There’s an old saying among us weather-beaten sales people: “When I’m selling, I speak in your language; when I’m buying, you speak in mine.” In fact, that’s an interesting idea to keep in mind when conducting any business transaction. Consensus or agreement -- getting to “yes” in any business communication -- is a lot like sales. You have to speak the language of the person you want to convince.
When everyone is speaking the same verbal language, however, the way we’re really communicating is more physically nuanced, which means the visual component in communications becomes more important. In other words, when I’m selling to you, I’m going to want to see you.
That’s why video conferencing is becoming such an important part of commerce and communications. From the business-level packages available in Skype to the WebRTC approach in simple video conferencing applications like Google Hangouts, video is an increasingly commonplace way to do business.
Why is that? Think about how the word “yes” is used in conversation. When we’re speaking and I say “yes,” I might really mean “yes, I hear you,” rather than “yes, I agree with you.” That’s not readily obvious through audio alone.
Video, on the other hand, offers a sense of verification, because you can read the body language of the other person in the conversation and know what he or she really means. Video conferencing allows you to understand the difference between “yes” and “yes” -- which can really be the difference between “yes” and “no.”
In general, video allows both parties in the conversation to work at the “speed of trust.” You can trust the person you’re working with because you can read their body language. You know what they may be concerned with much more easily than if you were just hearing their voice.
What does that mean for the technology itself? We seem to be heading in the direction of video conferencing as a service. While interesting from an insider’s perspective, it is not a particularly earth-shaking development to users. Users are just looking for a reliable solution that works in any application -- whether on-premise or remotely.
That’s why WebRTC (limited functionality video conferencing as a free Web service) isn’t the seachange that industry followers first thought it would be. The industry had itself wrapped around the axle on the breakthrough that WebRTC would bring to communication. There was much discussion about video conferencing on mobile smart devices replacing traditional desktop applications. I don’t think so.
In general, if you have an iPhone or Android, and you use an application constantly, you may download it. If you use it only occasionally, you are likely to still use the full-featured version on your main computing device. That’s because smart device applications are almost always sub-optimal. They are never quite as good as the web version, even though they may be packaged to look good and perform well on the smart device.
Users don’t care about the sophistication of the technology; they’re just interested in making sure that it works when they need it. To the power user, WebRTC may truly be a breakthrough. To the occasional user, it will be no more than a convenience that they pick up when they remember it.
And that should be a lesson for technology vendors in general. People don’t buy technology. They buy things that solve problems. Technologists have to remember that they are not really building products that people buy. They create means by which people can solve particular problems.
In today’s business world, the over-arching problem that technology must solve is the transactional component. It’s about how people work together to achieve consensus, to move forward -- to get to “yes.”
That’s where video shines. And when technology makes it easier to get to “yes” -- well, now you’re speaking my language.
This piece first appeared in Wired Magazine April 2014