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SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

The Evolving Distributor: How the Cloud Service Explosion Affects the Distribution Model

By Pete Engler

There is no denying the emerging prevalence of cloud services within the technology industry. No Peter Engler Digiumlonger are we solely relying on premises-based technologies to keep our day-to-day business activities going, but are, instead, deploying cloud technologies and accessing them from remote locations. While it seems that everyone is jumping on the new cloud services trend, it leaves many people wondering how it is affecting the traditional business channels, specifically its impact on distributors.

If we take a look at the full picture of the distribution landscape, we can see a change in the channel that began taking place even before the introduction of cloud technology. Distributors were originally simple warehouses that served as a means for getting the product from a vendor to a reseller, but, over time, this model has been changing. These so-called limited service distributors have become less prevalent and we have seen a shift towards value-added distribution as the new vogue model.

Value-added distributors are more than just large warehouses filled with products waiting to be shipped; they provide credit for resellers, carry a range of products for partners to add to their portfolios, and even offer training for those technologies. Distributors have become more of a trusted advisor for resellers than simply a quick stop in the channel, which is helping them to retain relevance in the dawning of the Cloud Age.

As a trusted advisor, distributors serve as a gateway between vendors and resellers. They are often the first to research and analyze new technologies and vendors to determine what they should offer to their reseller partners. Resellers depend on distributors’ findings to decide what solutions to add to their product portfolios. This relationship places an incredible amount of power into the hands of distributors because they have the ability to make or break a vendor and their solution. This is especially important right now because cloud technology is exploding. According to the Synergy Research Group, the worldwide cloud computing market grew 28 percent to $110 billion in 2015, and everyone is trying to get their slice of the profit pie. Cloud vendors are popping up everywhere and if resellers alone are trying to decide which vendors’ solutions are pursuable, the process may become overwhelming. Therefore, they place their trust in distributors to vet new cloud technologies and vendors to ensure they are offering clients the best solutions for their specific business needs.  

Additionally, cloud technology presents distributors with the opportunity to expand their role in the channel by offering aggregated cloud services. Oftentimes, deploying a cloud solution requires ongoing services from multiple vendors, and customers prefer to work with a reseller who can offer them a complete solution. According to research conducted by the Global Technology Distribution Council, resellers are reluctant to offer aggregated services independently due to the vast financial responsibility and the uncertainty of taking on a general contractor type role. However, distributors are in an excellent position to perform such duties with their close relationships to vendors and their financial business models, making them the ideal candidate for bundling services and selling them through the channel in one complete package.

While many people fear the emergence of cloud technologies will eventually dry up the distribution channel, research actually proves the opposite to be true. The path distributors have been following has led to their natural evolution into a more value-added role. And their ability to serve as a general contractor for cloud deployments has created for them a resiliency that will not only allow them to survive, but to flourish in the coming Cloud Age.


Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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The Basics of Influencing the Technology Buying Decision

By Pete Engler

With today’s emphasis on “modern” marketing, we’re told we need to understand who and where our prospective clients are so that we can help guide the decision-making process. Is it really possible to Peter Engler Digiuminfluence your customer’s buying decision? Who are your customers, and where do you find them? As a technology reseller, you’ve likely tried to answer all of these questions in an effort to increase sales. Here are some basic considerations for reaching and influencing your buyers.

When researching this topic, it quickly becomes clear that the vast majority of information about “who” the technology buyers are require that you classify buyers by their age, or generation: Baby Boomer, Gen X or Millennial. This is probably not surprising given that we tend to believe buying habits vary greatly between the youngest (Millennials) to the oldest (Baby Boomers). If segmenting your customers solely by the generation into which they were born, then the next set of information you want to understand is which group makes the majority of purchasing decisions; are the decision-makers spread evenly throughout those groups; and how can these buyers be influenced? The next dilemma is how to reach the decision makers. Where and how to find buyers has changed, in large part due to the digital age. Buyers are now reached through social media, internet ads, product review sites, product reviews on vendor sites and others. These avenues have also contributed to making purchasing decisions easier and sometimes much quicker, because information is now at the buyer’s fingertips. But are these sources of information influencing like we believe? The only real way to answer that question is to talk to your customers; but research tends to confirm that technology buyers are heavily influenced by the online content they consume from third parties, peers and vendors (or brands).

