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Justifying Workspace Applications: Time to Up the Game

The current sales focus for most communication technology vendors is collaboration and workspace applications of one form or another. This is a major shift, stemming from the plateau or decline of traditional markets.
With this sort of sale, the justification isn’t about a cost reduction such as offered by SIP-based communication, nor is it about providing a telephone on every desk or upgrading to a new system because the one installed is going out of support. Rather, the value propositions for these new collaboration and workspace application sales are that the business results will be improved in one way or another.
Improved business results is a great claim, but where are the metrics, the business (not technical) monitoring tools, and the proof points? This obviously requires a much different consultative sales model than is familiar to most communication system vendors and their value-added resellers.
Proving Business Results
Selling to businesses with a message of improved business results is an age-old idea — think of the benefits of the steam engine, the electric motor, or the automobile as examples. More recently, we’ve seen the re-invention of business by application software in enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and many, many vertical market categories. In the communications industry, providers selling on business results have been doing very well in the contact center segment.
In almost all of these, the focus is on how a specific business process can achieve one or more of these three things:
  1. Go faster — Find a way to complete tasks, projects, or workflows more quickly. This could be time to market with a new product, speed of patient discharge from a hospital, first responder response time, or improvement of any other time-based metric. Some collaboration and workflow applications promise this benefit, though few have any tools to measure the change. In the collaboration and workspace applications category, specialty software vendors such as Slack and Atlassian have taken leadership rather than the communication technology providers.
  2. Use less — Reduce the amount of resources needed to complete a specific task, workflow, or project. Usually, going faster will use fewer resources, but it is possible to reduce resource usage even if there’s no process acceleration. Many collaboration and workflow applications providers claim that collaboration via text and document sharing uses fewer resources than when relying on in-person meetings and email. This may be true, but I have yet to see a viable set of tools to measure the before and after states to prove this and to provide an ongoing dashboard to management. With all of our industry’s experience with using less in contact centers, this gap of tools is pretty amazing.
  3. Be different — Deliver the same, or better, results in a new and different way that is valued by customers, especially compared to the competition. Southwest Airlines is one great example of this. Websites, social media approaches, or mobile apps are innovating with “be different” approaches every day. However, while many studies show how diversity of opinions improves collaborative outcomes, I haven’t found any demonstrable proof that using the new tools assures innovation or differentiation.
Business Metrics
In each of these three areas, the proof requires some before and after data or side-by-side comparative testing. And, the data must come from or match the metrics used in the business, not the metrics used by IT or the Communications department. Measuring user adoption, which is a current buzz topic, isn’t a measure of business results. It’s possible to work with the lines of business (LOB) to find key metrics to target for improvement by application of new collaborative and workspace applications. However, the sales teams must be able to communicate in those departments’ terms and have access to LOB leaders.
Also, it’s important to note that businesses don’t require the use of collaboration and workspace applications uniformly. Usage profiles illustrate that between 50% and 80% of employees, depending on the industry, get little or no value from collaboration and workspace applications. Perhaps that’s why we’re seeing more marketing to industry verticals from communication technology vendors, which is a good thing. Also, perhaps that’s why we’ve seen Microsoft feature its “firstline worker” initiative, to access that “other half.” And, this is certainly the reason that mobile-centric, job-specific apps are showing up for the non-collaboration users in every industry.
If a communication technology vendor and its value-adding partners can take the lead in the business justifications for their collaboration and workspace applications, they have a good chance of generating higher prices per licensed user, selling stickier solutions and broadening their addressable markets. However, a vendor that doesn’t figure this out may end up claiming a hollow success for collaboration and workspace applications by bundling those entitlements with basic telephony or conferencing licensing. Avoiding the problem isn’t the solution; rather tackling this challenge, as difficult and different as it may seem, will most likely broaden the vendor’s value proposition, increase customer loyalty, and create financial staying power. Clearly, it’s time for the product strategy team, the marketing department, and the sales leadership to up their games.
Best wishes to our industry’s vendors in this area, since their leadership in justifying these new solutions based on business value is key to success for all of us.
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Parker is writing on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.