The race is on. According to a just released research report from Cisco and ZK Research, 86% of small and medium businesses have already or are considering switching to cloud-based unified communications as a service (UCaaS). And according to Gartner there are over 100 UCaaS providers competing for their business in North America alone. Make no mistake, it is a gold rush out there for businesses that can deliver on this need. One group that is hustling to bring a solution to their existing and future customers are Managed Solution Providers (MSPs), which is growing to also include Value Added Resellers (VARs), Interconnects, and IT Integrators. These businesses have been providing networking, technology solutions, telecommunications infrastructure, premise based equipment and service support to clients for years and are at risk of being sideswiped by the transition of the communications layer to the cloud.
As we covered recently, a compelling option for MSPs looking to avoid this fate is private labeling a UCaaS platform and delivering a branded, turnkey communications solution to their customers. But what should an MSP take into consideration when looking at potential solutions to private label? According to Mike Cromwell, the Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at ANPI there are four key areas businesses should look hard at prior to pulling the trigger with a private label UCaaS partner.
Start With the Product and the Customer Experience
MSPs should approach the private labeling opportunity by realizing that whatever solution they choose will need to go toe-to-toe with existing UCaaS solutions by nationwide providers like Vonage, RingCentral, 8x8 and WestIP - or they might as well not get in the game.
“The product itself has to be competitive with the market, and deliver a great customer experience,” says Cromwell. “MSPs are going to use this solution to upsell their existing clients and the cost of bringing an inferior product to market can be devastating.”
When it comes to delivering a UCaaS platform that will meet or exceed the customer’s expectations, there are some table stakes that MSPs should insist upon when evaluating the product they will offer to their customers, including:
- A full-featured hosted PBX to handle all current telephony requirements
- Advanced Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) features like instant messaging & presence, conferencing, web conferencing, video conferencing and mobility
- The integration capabilities of the product with enterprise applications such as SalesForce.com
- A customer portal, branded for the MSP, that delivers web-based management of both enterprise administration and individual employee preferences
“If a company is going to put their name and logo on a product, it needs to be extremely capable, intuitive and easy to adopt,” sas Cromwell. “If the product isn’t great, prospects won’t respond well and MSPs will have a hard time getting their salespeople to adopt it and focus on selling it.”
The Platform Supporting the Solution Provider’s Business
Once satisfied with the customer product, Solution Providers should take a hard look at how the platform will support their business. “A private label solution needs to do more than just deliver a top-notch UCaaS experience for customers, it also needs to support the management of the MSP’s business from a technology perspective,” says Cromwell. This can range from straight-forward issues like interface customization and branding, all the way through the management of the sales process and on to streamlined customer service. Some of the areas MSPs should ask about include platform capability for:
- Quote to Order - solution design, proposal generation, and ordering tools
- Service Delivery - service delivery, implementation, and equipment fulfillment
- Customer Management - customer training, customer support, and trouble ticket management
- Integration & flow through automation - platform integration into 3rd party applications and vendors, as well as into the MSP’s applications
- Workflow Management - the ability for workflows to be customized by the MSP
“Remember, many MSPs have never sold a turnkey, hosted solution like UCaaS,” says Cromwell. “Having a platform that is specifically built to provide a single interface for managing every aspect of the product, sales and customer service experience can mean the difference between selling a ton of licenses or having an expensive failure on your hands”
The UCaaS Network Architecture and Capability
Once a customer sees the product and likes it, the conversation is going to quickly turn to the network backbone and underlying infrastructure. A few months back, my colleague Paul wrote an article about three key network considerations when assessing UCaaS solutions. I would definitely suggest taking a few minutes to read through that, especially the sections on redundancy and availability and security and session border controllers.
“When it comes to private labeling, the underlying network needs to be bulletproof and you need to have high confidence in the call control and routing. Calls should never drop.” Also it is is important to understand the underlying application backbone and whether it is a proprietary architecture, or is built on top of a major UC platform, like Broadsoft. “Having the stability of a Fortune 500 company supporting the underlying application means the solution is going to stay current, it is built upon an open architecture and it is going to be fully supported.”
Solution Provider Enablement and Support
While the end user product, network and platform are foundational elements, an MSP won’t be successful without sales, satisfied customers, and attractive financials. For MSPs considering the private label approach, the most important element is what the Private Label Provider will do to help the MSP drive sales and marketing efforts, as well as insuring they deliver a great experience to their customers. “For businesses just starting to sell UCaaS, they need to ask the hard questions, starting with ‘how will you help us get up and running and selling quickly?’,” says Cromwell. Some things to ask potential partners:
Solution Provider Onboarding and Training
- How is the end user product constructed and customized?
- What is the approach to onboard Solutions Providers?
- What training programs are in place for sales, support, and operations personnel?
- What documentation and resources are in place to quickly ramp Solution Providers?
- Does the training program also included best practices and tested processes & methodologies?
Sales & Marketing Support
- How will you support our sales team?
- Is there access to content to be used by sales personnel, including sales collateral, marketing materials, white papers, case studies, and product materials?
- Can all of your content be branded and customized?
- Do you provide best practices and sales tools including:
- Customer qualification - LAN assessment & solution design
- Designing a solution and delivering a proposal, including how to demonstrate TCO / ROI
- Customer ordering tools, and customer agreement templates
Service and Customer Support
- What tools, systems, and processes are in place for service delivery, implementation, technical support, and customer support personnel?
- Are there pre-designed workflows and best practices provided?
- Are there support materials? Can they be branded?
- Do you train our engineers on optimizing a customer LAN to support UCaaS?
- How will you help our support and technical staffs support our customers in troubleshooting potential issues?
End User Training and Support
- What is your approach to end user training and ongoing support?
- What resources and materials are available to train the end user & can those materials be branded?
- Are there videos available for end user training, and can those be branded?
- Are there defined best practices and documentation to support the training of new customers?
With so much riding on being able to sell and deliver a UCaaS solution, MSPs need to ask the right questions if they are planning on private labeling a UCaaS platform. This goes well beyond just the technology and gets right into the heart of how to turn a UCaaS solution into a money maker for the company that creates happy, long-term customers.