What the UC Channel Has to Say
Growth expectations, tech trends, assessment of equipment vendors, and more will be discussed at Enterprise Connect.
My colleague and channel expert, Orrin Broberg, and I just completed a global survey of unified communications VARs/SIs, which focuses on issues such as success factors, vendor relationships, expected growth areas, and much more. Since VARs and solution integrators (SIs) have their "feet on the street," they provide great insight as to what's actually going on in the market and where the challenges lie. As we at UCStrategies have been emphasizing for some time, the channel is key to the success of UC, so it's imperative that vendors do as much as they can to help their channel partners.
In addition to a comprehensive online survey of channel partners representing UC platforms, endpoint devices, components, and end-to-end solutions, we conducted in-depth phone interviews with over 50 VARs/SIs to determine what is required to get the channel sales organizations engaged in selling and supporting UC solutions, and to identify ways in which their particular vendors can better help them succeed in the market.
The survey respondents, particularly those that participated in the phone surveys, were given the opportunity to critique their vendors anonymously, and to identify areas where the vendors are weak and need improvement, as well as areas where they're doing a good job. We heard rants and raves, and everything in between. I'll be providing some of the general findings during my UC Market Overview session at Enterprise Connect (Wednesday, March 20 at 8 AM).
For example, when asked about how much growth they expect from their UC practices over the next 2-3 years, the respondents were quite optimistic. The majority of respondents expect growth to be above 10%, with 22% expecting growth to be over 20%. The Microsoft resellers are the most optimistic, with 45% expecting growth to be over 20%.
Looking at the technologies, the UC technology solutions that respondents believe offer the most promise during the next 2-3 years are cloud-based/hosted services, followed by mobility and collaboration (including web and video conferencing). Presence and unified messaging technologies were not ranked very high, probably because most UC users already have these capabilities.
Resellers perceive the biggest issue holding back adoption and spending on UC solutions to be customers' lack of budget and funding, and the high cost of UC solutions, which in turn relates to the issue of proving a hard ROI. Most of the comments from both the online survey and the phone interviews emphasized the difficulty in getting budget approved for UC solutions, particularly due to the fact that vendors have not adequately identified UC's value to many organizations. Based on feedback from the channel, and our own experience in the market, we strongly recommend that vendors focus on use cases.
Several respondents noted that vendors continue to focus on "speeds and feeds" and the technical capabilities of their products rather than use cases demonstrating how UC can benefit different types of users in various vertical markets. We recommend that all vendors take a fresh look at their sales models and consider adopting newer, relationship-based models that emphasize discovery and validation of UC value propositions. Otherwise, UC becomes a commodity and purchases are based on price rather than value.
The biggest area of channel dissatisfaction is lead generation. With a couple notable exceptions, the survey respondents complained that their vendors very rarely give them qualified leads.
During the phone interviews, we also heard a lot of grumbling about the various UC vendors--including terms like "arrogant," "too complex," and "hard to get hold of," and complaints about issues such as channel conflict, "licensing blunders," the cost of specializations and certifications, and more.
For enterprise customers, it's important to work with a reseller/VAR/SI that has good relationships with their vendors, and can get the support and assistance needed. In several instances, reseller participants noted that it was difficult to deal with a vendor's technical support staff, which affected the service levels that can be delivered to a customer.
Additionally, while some of the VARs focus on selling "boxes," a fair number emphasized they are shifting to a solutions-oriented strategy. Along those lines, we asked the phone survey participants how they decide which product to recommend.
In some cases, the decision came down to whose products the reseller is most familiar with or which has the best price. Alternatively, the resellers that have the customer's best interest at heart noted that they take the time to understand what the customer is trying to accomplish, what are their business processes, how workers need to communicate, etc., and then make a recommendation. These are the resellers end-user organizations want to be working with.