In my last blog post, I looked at the question of whether your MSP should be selling Telecoms Services such as Mobile Phone handsets and contracts, Analogue lines and Mobile Broadband. The answer to that question was… maybe, but probably not. Go and read the article for the pro’s and con’s!
As promised, let’s now take a look at Voice-over-IP services (VoIP) and whether as an MSP you should be adding these services to your portfolio of client offerings.
As with adding any service to your portfolio, the first question to ask yourself is “Will I spreading myself too thin?”. Whilst VoIP is based over traditional networks, switches and Routers familiar to most IT solution providers, it’s still an acquired skill to implement a successful VoIP system. Unlike other IT systems where an outage is tolerated and almost expected, in contrast end users have been educated to expect to pick up a telephone handset and for it to work 100% of the time. Any support ticket you receive for a VoIP handset issue needs to be resolved very quickly indeed.
VoIP can therefore be a chore to support and troubleshoot, but there’s a school of thought (which includes myself) that says even if you don’t offer VoIP services – your client will probably end up acquiring a VoIP system at some point which you will end up supporting. So you’ve got a straight choice – either get skilled at installing and supporting VoIP yourself, or create a Strategic Alliance partnership with a trusted partner company who specialises in it.
The third option is a mixture of the two. When I owned an MSP, we typically sold VoIP systems with ten handsets and less – specifically because the complexity was low and the expectations of the client were not unreasonable. Any system above ten handsets and we’d often partner with a specialised Telecoms business who could deliver the service.
Eat Your Own Dog Food
In terms of delivering VoIP services, there’s a phrase I’m fond of – “Eat Your Own Dog Food”. Simply put, if you’re going to be delivering a service or technology to a client, make sure you use it yourself in-house. Once you’ve researched the VoIP system you’re going to install for your clients, deploy it to your own office. The advantages are that you become familiar with the technology and service, it’s pro’s and con’s, and you can set your clients expectations accordingly. This is especially important for VoIP – as selling a VoIP service is all about setting your clients expectations early on.
Understanding why the client wants VoIP
From your perspective, you need to understand why the client is interested in a VoIP solution. Alarm bells should be ringing if the reason the client is interested in VoIP purely based on reducing costs. VoIP systems typically have a lower up-front cost and cheaper on-going costs than their old Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) predecessors – but many clients assume VoIP equals free. That’s definitely not the case, as whilst call costs can be cheaper, you still need reliable Broadband (and often a dedicated Broadband line for VoIP alone) and VoIP handsets cost money too.
It’s important to help educate the client to the trade offs involved with a VoIP system vs. a traditional POTs system too. Don’t over promise. VoIP is cheaper, but will experience downtime at some point – whether it’s Broadband failure or another issue. Many clients are happy to factor this in based on the additional flexibility and feature set VoIP offers, such as Site to Site calls, call forwarding and call recording. But be sure to have this conversation up front with a client.
Location, Location, Location
Location is also hugely important to VoIP. If your client is located in a Broadband dark-spot – and don’t automatically assume given a central location that they’ll have good Broadband as many industrial parks and City Centre locations have poor Broadband – then VoIP may not be a cost effective option for your client. Always do a site survey for Broadband before hand and be prepared to walk away from a deal if Broadband is poor – you’ll be setting yourself up for lots of headaches supporting a VoIP system with poor Broadband otherwise.
After all this, if the client decides VoIP is for them – offer them a trial of the service. Plug a handset or two in on-site and let the client use it in anger for a month or more. You’ll soon know whether they’re a good fit for VoIP or not based on how they react to using the handset.
When it comes to deployment, planning is everything. Do an audit of the existing telephone numbers and extensions in use, and plan well in advance for migration of DDI’s and other numbers. This is where a good VoIP service provider can make your life easy, or an incredibly frustrating experience.
Finding a VoIP provider
Finding a VoIP service provider is key to your success. A good partner will offer you training, help you standardise your installation for multiple successful deployments, and train you and your staff with Best Practice advice – as well as offering timely Technical support as needed. It’s typically best to work with a VoIP provider local to your region – so if you’re UK based, don’t work with a US provider, and visa versa. Do your research – ask around for your peers opinions and experiences of VoIP providers. There are an awful lot out there, but not all VoIP providers are the same.
In conclusion, VoIP can be a great addition to your service portfolio – but only if you research and understand the market before you enter it. Failure to do so will see you bemoaning VoIP as an unprofitable service and a drain on your service desk.
But done well, VoIP services adds value to your MSP business by allowing you to offer a very useful service to your clients, increasing your “stickiness” with them and giving them another reason to work with you. It’s also an additional revenue stream, just don’t expect to get rich from VoIP alone – margins are typically thin – so don’t give up the IT business just yet!
Huge thanks to Craig Sharp of Birmingham based Abussi for all the help and education he provided to both me and the rest of the AMITPRO group and which subsequently inspired this blog post! Abussi are an experienced and premier supply of VoIP in the UK – so if you’re looking for a partner to work with on VoIP, look no further!