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The Enterprise Streaming Sales Process

This "Eyes on the Enterprise" column first appeared in the May issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.

One of the toughest jobs in the technology industry belongs to those poor souls trying to sell online multimedia in the corporate sector. These people truly deserve our pity, but not for the reasons you would suspect.

Don’t feel sorry for them because of the product they’re pitching. Indeed, the technology that makes enterprise Web audio and video a reality is more reliable and easier to use than ever.

It’s not for lack of demand or interest in deploying the technology, either. More than two-thirds of the 1,200 corporate executives surveyed by my company, Interactive Media Strategies, in December 2005 report that their organizations already put Web audio and video to work. Nearly 40% of survey respondents plan to boost their budgets for deploying Web multimedia in 2006.

The demand is there. The technology is ready for prime time. So exactly what is it that keeps enterprise multimedia sales reps from cashing obscenely huge commission checks? I have a one-word answer for you: Confusion.

There’s confusion in the way enterprise multimedia is sold. And there’s confusion in the way enterprise multimedia is purchased. The channels for moving multimedia-enabling technology from a vendor’s warehouse into a viable corporate deployment simply do not exist. The successful deployments that we do see in the marketplace today are the result of Herculean sales efforts, luck, or a little of both.

There’s no such thing as an "easy enterprise sale." The first problem rests in an immature and ill-defined reseller channel. Some vendors pin their hopes on selling in partnership with resellers with a professional audio/video production background. Others cast their lot with resellers who focus on the information technology aspects of Web multimedia deployment. Still others try to garner the attention of resellers who historically have focused on related technologies, such as traditional video conferencing.

Put it all together and you have a largely dysfunctional channel infrastructure that provides no direct lines of communication between technology developers and prospective customers. Fortunately, we are seeing progress. Increasingly, vendors are beginning to crystallize their selling efforts around integrators and other reselling partners with an IT emphasis.

As multimedia communications solutions in the corporate sector grow more sophisticated, they are meriting the attention of leading IT-oriented integrators such as IBM and a host of smaller specialists that are all beginning to recognize the opportunities associated with the deployment of web audio and video for corporate communications applications.

I truly believe that 2006 is the year when the confusion in the reseller channel begins to melt away, clearing a path for a streamlined avenue to selling into the corporate sector. But while confusion in the re-sale channel is dissipating, it remains a relevant issue on the purchasing side of the equation.

The problem is simple. For sales reps, trying to find an executive with purchasing authority is like walking in a hall of mirrors. Nothing is as it seems.

In the December 2005 survey, participants were asked to name the corporate department that holds the final say in authorizing enterprise multimedia deployments. In short, everybody seems to have the same answer about purchasing authority: "I have control."

Of survey respondents working in the IT department, 61% report that IT executives hold the final purchasing authority for enterprise multimedia deployments. Among survey respondents working outside the IT department, 61% say that purchasing authority resides with executives in non-IT roles, such as functional department managers and top administrators.

The fact that executives across the enterprise feel ownership for multimedia bodes well for the long-term health of the industry. Enterprise multimedia is garnering the attention and interest of those not typically involved in the deployment of technology. This type of interest can do nothing but fuel additional demand.

But for the salesperson in the trenches, today’s selling reality can be maddening. Enterprise multimedia must be sold twice to any organization. First, it must be sold on its value as a vital communications tool that enhances an organization’s business processes. Second, it must pass the sniff test of IT executives.

To address this dual selling proposition you must first recognize the reality of today’s market. Getting one person within an organization to say "yes" is a nice start, but it’s unlikely to lead to an automatic purchase order. Encourage that first person who agrees with the vision of deploying enterprise multimedia to promote its value to others within the organization.

The second way to address the splintered selling proposition is to match the capabilities of a technology solution with an organization’s readiness for adopting it. The deployment of enterprise multimedia is an incremental process. Don’t expect to sell sophisticated six-figure solutions to companies that have never deployed multimedia before. Companies new to the technology need to dabble in its use, producing a handful of multimedia events on cost-effective platforms.

This type of experimentation helps executives to recognize the potential power of multimedia-enriched communications and become aware of key technology issues (such as network security and ease-of-use) related to the deployment of web audio and video. As their awareness of key technical issues grows, so too will their willingness to invest in advanced systems that address these issues.

The confusion in the enterprise selling process is real and palpable. It’s also a problem that can be solved once we all recognize what’s confusing us in the first place.

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