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Do your salespeople hop on and off airplanes as much as most people get in and out of bed? Videoconferencing may be the answer to your sales expense-account woes. Proponents say that phone calls combined with video images provide a money-saving alternative to business travel.

For a lot less than $2,000, you can equip your PC with the software, video board, camera, and phone lines you need to hold a videoconference with a similarly equipped party, says Kenyon Hayward, president of V-SPAN, a teleconferencing network services provider in Wayne, Pa. Vendors such as Apple, Polycom, Creative Labs, Intel, and PictureTel sell videoconferencing kits, or you can experiment with videoconferencing without making a big investment by renting the services of a copy center. For example, Kinko's, a business services chain, rents videoconferencing facilities in more than 100 of its locations starting at $150 an hour.

Susan Smith, a principal at Service Intelligence, a $3-million market-research firm in Seattle that serves clients such as Starbucks Coffee, Westin Hotels, and Norwest Bank, typically stages one- or two-hour videoconferences at nearby copy shops. Participants in the Service Intelligence videoconferences can see and talk to one another. They can also look at and mark up proposals, color bar charts, even photographs. The cost? Field agents in Miami, New York, and San Francisco were linked up in a two-hour videoconference for $1,500. The same task done the old-fashioned way would have cost $6,000 in travel expenses and taken 40 hours.

For a listing of videoconferencing facilities, call the International Teleconferencing Association at 610-941-2020.




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