The Channel Challenges of UC and UC&C

Vendors, resellers, and the entire unified communications (UC) and unified communications & collaboration (UC&C) channel must pay special attention to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Everything about them – from what they want from platforms to how they go about the shopping and buying process – is different than it is in the enterprise environment.

An important first step is to recognize the broadness of the SMB sector. There is a big difference, in this context, between “small” and “medium.” A small business usually has very specific needs. It can be a SOHO (small office home office) trying to appear like a bigger organization to its partners, or a neighborhood medical clinic seeking a better way to share imaging with a nearby hospital. A medium sized business, by some definitions, can have several thousand employees and a much broader enterprise-like set of needs and goals.

Thus, the huge variation in size makes it impractical to establish a single set of rules for dealing with the SMB category. What is useful, however, is to focus on the smaller side of the category. There is a good news/bad news element to the dealing with the truly small players. The good news is that, cumulatively, there is a tremendous amount of money on the table. The bad news is that it is more difficult to get. The unavoidable reality is that the cost per sale will be higher.

This fragmentary nature of the small business sector introduces all sorts of complications that are not present in enterprise use of UC and UC&C. The number of employees is only the tip of the iceberg. An enterprise environment is characterized by experts on both the channel and buyer side. A large organization employs people who specialize in UC and UC&C and are as knowledgeable as their counterpart on the channel side. These folks speak the same language and can talk turkey – high level turkey – immediately. This is not true on the SMB side, unless that firm hires a consultant.

Because the SMB market doesn’t have as much expertise in the intricacies of UC and UC&C as enterprises, the savvy channel member will seek to be more of an educator and advisor. Small companies don’t know what they need. Vendors who gain their trust can help them turn these vague notions into concrete goals and benefit in the process.

There are several interrelated and significant changes impacting the entire telecommunications, which includes the UC and UC&C. The channel must keep these in mind as well:

The advent of cloud services

Organizations of all sizes now can outsource their endeavors to Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers. This is an especially attractive option to SMBs because it eliminates two of the significant obstacles that they face: High entry level (capex) costs and lack of on-staff expertise.

The proliferation of sophisticated devices

The increasing power and flexibility of common communications tools. In essence, UC and UC&C can be achieved via smartphones, tablets, and other devices using social media. The era of UC and UC&C running on a discreet set of tools and platforms is fading.

The popularity of Your Own Device work structures

BYOD – a trend in which organizations encourage employees to use their own devices at work – is further eroding the line between general workplace communications devices and specific UC and UC&C tools.

The bottom line is that the UC and UC&C categories are changing drastically. All of these changes, however, can in some way be seen as beneficial to smaller organizations. Technology is opening up and democratizing communications.

Channel companies that sell and service products and services to this group must react to these changes. The most savvy will adjust their approaches and thrive.

Carl Weinschenk

Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecommunications writer. His work most often posts at IT Business Edge and Broadband Technology Report. He also runs a music website, The Daily Music Break. More information can be found at Weinschenk Editorial Services. He is on Facebook and Twitter.

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