How To Sell Hosted VoIP

Too many partners continue to stall when it comes to making hosted VoIP part of their portfolios. Heres what you need to do to keep your business thriving with the addition of hosted VoIP.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

April 22, 2011

7 Min Read
How To Sell Hosted VoIP

Hosted VoIP has come of age. Service providers have spent the past decade building private networks to ensure high reliability and quality. Many also have crafted well-supported, well-paying channel sales programs. These advances come as businesses, schools, government agencies and others are hearing more about the cloud” and realizing they can buy hosted solutions that cost less  and offer more features  than their premises-based counterparts. As a result, channel partners are receiving proposal requests for hosted VoIP in greater numbers.

The problem is, many channel partners have yet to add hosted VoIP to their portfolios. Partners reasons are threefold: 1) a misperception among some prospects/customers that hosted VoIP is like Vonage or magicJack service; 2) past poor experiences with hosted VoIP deployments; and 3) fear of shifting to sales of network services plus hardware.

This puts channel partners  telecom agents and PBX dealers in particular  in a quandary. If these partners dont jump into hosted VoIP soon, their customers will turn to new suppliers and sales will drop. Yet if partners do make the leap to hosted VoIP, they have to be willing to learn a new technology and a different sales process. For agents, moving to hosted VoIP means becoming competent in the data and phone gear sides of telecom. For dealers, hosted VoIP represents opportunity in the form of recurring revenue and occasional upfront SPIFFs, rather than one-time payments on customer premises equipment. To reach that point, though, its necessary to understand how hosted VoIP works and then, how to sell it.

How Hosted VoIP Works

Hosted VoIP is a managed service usually billed on a monthly basis. Its powered from a providers network operations center and monitored by technical engineers. Wireline calls are turned into data packets and delivered to and from the end-users IP phone.

In general, end-users lease those phones, although some providers have purchasing options or let subscribers use existing, compatible gear. Common IP phone brands include Cisco Systems Inc., Grandstream Networks, Polycom Inc. and ShoreTel. Customers control their phones features through a Web interface unless theyve contracted the provider to oversee adds, moves and changes.

Either way, theres no longer any need for subscribers to rely on the phone guy who charges a hundred bucks an hour,” said Tad Nikolich, director of sales at Telcentris Inc. With most hosted VoIP services, if an offices connectivity goes down, inbound calls still reach the phone and voice mail systems, but also can be sent to alternate sites or numbers. Hosted VoIP providers also have long-distance and toll-free plans. The operator further takes care of software upgrades and plenty of such companies include coverage for broken or damaged phone equipment in their monthly service fees. Finally, hosted VoIP prioritizes voice, video and data traffic to ensure QoS.

How To Select a Hosted VoIP Provider

First, do your research. At this point, agents should not be in the mode of deciding whether they should have a hosted provider  they should be deciding who thats going to be,” said Jeff Savage, vice president of sales at Telesphere. The key, then, is to choose a channel-friendly company by asking the following questions:

  • How long has the company been in business? Dozens of entrepreneurs opened shop over the past 10 years only to close without notice. Scrutinize your potential providers financial backing, business model and ethics.

  • How well-architected is the hosted VoIP providers network? Align yourself with an operator that has built private, point-to-point networks with a nationwide backbone. Find out how many PoPs are located around the country and whether the provider uses carrier-grade softswitches.

  • What kind of guarantees does the provider extend? Look for disaster recovery and auto-failover protection, as well as SLA and QoS levels.

  • What kind of support does the provider extend to partners and end-users? Most channel-centric hosted VoIP providers will walk partners through a sale from beginning to end. Thats critical, especially during a partners early stages of learning. Also ask about Web and in-person training, as well as resources available for end-users during and after a hosted VoIP deployment.

Once youve selected a provider, move to the next step: education. Youve got to understand what youre selling and what the features are,” said Jim DaBramo, executive vice president of sales for fixed wireless provider Airband. If youve signed with a solid hosted VoIP provider, this part will be a no-brainer. The company will supply Web and, sometimes, in-person, training. Typical resources include video-on-demand, white papers and PowerPoint presentations. You dont have to be an expert to sell hosted VoIP, but you do need to grasp the basics of the technology and know where to find resources. The key is to take advantage of all the training tools and resources available through your hosted VoIP provider. The [partners] who dont do that generally learn the hard way,” DaBramo said.

How To Sell Hosted VoIP

After partners have nailed the rudiments of hosted VoIP, they can fall back on their specialty: selling. In the hunt for prospective customers, make sure the end-user fits your hosted VoIP providers criteria, whether thats entities with 500 to 1,000 seats, five to 100 seats or five to 50 phones per site. The list of ideal target for hosted VoIP includes:

  • Multilocation organizations

  • Companies with phones from more than one vendor

  • Businesses with remote workers

  • Enterprises and SMBs needing disaster recovery and auto failover backup

  • Entities, including start-ups, concerned about capex

  • Firms needing UC or updated technology in general

With potential clients identified, start selling. But dont rush in with a litany of the features hosted VoIP has to offer youll overwhelm the customer. Sure, its important to emphasize the benefits of the service. But just as important is understanding how customers use their phones and run their businesses,” said DaBramo. Find out how the company uses its phones  how it routes calls and handles voice mail, for example. Next, explore what the business needs from its phone system that its not getting. Do employees need to be able to answer one phone, no matter where they are? Do they need to retrieve voice and e-mail messages from one repository? Do they need to customize which calls they accept and which they ignore? These are just some of the capabilities hosted VoIP provides.

Finally, the remaining steps will include the hosted VoIP provider. A channel manager often will help draft a proposal, and after the customer accepts the terms, the provider takes care of deployment  from network engineering and new phone installation to customer training and ongoing oversight. In most cases, partners may be as involved in or as removed from this aspect as they like. But, said Telesphere CEO Clark Peterson, I think the successful agents are there in the entire process.”

Hosted VoIP is here and its explosive,” Telespheres Savage said. But more agents and interconnects need to make the technology a central part of their business and learn how to sell it well. Despite the learning curve, experts say theres nothing to fear. Its not rocket science  its not that complicated,” Nikolich said. Peterson agreed. Successful hosted VoIP partners are making a mental paradigm shift, he said. They realize industries change and technology changes, and you have to adapt.”

Hosted VoIP Sales Step-by-Step

  1. Identify ideal customers.

  2. Use the meeting time to discuss pain points and business needs. Explain how hosted VoIP features can help solve those problems and contribute to employees productivity. When possible, have your hosted VoIP provider on hand to conduct a demonstration.

  3. Create a proposal with the help of your carefully selected hosted VoIP provider.

  4. Again meet with the prospect, bringing in your hosted VoIP provider for answers to questions about technology, implementation and so on.

  5. Close the deal and let the hosted VoIP provider get to work on deployment.

  6. Take part in that provisioning as much as you are willing, so you keep learning about the products and services youre selling.

  7. Continue to take advantage of provider-hosted education and training.

  8. Encourage your customers to take advantage of the providers end-user training.

Hosted VoIP Features

  • 911 support

  • Auto attendant

  • Call forwarding

  • Call logs

  • Click-to-dial from Outlook, browser toolbar and Web pages

  • Conferencing

  • Custom message or music on hold

  • Distinctive ringing

  • Do not disturb

  • Four-digit dialing

  • Free on-net calling

  • Group directory

  • Hunt groups

  • Last-number redial

  • Remote call control

  • Selective call acceptance

  • Simultaneous ring

  • Three-way calling

  • Toll-free numbers (often extra charge)

  • Unified messaging (e.g., voice mail to email)

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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