Choosing a solution
The web conferencing arena consists of providers that develop the product and host the conferences on their own servers, as well as resellers who offer technology and services from one or more providers. In general, a developer may offer better support since they developed the technology, but they may be more expensive. In contrast, resellers might offer web conferencing solutions at a more attractive price since they don't have overhead costs, but they might not have answers to all of your questions or the resources to provide adequate training.
Whether you choose to work with a provider or reseller, your decision might come down to which vendor offers you the products and services that best suit your business. In addition, the company you work with should be financially stable — you don't want to select a vendor whose future is in question because they may not be around the next time you need them.
What do you really need?
Understand your needs before locking into any sort of commitment with a web conferencing vendor. If there's a web conferencing feature you rely on the most — say PowerPoint presentations — find out which vendor offers the best functionality for that feature. These features may look the same on paper but can be quite different in actual use. This is why it's so important to take advantage of the free trial offers that many vendors offer.
Beyond specific functionality, it's also important that the vendor understand your particular "use case" — that is, the specific business problem you are trying to solve. If you're doing virtual events, for example, your feature needs may be different than someone who is just looking to host internal meetings.
When narrowing your options, make sure to get all proposals in writing, including all pricing and capacity details. Also check that there aren't any hidden fees. If you plan to use the product only sparingly, confirm that the contract shows all previously discussed price quotes for web and audio minutes.
Support options are essential
It's also important to recognize what support you'll need for web conferencing. If you select an hosted service, ask if they can accommodate the number of people you intend to invite. If you intend to install a licensed software solution, find out what resources you will need in house — such as specific IT staff — should problems come up. Find out what each company offers in terms of customer service. Do they provide live help 24/7, or do you have to leave a message and wait for someone to get back to you during their business hours?
Reliability of the service is crucial — you shouldn't have any fears of web conferencing reliability whether you hold a 3 a.m. conference overseas or a 7:30 a.m. meeting on Sunday morning. If you choose a hosted service, look for a service level agreement (SLA) that guarantees you won't experience downtime and backs up that promise with refunds or penalties.
Most systems strive for "four 9s" uptime — the servers hosting your web conference will be up and running 99.99% of the time, equating to less than half an hour per year of downtime. Keep in mind that your own network conditions aren't covered — the provider can't be responsible if your bandwidth doesn't allow you to connect.