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Q&A with Jane Beule, VP of Marketing at Eloquent

While streaming media is making headlines in the consumer space, the business-to-business streaming sector is chugging along without all the noise. That's fine by Jane Beule, VP of Marketing at Eloquent (http://www.eloquent.com). They've been providing rich media and streaming presentations to the B2B space since 1995 and have some big name customers like IBM, Compaq, Global One, Cisco and AT&T.

Eloquent started out by concentrating on offering audio/video presentations through CD-ROMs, but has now been doing more and more streaming over the Internet and intranets. And they've done it by using their own proprietary technology and not relying on Windows Media and RealNetworks. Customers seem to be responding well. Beule says that more than 90% of its customers come back and repurchase within 12 months.

Not everything is rosy, however. After Eloquent's IPO on February 17 the stock rose to $45, but has been steadily dipping, closing at $9 as of April 18.

Despite the market irregularities, Eloquent is forging ahead. I spoke with Buele to find out more about the company and to see where they're headed.

Streaming Media Newsletter: I guess the best way to start is to tell me more about the company.

Jane Beuele: We are about leveraging both streaming media and the Internet to revolutionize high touch applications for corporate customers. Eloquent has always been in the solutions business as opposed to the technology business. We've been very technology advanced but we'd always focused on the end user corporate customer. And reach either the internal audience or increasingly, the Internet external audience to address applications that involve face-to-face applications like marketing, selling, sales channel communications, customer support and increasingly, e-marketplaces.

Q: Is it just Internet and intranet?

A: We also have a CD delivery option for customers that either want to reach people that spend time on airplanes or other parts of the world. One thing about doing business with a lot of big customers is that they are by definition global. So they need to reach audiences that do not have any kind of reliable bandwidth via the Internet and so CD-ROM is the way to do that.

Our business has shifted dramatically in the last year from being primarily CD-ROM based to being Internet and intranet-based. Most of what we do has shifted to run over a server in a network.

Q: Just to give reader's a framework, can you describe what an Eloquent presentation is?

A: It's integrated audio/video, transcript, graphics--other electronic elements. If customers want to include a software demonstration we can do that. Others want to integrate components with other computer-based training systems (like Authorware or Director)--we can do that as well. We can link out to live and updated information. So it's very flexible and open and expandable.

Q: When trying out a demo I noticed I had to download an application. Are you not using Real or Microsoft?

A: Our framework can leverage both Real or Microsoft codecs. For the most part we don't. Our customers don't want us to--put it that way. Because what we did was design our codec to be optimized for business to business communications over very low bandwidth. We can accommodate customers that want us to integrate another codec into the overall solution. Over time, as we all move into a technology base that really leverages XML and Java, that download is going to go away.

Q: So you don't really see yourselves moving to Real or Microsoft?

A: Yes we do. Our architecture is open and we can accommodate lots of different technologies. One of them is our codec. It just so happens that most of our customers prefer ours. They address audiences that come back and use our information again and again. It's well worth a browser plug-in. And it's much smaller than downloading a Real plug-in.

Q: How are you offering this to customers? Is it a service or a product?

A: It's all of the above. We provide a complete communications channel for our customers. That includes server and player software. We also provide hosting services. Plus we have a very well developed production services group that runs on an application service provider (ASP) basis.

Q: It seems your company has just been rather quiet and suddenly you've popped up and have gotten noticed.

A: We've been quietly working away in the business application space and I think that streaming media first hit the big time in the consumer space. Most of the interest and focus (with the two biggest companies, Real and Microsoft) has been there. So I'm not sure that B2B got very much respect or interest.

Q: Why's that?

A: Because it isn't--they're not sexy applications. It's things like rolling out products or delivering channel education. But what people are beginning to realize is that these are huge markets. They are stable customer bases. These are the things that drive businesses.

We've found that we're shortening our customer's business cycles because right now they can design and manufacture products faster than they can communicate to their sales force, channel and customers. So a communications issue has been a major factor in many businesses. FileNET was one of our early customers and we've taken their product introduction process and helped them reduce that globally from 6 weeks to approximately 6 months. Which means they have four and a half more months in the marketplace, which to a business is a very important factor.

Q: What about the entertainment side? Do you see yourself getting into that space and if so, what kind of applications are there?

A: As a business we're focused on serving the needs of other businesses. Now some of our customers want to reach consumer audiences as opposed to business audiences. But no we have no plans right now to address the consumer space. The business space is something we've focused on for a long time and it's huge. We're not yet beginning to tap the potential of the business space so we're going to stick to our knitting.

Q: Has it been difficult to show companies that this is a good way to get your message across or do they immediately see the impact solutions like yours offers?

A: I think any new idea has a certain amount of inertia associated with it. But when people see it, they get it. More than 90% of our customers come back and repurchase within 12 months. So once they've done it, they understand what the value is and it almost becomes a standard part of their communication strategy and infrastructure.

Q: What other innovations are you working on?

A: You mean other than faster, cheaper, better? [Laughs]

Q: Yeah. How do you keep ahead of the competition?

A: We're focused on expanding on our customer's needs rather than looking over our shoulder and any one particular competitor. I can tell you what customers want: they want more options in terms of integrating other media types, a greater ability interact with the content, and we're working to give them better solutions to all those.

We have a real advantage. We have long-standing relationships with very large groups of customers. And if you are so blessed it makes sense to leverage that knowledge to understand--they will push you in the right direction much faster than an assortment of other companies in the marketplace. Your customers tell you where to go.

Q: Can you talk about some customers and what they're saying?

A: One of our larger customers is a bank that recently made a large acquisition and they were faced with having to train tens of thousands of people about a whole set of issues. They looked at the possibility of doing it by traditional methods and they realized it would take them until 2010. So they said, "There's no alternative. We have to find another way." And increasingly customers are coming to that realization. They're introducing products globally and product cycles are shrinking. You hear customers saying, "Don't give us another product because we haven't figure out what the old one does yet."

Another client, Ascend (now part of Lucent), said that we decreased their communications costs to rollout a new product by 90%. And that kind of word gets around.

Q: One more thing about your technology. When watching a presentation, I noticed that some things had to be loaded before starting. Is it true streaming or does the video download first?

A: We do dynamic caches and it senses what a user is doing so we send things in advance. You just don't have long rebuffering waits like you do in some other environments. If you give us 28.8 of bandwidth, we do fine with the whole rich media stream. And if you give us more we automatically sense you have higher bandwidth. So we ratchet up the quality of the stream we're sending to you.

Q: It's an on-demand product. You don't support live events?

A: It is on-demand and we see ourselves extending into the live arena sometime in the not-too-distant future. Again, think of us as a solutions supplier as opposed to a technology provider. Increasingly our customers are interested in having to bridge the gap between the live event and the on-demand event so we're looking at ways how we can best do that.

Q: Any timetable for that?

A: Nothing I can talk about. Other than saying we've been talking to our customers about that and we're looking into what they want and what it means to them and how we can best accomplish that.

Q: I notice you do lots of talking head video. Is video an important component?

A: Video is an extremely important component. I don't think we deliver anything without video--not to my knowledge. So much of what we do here is packaging the subject expert and leveraging the CEO or the expert in a personal way that you couldn't do without the video. The other thing is that frankly, a lot of our customers use the video to show people demos, walkarounds--things that are really visual. I can't imagine doing our stuff without the streaming video.

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