What's in the box? Differentiating telecom products from the competition

4There is irony in the fact that products designed to bridge communications are often the most difficult to talk about. The problem rests in the complexity of network and telecommunications products, and also the fact that it is nearly impossible to effectively demonstrate what is going on inside the box. Many pieces of network hardware often look like identical silver or black boxes, which makes it especially challenging to differentiate products against competitors' offerings. Major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) often have vast portfolios of products, each with their own unique features, benefits, and value drivers. When you consider that products like rack servers, routers, switches, and storage hardware cannot function outside of their natural environment, demonstrating and differentiating all of these products at trade shows or remote sales meetings is futile.

Telecom, network, and storage hardware marketers are challenged not only to enable direct sales teams to demonstrate and differentiate their products, but also to equip channel partners and distributors with tools that truly set their products apart. Distributors typically offer a very broad spectrum of products from various companies, so it is very rare for them to have access to a full portfolio of physical products, especially in international offices across the globe. In an industry where many products can look very similar, and where looking “under the hood” to see your unique product features can be near impossible, hardware marketers must truly demonstrate the value and benefits a customer will receive by choosing their solution, or the sale may simply come down to a price comparison if the prospect is not properly informed.

Even when customers readily understand the products they purchase, a few additional dynamics are also taking place. The network and telecom markets are advancing at breakneck speed, with new products being introduced at unprecedented rates. As such, marketers are under tremendous pressure to quickly and successfully launch and position them. Adding to the marketers’ angst is the fact that sales cycles are not getting shorter. Products can range in cost from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and decisions are not made quickly or frivolously.

Interactive 3D product models that look and behave just like physical products can showcase and demonstrate hidden features and benefits of entire families of servers, switches, routers, and other hardware, showing process animations and even visually illustrating how various offerings interact together, which would be almost impossible to demonstrate with physical products in a server rack. By showcasing these dynamic products with an equally innovative marketing tool, companies can now take virtual representations of their hardware and demonstrate them in an environment that truly relates to their audience. Marketing messages are integrated alongside the virtual products, explaining key features and benefits of each piece of equipment in whatever sequence the user desires to investigate them, at whatever level of detail the user is interested in.

“It is impossible for me to take a 7-foot server rack that weighs 1,000 lbs and put it on its side to show how it works. When we talk about connecting hardware systems to the racks, there is no way to show multiple options and demonstrate how the products could connect and function, unless I get on scaffolding or a ladder."

-Tony Walker, former VP of Marketing, Legrand Data Communications

No Internet for sales and channel partners? No worries

When considering sales enablement tools for all channels, one significant challenge global companies face is that many channel partners may not have reliable Internet access in every corner of the globe. To combat this, an increasing number of companies are turning to iPad applications that do not require Internet; putting entire 3D virtual product catalogs into the hands of sales and marketing teams, partners, and prospects, anywhere at any time.

A recent industry study shows that, even for business applications, there is a large drop-off in usage over the first 90 days after a mobile app is installed – on average, only 35 percent of users remain active. So, it is simply not sufficient to just create the app and “get it out there” – a significant amount of attention needs to be paid to ensuring that the app is being used and continues to be used in the long term. By incorporating non-sequential interactive 3D product content into your app, not only will your sales teams and distributors be more likely to utilize it (as it will help them sell uniquely each time), but their engagement with the app after download has been proven to remain constant, if not increase, as time goes on.

Using mobile devices to their maximum capacity

When considering an iPad app as a sales enablement tool to help companies better demonstrate and differentiate their hardware and solutions at a moment’s notice, marketers need to consider these factors:

·    Make sure content lets your audience experience be tailored to their needs and interests. If it does not allow communication to a variety of audiences, such as engineers, product managers, and CTOs, it will be troublesome, as they all have varying levels and areas of interest.

·    Ensure your content accurately represents the equipment in a photo realistic manner. 3D product models should be high-definition representations of products that deliver realism by resembling the actual product as closely as possible, to mimic the behavior and performance of the actual product (doors open, power supplies are removed, and so on).

·    Ensure the iPad content can be reused on multiple delivery platforms to provide a consistent, universal presentation wherever your brand is encountered (websites, tradeshows, training sessions, briefing centers) without paying to reformat, recreate, or redevelop content. This also helps ensure that you are consistently articulating a product message everywhere a prospect encounters your products.

·    Look to develop iPad content that can show communications hardware fully functioning in its natural environment. It may be impossible to show prospects a full data center physically, but showing a 3D product model that looks and behaves just as the actual product does in a network setting can actually communicate more features and benefits than giving an actual demonstration of the physical product or presenting an inoperable piece of hardware in a rack.

·    Make sure your networking and telecom product content is truly interactive by putting customers in the “driver’s seat” and creating a personalized interaction they control based on their interests as they view products and messaging in whatever sequence they choose.

·    Be sure content can be easily and cost-effectively translated for global sales without having to rebuild or re-develop the application. This will ensure that every sales person and channel partner has access to consistent marketing messages and product information, regardless of their geography.

·    Develop content native to the iPad – no Internet needed. The mobility of iPads allows for presentations literally anywhere, at any time, but the need for an Internet connection can seriously hamper mobility, as many corporate locations and customer venues across the world have strict firewalls or limited access to Internet. Content that runs natively on the iPad allows for presentations anywhere.

Interactive sales demonstrations

The latest trend in technology for telecom equipment marketers is demonstrating 3D models on interactive touch screen appliances mounted within an actual server rack, creating a unique user experience expressly relevant to a real-world environment. The virtual product demonstrations are so sophisticated that sales teams can actually choose the products and configurations that appear within the server rack and have the ability to demonstrate any offering from the company’s portfolio at a moment’s notice.

Figure 1: Virtual demonstrations allow prospects to simultaneously interact with multiple offerings in a company’s portfolio.


Figure 2

The interactivity of virtual 3D products increases the effectiveness of demonstrations by involving users in the knowledge transfer process, meaning prospects walk away with a better understanding of the equipment and its benefits while maintaining the familiar experience of seeing networking hardware immersed in a rack. By utilizing this kind of virtual tool, not only are direct sales and distributors educated on proper product and benefits messaging, but prospects can even take control of the demonstration themselves, creating a self-guided experience that is directly relevant to their interests and needs.

From iPads to virtual demonstration racks, 3D product models are changing the way in which network, telecom, and storage providers are marketing, demonstrating, and selling their equipment. Utilized by companies such as EMC, NetApp, VCE, Cisco Systems, Nexis IS, LSI, and others, 3D product demonstrations were one of the hottest trends at this year’s CiscoLive! 2013, and the interactive trend is expected to continue for B2B communications companies over the next few years.

Gavin Finn is President and CEO of Kaon Interactive.

Kaon Interactive