Knowing how your customer base gets their information is vital in marketing to them. Using recent studies and blogs posted by the Arketi Group, MarketingSherpa and Techaisle, the findings show all tech buyers, regardless of age, use essentially the same methods for obtaining information to make purchasing decisions. The methods most likely used are traditional, such as product demos, vendor meetings, white papers, colleagues and referrals from industry peers. While the methods may be traditional, the delivery of all this content is vastly different thanks to the internet and social media. These are most likely the avenues where the information is found so vendors and VARs need to maintain strong online marketing efforts.

Another twist with marketing comes through word of mouth. While online peer review is an influential source of persuasive information, you cannot discount offline word of mouth referrals. As a reseller, your reputation in the local market is key as decision makers network and compare notes on VARs, vendors and solutions. In speaking directly with resellers, many still maintain a steady and growing business via word of mouth alone. Others say they rely on the founder, or sales and marketing teams, to figure out who the decision makers are in each target account and use traditional sales techniques to persuade them to purchase. When it comes to word-of-mouth influencing tech buyers, this is one area where you may see a generational difference. Unlike Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers, Millennials have not been in the workforce as long and may not have the same network of peers and offline research avenues established as an older generation worker may have. So they may rely more on their colleagues for information.

When it comes time to locating and making contact with the business that is ready to buy, it may be tricky to identify the person who has ultimate decision-making authority. This is sometimes closely held information. Within any organization, especially across the SMB space, the individual who has the authority to buy and how they are influenced can vary quite a bit. The purchasing power may depend on the structure of the organization. For example, when it comes to IT-related technology, the IT manager may have the authority. Given the size of the SMB, the final decision could be left to the CEO, based on the input from the various department managers. Or if large enough a CIO spends as they see fit to support an organization within their budget. In some instances the decision maker may not know technically or functionally which is the best product or service the organization needs. Instead, a subject matter expert will outline the pros and cons with a few solutions making the final cut. Then pricing undoubtedly becomes the defining piece to win the sale.

The safe bet is if you are selling a specific product or service and don’t know who has the final say, find the owner of the corresponding department and they will either make or heavily influence the decision. There are many ways to find this stakeholder, from traditional, “old school” methods of calling the business, to more modern approaches such as using social media. LinkedIn, for example, can provide a complete employee directory, so to speak, and contact is made relatively easily through that social media site. In the end, even in the digital age the methods for reaching and passing information to prospects is a blend of the traditional and ‘modern’ marketing and sales approach.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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The Value of Partner Advisory Councils

By Pete Engler

It’s a fairly common practice for technology vendors to maintain partner advisory councils. Yet, there are varying opinions - and questions - as to the value these councils provide. Who benefits the most? Is it worth everyone's time and energy to participate? Partner advisory councils are usually made up of a vendor’s select partners and designed as a means to collect insight and feedback on everything relating to products, markets and customers. With the right process in place, partner advisory councils can benefit everyone from the vendor to the end-user customer.

The overarching goal of the group is to help improve all aspects of the product and the selling process for both the vendor and its partners. Typically, it’s the top tier of resellers, or the highest revenue generating partners, who are tapped for a council position. The meetings can range from a recurring conference call several times a year to semi-annual or annual in-person events.

Without such councils, love them or hate them, vendors may steer off course over time to the point where channel frustration and neglect becomes prevalent. When vendors and resellers aren’t engaged and synced with their market and customers, the customers eventually spend their money with someone else.

In reality, partner advisory councils hold significant value for vendors on many levels. Feedback from partners, who are on the front lines of customer interaction, is essential in driving both product and sales activities. If a vendor is out of sync, based on customer needs, losses could mount quickly. Resellers are uniquely tuned into the market and can help a vendor realize a new trend or validate what they are already experiencing while selling into that market. Partners have intimate knowledge on the pain points of varying industries and business types of all sizes. Another extremely valuable aspect is potentially gathering crucial information regarding competitive products and sales methods, which could help a vendor pivot and correct a potentially negative path.

