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Advice for Consultant Liaison Programs
The 3rd annual TEQConsult Group survey of Society of Telecommunications Consultants and Canadian Telecommunications Consultant Association members is now being compiled and its findings will be reported and analyzed in a No Jitter feature article later this month. Some of the initial results are surprising to this writer, because more than one system supplier received lower product evaluation ratings from the consultant sample than the facts warranted, in more than one category. The survey results also demonstrate that the financial resources plowed into a consultant liaison program (CLP) do not always positively correlate with the end results.I think now is a good time to offer some free advice to the CLPs on how to support and influence the consultant community. This advice will also have an effect on the end user community, because they are the recipients of a consultant's services, and the better informed a consultant is, the better the value of their services. I provide the advice as someone who has consulted with CLPs for the past quarter century, which also qualifies me as one of the most prolific users of CLP services.
Suggestion #1: Provide Timely & Accurate Information
Too often, when a new product is introduced or an enhancement is announced, the information provided by the CLP to their consultant constituency is insufficient (too general, lacking details, or just plain confusing) and/or delayed (available weeks or months after the event takes place). Some companies, such as Cisco Systems, have traditionally made new product details available on the day of the formal announcement via its website. Others (and I won't embarrass them by calling them out here, but they probably know who they are) apparently make announcements in a vacuum with little or no information distributed to consultants for several weeks after the fact. Waiting until the next quarterly newsletter is published is too often too late. Marketing brochures with more descriptive adjectives than technical facts are rarely useful. If an announcement is big enough, a webinar should be scheduled to coincide with its public release. Archive the webinar material and audio for those who cannot make the live presentation, or hold it more than once.
Suggestion #2: Return Contacts Promptly
I remember when Brian Pickett was running the Nortel CLP back in the early 1990s, he had a rule that his people had to respond to a customer voice message within one business day. This was the time before emails (and websites). I have personally experienced delays of several days before a CLP member returned my call or responded to an email. There are times when consultant needs information in a matter of hours (if not immediately), and a slow response, or none at all, may lose a potential sale for the tardy CLP. Consultants are the equivalent of client to the CLP, and a salesperson that does not respond promptly to a customer-related contact will soon be an out-of-work salesperson. If the contact volume is too much too handle, the CLP requires more full-time members or emergency response members. Going on vacation is not a valid excuse for not returning consultant contacts, because the world does not stop until the individual returns to work. This is usually the fault of the organization, not the CLP, because insufficient resources are made available to satisfy the demands of the consultant community.
Suggestion #3: Improving Real Time Contact
I remember when each CLP had its own "800" number, when telephone calls were the dominant method of contact. Many programs have since dropped the "800" number. More than a few do not even provide contact names of individuals with direct phone numbers or personal email screen names on their website for consultant support requirements. Since each major communications system supplier has an IP telephony system that supports station roaming, cellular extensions, and a variety of teleworking options, the number of unsuccessful phone contacts should be minimized and unified messaging should address email messages. Instead, a consultant too often receives a voice mail greeting imploring us to leave a message. Sometimes we are also given a cellular phone number to use in case of emergency. I highly recommend system suppliers provide the same enhanced voice communications tools to their CLPs as they are trying to market to the consultants' end user clients, and provide CLP members with a Blackberry or equivalent to be in touch via email.
Suggestion #4: A CLP Associate Should Know More (or at least as much) About Their Company's Offerings than I Do
As a competitive analyst, my livelihood depends on keeping intimately current with more than a dozen leading suppliers' product portfolios. Why can't every member of a CLP be expected to at least know their own organization's offerings? When I know more than the CLP associate about their offerings, something is rotten in the state of enterprise communications.
I don't advocate that a CLP associate should be required to know every technical product detail or software feature operation, but they should not always function as a go-between to pass questions to or arrange conference calls with someone else when an inquiry is made. I recommend that a CLP associate have at least the same product and application knowledge as an account executive, and pass training classes before interacting with their customers, i.e. consultants. CLPs should allow consultants direct access to technical support personnel for the highly granular inquiries.
I helped organize the ancestor of today's Avaya CLP when it was still part of AT&T's General Business Communications Systems (GBCS), Division and one of the best decisions made was to allow callers to the then newly-established CLP number (800-524-GBCS, still in service today and note the last four digits) the option of connecting to a technical specialist in the customer support service center located outside Denver. That capability is no longer available, but should be for all CLPs.
I recognize that the primary target audience for this post is rather narrow, but that is one of the reasons for establishing this website. When the STC/CTCA survey results are available, and a vendor believes they were not fairly graded by the consultants, I hope they will have read this post and begin to consider implementation of one or more of my suggestions to improve their results in next year's survey. Unlike my post, the survey results will be naming names.