Innovators + Prospects = Successful Enterprise Connect.

by Larry on April 1, 2012

Every year I do my best to get to Enterprise Connect. Aside from it giving this longtime United  flyer the perfect opportunity to experiment with Virgin America, I know what it takes to stage good events and like to support those who do. And of course I go for my benefit and for those of our clients, looking to see what’s new, what’s hot and for insight into the minds of today’s buyers.

For those who have not been, this is an event truly dedicated to the enterprise buyer of communications, collaboration and related products and services. And by enterprise, I mean big – as in anything from large campus environments to multi-national, Fortune 100 organizations. From a vendor perspective, the show attracts all the usual suspects (ie. Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, Verizon, etc…). But what makes it special are all the senior IT people trolling the show floor and religiously attending the four grueling days of content sessions in what surely is a week circled on the calendar as one to make them better at what they do.

While I was extremely impressed by so many of the legacy vendors for their rapid evolution into video communications and seemingly overnight integration of the tablet into their respective product lines, this year it was the handful of startups – including those spotlighted in this year’s Innovation Showcase – that stole the show for me. Selling anything to enterprise is hard (and that surely understates it); being a startup selling to enterprise is close to unheard of. But the Innovation Showcase track (very professionally produced by Dave Michels) at Enterprise Connect is successfully rewarding those entrepreneurs with the stomachs, and patience, to make the enterprise market their home.

Dave and a handpicked panel of seasoned enterprise IT buyers carefully selected four companies, whom were each offered four-minute opportunities in front of full house crowds to say why they mattered. They also got a spot on the show floor to interact with the big-time buyers I alluded to above. This year’s winners are here.

Innovation means different things to different people and Enterprise Connect is a perfect example of this. Put the four Showcase companies at the next TechCrunch Disrupt or StartupFestival, and an audience filled with entrepreneurs, investors and early-adopters may just tell them that they could code up something similar overnight. But put them at Enterprise Connect, and the audience – excited by the innovator’s attempt to solve one of their many challenges – will soak up what they can and generously offer real-world advice to equally attentive entrepreneurs. Surely startup events will always be a big draw and important for the early-stage entrepreneur community, yet every startup I talked to this week raved about their experience, one filled with conversations with the most sought after investors of all – prospective customers.

I said selling to enterprise is hard. The competition is intense, the sales cycles are marathonic, the politics of the sales process are presidential-like, and all this is before delivery and service-assurance which can sink even the biggest of ships. But, like prospects of any kind, enterprises ultimately invest in solutions that are packaged right, that they can quickly grasp, and that will make an impact in their business.

In our consulting practice, we’ve been fortunate to work with many companies who choose to target the enterprise, helping out with market positioning, sales strategies and the ever-elusive elevator pitch. We’ve watched many of these entrepreneurial teams battle hard to overcome the obstacles inherent to this segment, so naturally it was rewarding to witness some of their small victories this past week….

  • Fonolo, not only selected to the Innovation Showcase last year but this year the recipient of  the Best of Enterprise Connect Award, a huge honor in these circles. It has taken two years for the enterprise to notice how valuable Fonolo’s scheduled call-back and visual dialing services could be to customer experiences, but the time has come. Their booth was jammed for three days. Oh, and they’re Canadian…
  • While the interop problem in video communications is now better recognized, Vidtel - selected for this year’s showcase – has beaten that drum since long before most understood how critical the issue would become. Now, with a fast growing population of enterprises shifting their communications from voice to video, interop is starting to hurt them where it counts. Vendors and large enterprises alike streamed by to see how Vidtel could help accelerate how they sell or use video in their business.
  • Hookflash, earlier in their cycle to market than those above, seemed to create buzz and plenty of curiousity with their four minutes of fame in the Showcase. Booth visitors, keenly aware of the tablet generation, soaked in what they could about the prospect of converting this pervasive device into a adhoc communications and collaboration tool. Oh, and they’re also Canadian…

There was plenty of other innovation on display throughout the hall. Apart from new-ware the major vendors were pitching, there was a handful of what I would call ‘tweeners’ (ie. not early stage anymore, but still thinking like startups) on hand :

  • Long known as the standard in soft-phones, CounterPath is one boat the huge video tide is lifting. Since adding video to its family of soft-phones, traction both in the enterprise and the service provider community has accelerated. The debate on the future of the desk phone seems to be only getting started. Oh, and, you guessed it – one more Canadian….
  • StarLeaf is weighing in on the desk phone debate, with their own twist. Apart from the increasingly standard array of videocomm services this young Californian company offers, what caught my attention was their take of the Video PBX. Pushing up-market like others cited here, StarLeaf maintains that if you’re buying a new phone system, why shouldn’t it just be video from the ground up. Think about it; not so farfetched.
  • And lastly, I also bumped into the guys at ProtonMedia, a technology heavy-weight in my opinion fixing the issue of distant collaboration for the Fortune 500. Immersive collaboration (with avatars in tow) makes for compelling demo’s, as the line-up at their booth proved out.

Congratulations to all the startups who braved the event last week and to the Enterprise Connect guys for attracting big company buyers with big company problems. The equation was no doubt a winner for all.

PS. For those following along, last time I went I had a little trouble with the dress code. This time around, I did wear jeans….and almost fit right in :-) .

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