Getting Beyond Voice: Selling More and Making More with Cloud Services

Continue selling what you’ve always been selling, or you can tap into this much bigger world.

January 18, 2022

9 Min Read
Cloud Sales

By Jon Arnold

What You’re Selling — Seeing the Bigger Picture

If you’re in the business of selling communications technology, you’ve likely been selling voice for many years, and more recently, you’ve probably started offering cloud services. Whether your customers want to continue with premises-based telephony or migrate to the cloud for VoIP, these forms of voice services have become commodities with little to room to grow margins or add-on revenues. You can choose to stay in that comfort zone, but you also know that cloud services are where the growth is.

Helping move your customers off-prem to cloud is a great first step, but there’s a much bigger opportunity in front of you than VoIP, and to see it you must think beyond telephony, as well as beyond voice. The cloud is about all forms of communications, including meetings, video, collaboration, security and even contact center. We’re now in the age of digital communications, where all these various channels run over the same data network, and increasingly, they’re been delivered from a common cloud platform.

Whereas telephony is a mature market with very little innovation on the horizon, cloud communications is booming. Not only is there a lot of runway ahead to migrate premises-based customers to the cloud, but this space is constantly innovating, with both new features to make existing applications stickier, and new services to create new revenue streams and grow your MRR.

In terms of what you sell, the takeaway is that you can continue selling what you’ve always been selling, or you can tap into this much bigger world that is quickly opening up for anyone who is ready for it. Most channel partners want to sell more cloud services, and end customers want to buy more cloud services.

If you don’t jump in to provide them, somebody else will, and chances are good they won’t have much expertise selling telephony. That expertise actually won’t be necessary, and you could end up losing more than telephony revenues. So, the choice is yours, and here are two factors to help you protect your customer base and get you on the path to cloud services.

How You’re Selling — Showing a Bigger Picture

Getting you to see the bigger picture is the starting point, and from there, you need to show that same picture to your customers. They’ll never buy it until they can see it, and they won’t buy it from you unless you can show them why they should.

This brings us to how you’re selling, and as you know, there are several business models to choose from. If you’re an agent, you know the limits of that model, including the risks. Agents can continue selling all forms of voice services indefinitely, but margins will only get smaller, and as businesses adopt cloud services, fewer of them will keep buying voice as a standalone service. With VoIP, agents can keep selling voice to their core base, but for those customers to buy a broader range of cloud services from you, you’ll need to up your agent game.

You could do that as an agent, but you’ll need to up-level your technical expertise, not just so customers will have confidence buying from you, but also to find cloud services partners who will work with you. Again, the choice is yours, and if you want to grow your business for today and build residual value for an exit tomorrow, you’ll need to move to the reseller model, where you own the customer relationship and provide the initial support and billing for the services you offer. If you see the bigger picture outlined above, then it should be clear why this move is the best investment you can make in your future.

This is really about positioning yourself further along the value-chain spectrum, not just for selling commoditized services, but in building deeper relationships with your customers. They can buy telephony from anybody, but cloud services touches on their entire operations, and for that, you need to be a trusted partner.

As an agent, they may trust you for telephony, but not for collaboration, not for meetings, and not for contact center. As a trusted partner, however, you can sell them all of this with cloud services, but you can’t get there from here. At minimum, you’ll need to become a reseller, and if that’s the picture you want your customers to see, your game plan should now be pretty clear.

Who You’re Selling — Delivering the Bigger Picture

In order to go from being pretty clear to crystal clear, having the right business model is only half of the equation for selling cloud services. The other half is about who you’re going to be selling to take advantage of this bigger opportunity. On one level, this is about selling technology; just like there are many VoIP providers you can sell telephony with, there are many cloud providers for this broader range of cloud services.

While there is a growing list of cloud providers who offer all the communications technology your customers could possibly need, there are other levels that will be …

… equally important for your success. In order for you to deliver the bigger picture – both to your current base as well as to win new customers – you need to understand the bigger picture for who you’ll be selling.

