I am looking forward to being the keynote speaker at ChannelSolutions in New York next week. This all-day conference should be extremely worthwhile. Unlike a lot of other conferences this one promises to be refreshingly tactical. It is billed as an ”event [which] will bring experienced providers and sales partners together, sharing their insights on what works, what does not work, and why.” During the course of the day we will hear from more than a dozen providers of innovative business services. There is still time to register at http://channelsolutionstoday.eventbrite.com/
For my keynote I plan to establish a tactical tone at the outset. I believe strongly that 2011 and 2012 are going to be momentous for the business telecommunications marketplace. The next 24 months will be pivotal in determining the landscape for years to come – especially for cloud-based service providers and service distributors. Why do I say that?
I entered the telecom industry as a serial entrepreneur on the heels of the Telecom Act of 1996. I decided telecom was the wave to catch so I jumped on board what looked to be a promising ride: Craig McCaw’s Nextlink. The last 15 years have taught me how to read the currents, winds, and tides. Some are widely recognized like the transition to packetized voice, increased broadband penetration, the growth of wireless and smartphones, and the advent of the cloud-based service model. What makes the next 24 months so promising is that other forces are beginning to have a major impact. Here are three that need to be understood and mastered:
- Customers are changing. They are increasingly comfortable with the idea that they must provide certain key elements of business solutions like adequate, high-quality bandwidth, a reasonably-well-engineered LAN, and an ability to quickly master user interfaces. Expectations like LAN assessments, on-site installation and training, and provider-performed moves, adds, and changes are diminishing – fast. The same people that have learned how to setup a PC or two, a wireless LAN and printers, and a NAS at home are gaining the confidence to do the same thing at work.
- Services and service providers are changing. The fastest-growing business telecom service providers don’t have their own network or dozens of data centers or armies of field technicians or even large sales forces. What they have are services that solve important business problems and the ability to sell and deliver those services. Services are changing too. The cloud-based model provides efficient means to deliver specialized solutions. The old model presented major obstacles to creating a solution for a single type of business – the emerging model makes it possible and even preferable. And the large business telecom provider orthodoxy of never crossing the demarc has never been as crippling for them as it will be over the next 24 months.
- Sales is changing (and needs to more and faster). Since about 1990 – the advent of the AT&T/MCI split-screen ads – telecom sales has been about making and proving one claim: a comparable service at a lower price. Telecom “salespeople” simply needed to find out what a business was buying and how much they were paying. Then they offered an equivalent service at a lower price and, a decent percentage of the time, they got a new customer. Most still practice the same approach. The large business telecom providers seem more or less convinced that this “sales” approach doesn’t urgently need to change. They just need to keep putting products and pricing in the hands of their “salespeople” that allow them to keep on keeping on. But the game has changed – and will continue to – right under their noses. It’s like the story of the boy who rode his bike across the border everyday – the guards would search him and find nothing – because he was smuggling bicycles. Telecom salespeople couldn’t/wouldn’t sell solutions so now they don’t – they sell bandwidth and other basic, commodity services that enable others to sell solutions on top. They’re selling the essentially the same stuff as they were 15 years ago only it’s not the solution anymore – and many seem just as blind to it as those border guards were.