Friday, October 8, 2010

So What Haven’t You Heard Before?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Gary Kim, serial technology entrepreneur, journalist, and Mensa member (according to the backgrounder on him I was sent). Gary is the Editor-in-Chief of both Fat Pipe and IP Business magazines. Today I was a panelist in a session moderated by Gary. I enjoyed both the one-on-one discussion and the group discussion. One theme the two discussions had in common was “the death of the demarc.”

For a generation the demarc was the division between the service provider’s stuff/responsibility and the customer’s stuff/responsibility. IP telephony has started to change that and SaaS practically obliterates it. Whether you consider the death of the demarc to be good or bad probably depends on who you are and how satisfied you are with the status quo. It will be interesting, though largely predictable, to see who embraces the death of the demarc and who resists it.

The topic of the panel today was “The Business Case for VoIP – Going Beyond ROI/TCO” and I think going beyond the demarc to understand the needs and ambitions within the homes and businesses of your customers is one of the keys. This is what the launch of our new joint product with Ringio is all about. The Ringio On InPhonex (ROI) application is all about radically improving the way a business connects with its customers, collaborates internally, and assures its competitive edge. The dialog necessary for a business to appreciate the true value of ROI will be focused on topics like: Why do customers call you? What do your employees need to know about the customer as they answer the call? How important is it for you to be reachable and responsive to your customers? What business tools and information do your employees need when they are outside the office? How do you measure your communication effectiveness?

The questions that will not dominate a successful discussion include: How many phone lines do you have today? How much do you pay your current provider? How many minutes of calling do you do? These are the old, service-provider-side-of-the-demarc-questions – certainly not irrelevant but no longer the entirety or even the core of the discussion. It will not be easy for many service providers or their salespeople to make the adjustment. Many customers may also be slow to appreciate the importance of shifting their buying process away from simple price comparisons to more detailed reviews of capabilities and interfaces.

Walking out of the session I had a chance to talk with Gary one-on-one. I asked him, “So all day every day you talk to people like me about our companies and our products. Do you get tired of it? Does it all start to sound the same?” He had an interesting reply: “There is one question I never get asked that I wish I would. And it is, ‘How much of what I’m telling you is really unique?’” So, bravely, I did. “Gary, so what that I’ve said to you in our conversations yesterday and today haven’t you heard before?”

His reply was direct: “Everything you’ve said about the power and flexibility of your platform I hear from several different people every day – whether it’s more or less true in your case is hard for me to evaluate. But what is different and exciting is your vision. You and InPhonex really seem to have your strategy figured out. Your clarity of vision is a powerful differentiator.

It made me think back to the presentation by Simon Sinek at the SAP Executive Partner Summit in Cancun. I wrote about it in August. I think InPhonex has our Why figured out while nearly every other company Gary talks to is fixated on What and maybe How.

Discussions with people like Gary are really helpful – if a bit intimidating. What it reminds me most of is the months I spent writing my Philosophy thesis in college. I’d spend weeks reading and thinking and writing and then I would go into a meeting with my thesis advisor, a professor and, in my case, the Chairman of the department. This was the moment that the previous weeks of thinking and writing were tested. Was I making any sense? Was there anything original to my thinking? How close was I to proving my argument?

So, at least according to “Professor Gary Kim”, we’re on the right course. In college that kind of feedback would have sent me in search of too much beer. Today it will send me into the office tomorrow with even more enthusiasm.

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