While attending the Channel Partners show in Las Vegas last week, I was struck by the number of companies promoting their cloud service. So many, in fact, that they all seemed to strive to differentiate their offerings. Phrases like "API-driven cloud infrastructure", "cloud-based ip communications", and "hosted telecom voice services" were thrown about haphazardly on booth graphics, pull-up signs, and cheesy tchotchkes (I stocked up for my kids.) The reason providers love "the cloud" is obvious - companies want recurring revenue, because the cost of acquiring customers is quickly repaid and then, assuming low churn from good service, ongoing service is very profitable. And from a customer's perspective, there are situations in which "cloud-based" solutions are the prefect fit, particularly when their business would rather reduce earnings with ongoing operating expenses instead of spending cash on a depreciating balance sheet asset.
But what's up with all the hype in this industry? My goodness, from walking a trade show floor you'd think that any company that doesn't exclusively offer cloud services was as backward as a permanently-installed car phone. Marketing and sales types staffing their booths practically trip over themselves to sputter out "cloud this" and "as a service" that, regardless of whether or not that type of arrangement is appropriate for any particular customer's need or problems. It's time for vendors with "cloud" somewhere on their website to stop talking and start listening, and it's time for customers to ask some critical questions. Because, I claim, that the best buying process involves less hype, more education, and offering customers a choice. Let me explain.
- Less Hype. In the future, I expect you'll see marketing teams recognize that hype is having an undesirable side effect. As prospects continue to read the same dribble from several different competitors, they'll become numb to the differences and instead favor companies that speak honestly, directly, and uniquely about their product or service. Fonality has already taken a "plain spoken" approach to marketing, and I hope to see the rest of the industry follow.
- More Education. Next time you're speaking with a vendor, ask yourself if you're going through a buying process or a sales process. Buying processes are more common these days, and are often driven by the customer's needs rather than a vendor's linear expectations. Whereas a sales process advances prospects through stages based on activities such as returning a phone call, completing a demonstration, or receiving a quotation, a buying process focuses on buyer education and updates a prospect score based on non-linear buying activities that the prospect completes, sometimes without a sales person's involvement, such as reading certain web pages, opening a newsletter, attending a webinar, or requesting a call with a sales engineer. Look for vendors that employ sales teams ready and willing to educate buyers rather than push their latest products.
- Choice. I'm not convinced there is a one-size-fits-all product, at least within the business communications space in which Fonality lives. Some customers have extra cash on their balance sheets, and would rather spend CapEx than OpEx as a result. Others don't have a strong financial preference, but are sick and tired of owning and operating their own voice infrastructure when there are experts out there that can provide this service for them. And some companies want to keep their current telecommunications carrier but still avoid large upfront expenses from a premise-only provider. The future of our industry lies with those providers able to deliver their products via the cloud or installed on-premise, and I'm proud to be part of a company like Fonality that offers customers this critical choice.
So the next time you're at a trade show, look past the hype, and consider those companies that embrace an education-centric buying process and offer their customers a choice for the solution that's right for them. But still take the others' tchotchkes.