Tough Sell for Verizon

Verizon Communications Inc. has discovered that products like its Iobi communications-integration service are difficult to explain adequately to would-be users in the course of a sales call.

So in order to boost the Iobi subscription base, the telephone provider is promoting a consumer sweepstakes — and a chance to sign up for 90 days of free service. Only consumers in the company’s largest calling plans, “Freedom” and “Freedom Extra,” are eligible for the free trial of Iobi, a service that affords traditional telephone service the ability to offer the kind of call-management features common to voice-over-Internet protocol offerings.

“It’s not an easy service to describe … it’s time to get people to try it,” said Verizon spokesman Jim Smith. The telco is banking that those early adopters will spread positive word on the product to further enhance subscriptions.

The company hopes sampling will expand the subscriber rolls for Iobi, which has been fully deployed since last summer. Smith would not divulge penetration numbers for the service, but did concede the subscription rate is low.

Via software downloaded to a consumer’s computer, Iobi connects multiple devices, including the PC, laptop, wired home phone and wireless communications devices (except for personal digital assistants).

Subscribers to the $7.95-per-month service can use Verizon or other vendor’s data or wireless communications products, including cable modem, to view information on incoming calls to decide whether to take it, block it or send it to voice mail, for instance. Consumers must take Verizon’s landline voice service to subscribe to Iobi, making it a retention asset.

On the road, users can access the product through its Web site. When using a landline, consumers tap voice-recognition technology to navigate and activate or deactivate features or manage their messages.

Features that mimic the benefits of VoIP service include interactive call logs, contact and calendar management; selective forwarding and blocking of selected calls; the ability to access voice mail on the computer with no dialing or codes; and the ability to forward voice-mail messages via e-mail.

The product is also targeted to small business owners, who pay $11.95 per month for a professional version of the integration product.

Consumers are notified of the free trial via direct mail and e-mail. The offer can only be accessed at a Web site designed to provide a tutorial on the service, The site, reflective of the service’s invented name, is Oriental in feel.

In addition to the free offer, subscribers will be entered in a sweepstakes with a chance to win $1,000 a week. A grand prize of $100,000 will be awarded, and those who actually use the calling features of Iobi during the free trial earn additional contest entries.

Following the trial period, users will be billed a discounted rate of $4.95.