In early 2014, the FCC voted unanimously in favor of deactivating the United States’ PSTN (public switch telephone network) lines in favor of a nationwide IP network upgrade. According to research from Gartner, by 2021 the adoption rate of VoIP and cloud-based telephony will reach 40.8% — up from 24.2% in 2018.
As a managed services provider (MSP) who’s looking to build a recurring revenue business, selling hosted VoIP or UC (unified communications) can be a lucrative opportunity. Choosing which vendor to partner with, however, isn’t so easy. If you do a Google search for “the best VoIP service providers” you’ll find more than 23 million results that mostly help you compare product features. This may be a good starting point, but there are additional things that an MSP must consider.
I spoke with Joel Maloff, the SVP of strategic alliances and chief compliance officer at Phone.com, a cloud-based UCaaS provider. Maloff has decades of experience in the VoIP and IP telephony space, and his current responsibilities include the creation of and management of Phone.com’s channel partner program. Here are five things he believes should be a top priority for any MSP who’s searching for a VoIP or UCaaS vendor partner:
1. Remote troubleshooting capabilities
If a client experiences a problem with their voice or video service, there are several possible culprits ranging from an improperly configured router to an ISP (internet service provider)-related glitch. The more visibility the MSP has, the quicker it can pinpoint the issue and resolve it. A cloud-based communications provider should give its MSP partners remote access to their services so the MSP can measure things such as MOS (mean opinion score), jitter and packet delay and help its customer minimize communication downtime.
2. Make sure they have a channel program
While there are dozens of hosted VoIP providers to choose from, not all of them have a channel partner program — they only sell directly to end customers. So, if you try to resell this kind of company’s service on your own, it’s going to be challenging to add value and make money. Even if a vendor claims to have a channel program, you’ll want to ensure that it’s more than just a referral program where you earn a nominal commission for sending business their way. A channel partner program should involve the MSP as a partner, allowing them to own the customer relationship and add value to the VoIP/UC service in various ways.
“Our channel partners act as tier 1 support for things such as local network issues,” says Maloff. Although the company does have a direct sales force for consumers and SoHo (small office, home office) clientele, Maloff, who heads up the company’s channel partner program, says the company has never had any issues with channel conflict.
3. 24/7 support
Although IP communication and WAN (wide area network) technologies have come a long way in the past few years, no technology is perfect. And when something goes wrong, it needs to be mitigated right away. “Unlike some companies that use offshore call centers or offer phone support during ‘normal business hours,’ MSPs should look for vendors that provide partners with 24/7 domestic support,” says Maloff.
4. Ease of integration with other solutions
Most UC systems do an okay job of integrating the phone and video apps within their suite, but truly unified communication also entails integration with third-party apps like CRM, email, IM and collaboration tools.
“If you’re using UCaaS tool with proprietary APIs (application program interfaces), integration becomes a time-consuming and challenging task. MSPs should look for a solution that supports the latest APIs and WebRTC (real-time communication) features,” says Maloff. “WebRTC is about putting real-time capabilities into a standard browser without the need for downloads, plugins or Flash. As a result, it makes it easy to extend UC services into third-party portals, middleware, and CRM platforms. Plus, this protocol provides the flexibility to create new applications for specific use-cases with custom integrations and remove interoperability issues that complicate and delay workflows.”
5. Industry Expertise
Companies in every vertical market use voice and video communication, so it might seem counterintuitive to suggest one should look for a provider with “industry expertise.” But, keep in mind that running voice and video traffic over a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN) opens the door to security and privacy concerns in highly regulated industries like healthcare and financial services.
“If you’re selling a hosted VoIP service to a doctor’s office, for example, you should make sure the vendor is HIPAA- and HITECH-compliant,” says Maloff. “For starters, that means the provider should be encrypting voice and video packets on the network – during transit and at rest. A vendor claiming healthcare expertise should also be willing to sign a business associate agreement (BAA), which is a legally binding document between a HIPAA-covered entity and a HIPAA business associate.”
It may take a little extra time to research VoIP and UCaaS vendors to find the one that best meets the criteria outlined above, but it’s well worth it to do your research and be patient. Not only will you have more confidence and conviction when selling the service, but you’ll also spend less time supporting it after the sale.