct in-depth discoveries “on a for-fee basis. A partner may do it, but they won’t get paid for it. Their hope is that the client will buy, and they’ll get paid off in the end.”
It’s a tremendous time-saver for a partner when a consultant gathers and filters the client’s various department-specific goals, complications (and opinions), then crystallizes the requirements.
4) Plus, the depth of the information gathered may be better anyway
A client may be willing to spend hours and days in discovery–but only one time. They can’t afford to “go deep” with multiple vendor/partner prospects. Typically consultants have high visibility in an organization because they’re brought in by senior management; this tends to provide weight to what a consultant says and does, as well as to what access and information they receive.
In the discovery process, “we get down and dirty, roll the sleeves up, get a sense for what the business is and what the processes are,” says Communications Engineering’s James O’Gorman. The result? CPs will typically receive a more deeply vetted set of requirements from a consultant than they might have gathered on their own.
5) Good consultants are good translators
It’s a consultant’s job to stay abreast of business practices and developments in the verticals they serve. It’s also their job to stay abreast of the technologies that can benefit those verticals. When a consultant is part of a deployment, “the channel partner has a knowledgeable person to work with from both the industry perspective and the client perspective,” says Holling.
A good consultant will be well versed in the language of business AND the language of technology, bringing clarity to all phases, from definitions to partner selection through implementation.
6) Making the partner look good
“One of the things that most partners don’t recognize, is that once a decision has been made to proceed on a path, the consultant’s job is to make everyone look good, including the partner,” continues Holling.
The consultant is vested in the overall performance of every aspect of the business solutions he or she proposed. The success of the overall plan will make for a happier client, which can create a “halo effect”of elevating the client’s delight with both the UC solution and the CP that deployed it.
7) Short cut implementation problems
During solution implementation, a consultant’s detailed knowledge of the client’s operation is an immediate benefit for the partner. “The consultant wants to get a mind meld between the client and the business partner, a good working relationship,” says O’Gorman.
A good consultant will have already identified “trouble spots,” and vetted locations, product lists and integration issues so the client and the partner can start their relationship on the same page. This means short cutting problems, saving a CP a ton of time.
8) Good consultants are good advocates
“In a negotiation or during implementation, a consultant can tell if the client is making a request that is unreasonable or out of scope,” says O’Gorman. Resolving issues on behalf of the vendor is in keeping with a consultant’s role as an independent third party. “The consultant will take the vendor’s side and the client will listen because the client has come to trust the consultant’s judgment.”
9) A route to future business
For most VARs, building solid relationships with telecommunications consultants will ultimately lead to more deals closed. There will be time invested in the beginning, as the partner learns the style, preferences and needs of individual consulting firms. But the pay off can be huge.
“Treat us like another national account, like a Fortune 1000 company,” says Leaden. “Develop a relationship with us. Know you won’t get every deal. But in our space, if you lose a deal, that’s just one deal.In 90 days I’ll invite you back to another opportunity.”
We’ll be featuring more insights from the ShoreTel Consultant Liaison Program Board of Advisors in future blogs.
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Byron Battles is Principal, The Battles Group, LLC and is a recognized expert in the field of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and a Past President (2006-2008) of The Society of Telecommunications Consultants, a professional association of independent information technology and communications (ICT) consultants. He has 29 years of telecommunications consulting and industry experience in direct voice and data telecommunications evaluation, technical and project consulting, and applied market and subject research.
Ernie Holling is President and Chief Strategist of InTech, which he founded in 1986. He specializes in providing crisis intervention at the enterprise level and in developing technology strategy for complex, multi-site/vendor environments and contact centers. He is a member of the Project Manager Institute, the Telecommunications Industry Association, the Utilities Telecommunications Council, and is a past vice president of the board of directors for the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.
James O’Gorman has background in both common carrier and private consulting and is the principal of Communications Engineering LLC. He has been an independent telecommunications consultant since 1980, providing consulting advice to legal, financial, publishing, health care, entertainment, governmental and educational institutions. He plays a key role in the design, selection, and project management of state-of-the-art telecommunications systems and infrastructures. He is a Past President of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants.
J.R. Simmons is President and Principal Consultant of COMgroup, Inc., with 37 years of experience in the telecommunications systems industry, including 28 years as a consultant providing planning, design, analysis, and implementation management skills. Currentprojects include strategic planning, data networking design, systems analysis, IP telephony, and call centers. J.R. was elected to the board of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants in 2011 and to the Executive Board of the STC in 2012.
Stephen Leaden is founder and President of Leaden Associates, Inc., an independent consulting firm providing specialized support to enterprises in VoIP, unified communications, contact centers, converged networks, and cloud-based architectures. A past president of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants, he’s been in the telecommunications field over 30 yearsand is a frequent speaker at national trade shows, a contributing expert for UC Strategies.com, and a contributor to IDG and The Voice Report.