For resellers, advisory councils can have significant benefits - even outside that of strengthening their relationship with a key vendor. One such benefit is receiving advanced information on products and services that a vendor has on its roadmap. Such information could lead to an advantage on how to sell, and possibly open up the opportunity for the reseller to beta test new features or services. With this advanced knowledge a reseller could be more prepared to sell than competitors who have the normal notification window of product releases. In addition, when a reseller participates in an advisory council it serves as validation that the reseller is indeed considered a trusted partner.

Most of all, advisory councils are good for the customer. It starts with the vendor hearing and acknowledging the problems that an end customer needs to solve, as relayed through partner advisory councils. Once the vendor understands that the partner feedback is consistent with its internal market research, then the resulting outcome is likely the improvement of products and services - which is what the customer ultimately wants. Customers are one of the best resources to help a vendor improve their solutions and the selling process, so why not lean heavily on the partners that are speaking to them on a daily basis.

If you are a partner interested in serving on an advisory council with a vendor, there are various ways to get involved. Start by reaching out to your channel account manager (or other vendor point of contact) and ask for guidelines on qualifying and participating on an advisory council, and make known your interest to participate. You may also be able to find guidelines for being nominated to serve on the vendor’s partner portal. Even if you’re not currently eligible, or you’re not ready for the full commitment of serving on the council, reach out to other resellers serving on the advisory council and ask them for the best way to communicate ideas and customer feedback to the council so that your voice is being heard.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Using Cloud Services to Build Your Business in the New Year

By: Pete Engler

With the start of a new year quickly approaching, it is a great time for resellers to evaluate their success over the last year and consider any changes to their business strategy or portfolio of products. For 2016, that will likely mean offering cloud services for your customers, or expanding the cloud-based service offerings included in your portfolio.

Over the last few years cloud computing services have dominated the Information Technology market, becoming the cutting-edge solution for many different products and services. Now that cloud computing is a few years old and customers are beginning to see the many benefits of using cloud services, the shift toward those solutions is growing at a rapid pace. Many IT products have made or are making their transition into the cloud as a preferred option for customers over the deployment of traditional premises-based solutions. Because of the increasing availability of cloud services from trusted vendors, and the high demand for cloud-based solutions by SMB and enterprise customers, now is the time for you to consider using the cloud as a way to expand your reseller business and increase revenue in the coming year.  

According to Forbes, the cloud computing market is increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.8 percent and the trend is not likely to slow in the next several years. In addition to the market growth rate, the number of new products being introduced into a cloud infrastructure is also accelerating. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts the number of new cloud-based solutions will triple in the next four to five years. With adoption rates of cloud services growing at such healthy levels the drive for cloud services is not going to let up anytime soon.

Cloud computing and cloud-based services have many benefits for your customers. One benefit is that cloud offers an easier path to make changes. Many cloud services have the option of month to month contracts, making it much easier to add or drop services, or change vendors. Another key benefit is not having a large upfront capital expenditure as you do when purchasing a premises-based solution. Removing this costly barrier to entry is quite appealing to smaller organizations and new businesses that may have more cash constraints. Conversely, a key pain point for businesses adopting a cloud solution is bandwidth, which can be easily remedied with the wide choices and lower cost of internet services currently on the market. 

For resellers, there are many benefits for selling cloud services. Most cloud services pay monthly recurring revenue (MRR) as long as the customer is enrolled in the service. Monthly recurring revenue that is built up over time offers revenue stability for you, instead of starting the monthly sales cycle at zero. Additionally, as resellers, you now have the option of purchasing cloud services through a simplified online process, making it much easier to buy and manage the services for your end customer. Increased competition and product options also result in better service and prices for the customer, and in faster deployment times and reduced support time. All of these benefits also work in your favor as a reseller or integrator and ultimately translates into higher margins.

