Do Soft Dollars Count (Yet) in Video Conferencing?
For the moment (and rightfully so) the sellers are focused on travel savings because it works.
Productivity (or worse, the dreaded 'soft dollar') has always been a tough sell in telecom. I can remember, more than I care to, selling variations of voice messaging and call processing products in the 90's on the basis of productivity gains. Trying to sell, that is.In the cases where a clear reduction or full re-allocation of a resource was on the table, I could quickly make my way to the CFO's office. If not, I was in for a long winding road that only occasionally sent me home with a commission check.
This scenario tends to play out most when selling something a company is being asked to buy for the very first time. In the case of voice mail, while the productivity gains associated with features like copy/forward or the time saved not walking to the reception for messages were all nice--they amounted to soft dollar savings to those guarding the vault. Sadly, soft dollars only really compute after buyers have experienced a newly technology-enabled process. Before, status quo almost always seems good enough. Human nature, really.
Yes, I know I'm dating myself here using voice mail to make my point, but reading this thoughtful post by Robert Poe on video conferencing brought back the memories. And reminded me once again that some things never change--new communications technologies arrive yearly but the challenge of selling them for the first time never ceases.
Robert's post raises valid points about the complexity of placing compelling value outside of hard numbers, which in the case of video have and continue to center on the reduction of travel costs. Among other points, Robert notes that even if the CFO has proven partial to the perceived travel cost reductions inherent in video, users actually (once they've used it) speak to the much softer benefits of visual communications: improvements in managing emotional discussions, time saved and reduced frustration, to name just a few.
Video, like voice mail, is very much one of those 'you have to use it to love it' technologies. For those of you old enough, think back for a moment to how voice mail so quickly became indispensable. Even so, significant market penetration took time.
Unlike voice mail though, video does have other ways to get to market. Packaging and messaging it in ways that focus the buyer on non-travel business processes, for instance. We have seen evidence of this type of evolution in voice services. Where once buyers were sold minutes of voice communications (and bought it on savings only), now buyers are increasingly offered packaged services that address business processes (ie. Ifbyphone for automating marketing; or SayHired for automating phone screening). The buyer is no longer buying minutes, but instead improved business processes that in some way save or make them money--but are powered by voice.
I expect this similar evolution in video, although not soon. For starters, we'll need companies like VidTel to expose interoperability to allow for true user-to-any-user video. For the moment (and rightfully so) the sellers are focused on travel savings because it works. And as long as salespeople are paid on performance, the road easiest traveled to the CFO's office will remain be one most traveled.For the moment (and rightfully so) the sellers are focused on travel savings because it works.