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Bad economy lifts telepresence sales

Enterprises see cost savings, productivity gains in managed telepresence services from AT&T, BT, others

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Telepresence services, and especially managed telepresence services, are weathering the current economic storm, according to multiple providers and vendors, but the sales tactics for these services are changing somewhat.

“To be honest, we are seeing telepresence take off like crazy,” said Jeff Prestel, general manager of the video solutions division at BT, which this week announced it was adding Polycom telepresence gear to its managed services offering. “You would think with the current economic challenges, given it’s a high-ticket item, that would be the first thing people would stop spending on, but we are seeing even more interest – our fastest area of growth is in telepresence. It is growing rapidly.”

Other telepresence service providers aren’t quite as gung-ho but are still upbeat about their offerings.

“It’s hard to say how the economic downturn is affecting telepresence because everything is still so new and nascent,” said Alan Benway, executive director of AT&T Telepresence solutions, which announced its Cisco-based service last April. “There is still lots and lots of interest and discussion with customers. Some are moving faster than others. Some are, depending on their business, slowing down a bit.”

At Telanetix, where telepresence is about 20% of the overall managed services business, interest remains strong, but the sales cycle is a little longer, said Doug Johnson, chief executive officer. One reason for that is the Telanetix approach requires customers to invest in the video endpoints that sit on their premises.

“Because the solution requires a capital outlay, what we have seen is actually sales cycles delay slightly, although the interest is keen,” Johnson said. “We have seen people evaluate all of their capital decision-making. We anticipate companies are more interested than ever in the technology for the simple ability to reduce costs and time.”

Changing sales tactics

It was once possible to sell telepresence primarily as a means to reduce executive travel costs, but while that is still a compelling argument for some companies, it doesn’t work as simply as it used to, Benway said.

“Some companies now say they’ve eliminated their travel budget altogether, because of the economy,” the AT&T executive said. “We believe that travel reduction is just the tip of the iceberg. Telepresence, with the ability to collaborate in a face-to-face way on short notice, can help a company do business in new and better ways. If you are thinking about that – ‘Can I bring my products to market more quickly, and what is that worth to me?’ – it’s a different way to prove the value of telepresence. Even if travel were free, there’s still that efficiency. How long does it take somebody to travel to China or Europe or cross-country? These are often highly paid knowledge workers and executives. What is the cost to quality of life?”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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