This goes beyond their technology and their brand, and when you consider what’s really going to drive your success, the list of partners will become shorter. To get you started on that list, leading examples include 8×8, Dialpad, Intermedia and RingCentral, but there are others to consider as well. To help you narrow that list down, here are five key success factors.

  1. Product portfolio. When it comes to communications services, VoIP is the point of entry for cloud, so you’ll need a full feature set that is on par with PBX for business-class telephony. That gets you in the door for cloud, but what separates resellers from agents is the ability to sell a broader, integrated set of services that build on VoIP. The starting point for any tech partner here would be UCaaS, but increasingly, businesses are looking to go further with cloud to include CCaaS. There’s a growing preference from buyers to combine these, and you’ll find there are very few technology partners that can natively offer both platforms, as well as seamlessly support them as an integrated solution.

  2. Service reliability. This has long been a holdback for cloud adoption, especially for telephony, where five-nines is the norm. Many cloud providers are OTT, and may lack the network architecture needed to deliver this baseline capability. Similarly, while Microsoft Teams is a safe choice for UCaaS, their native telephony service is not five-nines. Not only do you need to validate this from potential partners, but you’ll need to see how well they back this up with their SLAs. The same goes for overall network uptime, as your customers will be relying on this provider for UCaaS and possibly CCaaS. Important markers will be network monitoring tools, real-time notifications for service issues, and reporting tools that your customers can easily use. You should be playing the long game with your customers, and nothing drives churn more than poor service reliability.

  3. Partner-centric. This can be defined in many ways, but first off, you need to assess how well potential tech partners understand your business — both to build on your strengths and bring new value where you are weak. Common weaknesses for channel partners include marketing/lead gen, provisioning, tech support and billing. You’ll need all of these to succeed with cloud, so looking beyond the technology is critical here. Another key element will be having a flexible model to support all the ways you want to go to market. Some of your customers may only want voice, while others want more complete offerings from the cloud, so you’ll want a partner that can support both agent and reseller models. Similarly, some will want turnkey, white-labeled solutions, while others will want more customized, build-your-own capabilities. Overall, then, you’ll want a partner that understands your business, and is able is support all the forms that may take.

  4. Partner-driven. Related to the above – and also a long game consideration – partner choice should be based on your ability to own and manage the customer relationship. With many OTT providers, your role is little more than a door-opener, and while you collect a commission for representing them, they own the relationship. For some, this is an attractive model, but you should know there are other models built around mutual success, with pathways to growth for those who want to build a sustainable business, and to help their customers with full cloud journey, and not just for VoIP. If that model better reflects the future you want to have in this business, then you’ll have to do some homework to learn about what other types of cloud providers can offer.

  5. Solution-driven. Another key success factor for cloud is how you sell it. With telephony, channels typically focus on the technical aspects like trunking. While this helps address technology problems, it doesn’t speak to business challenges. For cloud services, the right technology partner helps channels focus on selling solutions to those challenges, such as supporting hybrid work or omnichannel to improve customer experience. This is a different approach than selling cloud to address technology problems, which is the way most channels are used to selling. A solution-based approach is more strategic, and aside from opening the door for larger-scale opportunities, it positions the channel to become a trusted partner. This is key for channels to move up the value chain and form deeper customer relationships that would never happen if only selling minutes and PRIs.

The Final Word

Cloud migration will be inevitable for your customers, and supporting real-time communications applications is not easy. Selling telephony as a commodity can still work for premises-based systems, but going to the cloud will require more from a channel partner. For channel partners who see the opportunity to take customers beyond telephony and into UCaaS and CCaaS, this article provides a foundation for your road map.

You may need to reconsider your business model in order to become a trusted partner, and you’ll also need to do your homework to find the right technology partner. The cloud provider market has become crowded, and the criteria outlined above will help you make the right choice, not just for what your customers need, but also to help grow your business.

Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent analyst practice providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel, with a focus on the business-level impact of digital transformation on the future of work. Core areas of expertise include unified communications, collaboration, cloud platforms (UCaaS, CCaaS and CPaaS) Artificial Intelligence, speech technologies, internet of things, contact centers and customer experience.

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