The Evolving Role for Consultants
Independent, vendor-neutral consultants are forging new relationships with vendors, consultants, and solution integrators/resellers.
The presence and influence of industry consultants have become increasingly pervasive across all market segments throughout our evolving industry. Independent, vendor-neutral consultants are hired to provide some combination of the following hands-on support:
* Strategic planning or overview of their client's communications/information technology network infrastructure, capabilities and future needs.
* In-depth user needs assessment, network design, and detailed requirements prior to RFP development.
* Support in development, issuance and management of RFPs or similar requests for specific vendor solutions.
* Advise their clients in the evaluation process and selection of vendor solutions;
* Solution deployment support or management.
Consultants directly influence nearly 25% of total annual network equipment and services sales through the solution recommendations they make to their clients. Information on market trends (2008-2012), provided by The Brookside Group, illustrates the growing, broadening role of this influential community:
* The percentage of consultants classifying themselves as Telecommunications consultants has declined from 70% in 2008 to 53% in 2012, while
* The percentage of industry consultants classifying themselves as Unified Communications, Business Process or Management consultants has increased from 9% to 22% during this same period.
* Consultants' end-user client mix equally represents all size of business segments--roughly 30% each for large enterprises (>1,000 employees), SME (mid sized: 500–1,000 employees) and SMB (<500 employees).
* Average annual dollar value of consultants' solutions recommendations to their clients has increased from $5.3M in 2008 to $8.9M this year--a four-year increase of 68%.
* Clients typically concur with their consultants' vendor assessments and advice: 83% of consultants' 2012 recommendations will be implemented compared to 80% in 2008.
* The mix of solution categories that consultants recommend is also broadening. In 2012, the percentage of client engagements involved:
--62% Communications solutions (82% in 2008)
--49% Networking solutions (42% in 2008)
--46% Mobile/wireless solutions (30% in 2008)
--37% Network infrastructure solutions (60% in 2008)
* More specifically, the top 5 products/services in which consultants offered expertise to their clients in 2012 were:
1) Voice network services
2) VoIP/IP telephony/Converged networks
3) Data network services
4) Wireless/mobile network services
5) Unified communications--45% of consultants' projects (overall average) included what they considered to be a UC assessment, need or component
What the numbers don't show is how the vendor, reseller and consultant community work together. Historically, the reseller community viewed consultants as competitors. For example, if a reseller brought in a vendor-neutral consultant, like a member of the Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC), the consultant could end up recommending a product not offered by the reseller that brought them into the opportunity.
But this attitude or concern has evolved in recent years. As the role of channel has grown, consultants are increasingly seeking qualified resellers or solution integrators as both potential providers of solutions for their clients as well as solution deployment partners. Now, nearly 60% of consultants work with resellers in joint support/management of solution deployment for the customer.
Many vendors have supported consultants through what are commonly called Consultant Liaison Programs (CLPs) to increase the knowledge and confidence consultants need to consider and recommend the vendor's solutions. However, both new and smaller UC vendors who recognize the importance of the consultant community have been at a disadvantage, because they either can't afford a CLP or are not sure how or where to start.
For the past 18 months, UC Strategies has been working with The Brookside Group to address this challenge and have recently announced the formation of CLP Central, a new, highly interactive information and communications technology industry resource that brings more vendors, consultants, and solution integrators/resellers together.
CLP Central will provide vendors and resellers:
* Regular email updates and an integrated vendor portal for consultants to easily access and compare the vendor information and tools they need most.;
* A Reseller Directory to make it easier for consultants and resellers to find each other and partner.
* A consultant finder service that will help large enterprise, mid-sized or small business find the most qualified information and communications technology consultants for their business.
While CLP Central will not replace existing CLPs, it can supplement existing programs by offering services such as expanded recruitment of new consultants and a survey/tracking service that measures a vendor's share of consultant influence. Most vendors are not able to gather the information and insight necessary to evaluate and report the success of their programs. If CLP sounds interesting to you, drop me a note at [email protected].