The need to add cloud products and services to your portfolio of products has never been more important than now. Chances are, if you haven’t already faced a competitive situation where a cloud solution is being offered, you will soon. The start of a new year is a great time to research and select cloud-based solutions that will benefit the customers you serve, but also make you more competitive and help increase your margins.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Open Source is Ready for Business

By Pete Engler

 

The business climate has changed drastically in the last decade. The volatility of current global economic conditions reinforces the need for business owners to save money wherever possible, including making strategic investments in technology solutions for the 

best ROI (return on investment). Adopting an open source software solution is one way to save businesses a great deal of money.

 

Open source is software that can be freely used, changed and shared, in modified or unmodified form, by anyone. Its approach to the

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 design, development and distribution of software offers practical accessibility to a software's source code. If you’re not familiar with open source terminology, “source code,” written by programmers, is what instructs the computer to perform tasks according to the specified goals. If open source solutions are open or “free” for use, as a reseller, you may be wondering why you should ever recommend it to your customers. While open source is technically “free,” resellers can become integrators who offer customization services, integrations and support services to those using an open source solution. Even with businesses sometimes investing in these additional development and support services, open source is often more cost-effective than a proprietary solution (and for specialized projects, proprietary solutions usually do not offer the flexibility of being customized, without a huge expense - if, at all).

 

Will your customers consider an open source solution if you present it? It’s true that using open source was not as readily embraced in the past. Businesses were hesitant to use it due to the perceived risks with the stability and security of an “open” platform. Today, open source is viewed as a reliable and affordable alternative to proprietary technology solutions, also championed for its flexibility or customization, as mentioned earlier. In PC World’s eighth annual Future of Open Source Survey (2014)68 percent of businesses surveyed stated that open source helped improve efficiency and lower costs. The same PC World survey showed that open source is considered to be an extremely reliable, high-quality and secure software solution, with 80 percent of businesses acknowledging they chose open source because of its quality, even over proprietary alternatives.

 

The primary reason for the quality and reliability of open source is the community of contributors. The software is quickly and vigorously tested by its many users (including developers who contribute to the project on a regular basis). While these users are testing the software and reporting any bugs found, the sponsor begins to work on bug fixes to ensure the software continues to be stable after the release.

 

While the degree of availability of the software’s source code is beneficial for creating a reliable solution, the open code has also caused many businesses to scrutinize the security of open source. However, the greatest security risks are often outside the open source project. Hackers generally do not need the source code to breach a system. The primary reason software can be unsecure is the method or programming of security settings by the administrator. Basic passwords, holes in firewalls and many other settings can leave a system vulnerable. The PC World survey found 72 percent of companies believed open source provides stronger security than proprietary software.

 

The flexibility of open source software is a unique benefit over proprietary solutions. When building a solution using a toolkit, it can be special purposed for an organization from the ground up. No need to hassle with a proprietary solution that has feature gaps. Open source software, because of its toolkit nature, helps to create new products and services when put in the hands of skilled developers. As mentioned above, open source can be extremely cost-effective and self-developed solutions can significantly cut the proprietary solution cost.

 

A great example of open source software that has changed an industry is Asterisk, sponsored and maintained by Digium. Asterisk is a communications toolkit that allows developers to build solutions from a simple PBX to a complete call center solution. Asterisk, with its source code made available to anyone, is completely open. It helped change the way organizations approached telecommunications. PBX solution costs, for example, have been cut drastically for businesses due to the many different vendors and integrators building solutions with Asterisk. This has opened up the market for businesses to purchase business phone systems and other telecommunications solutions outside of the once typical proprietary options only offered by a handful of large vendors.

 

If a business is considering open source software solutions or you are an integrator looking to offer it as a solution to your customers, the decision should be easy. Choose an open source company with flexible support options, such as a free community forum and flexible pay-for-support options. There is no reason that developers of solutions cannot find the answer to any configuration or support issue with adequate sponsor resources. Significant progress has been made by open source companies to ensure their software is the highest quality possible, making the decision to use open source software a cost-effective option for SMBs.

 
 

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

 
 
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How Resellers (and Their Customers) Benefit from Training Programs

 By Pete Engler, channel marketing manager, Digium

The end of summer means most schools are heading back into session, which also signals the perfect time to think about the value of continuing education and training programs within your business. It’s not uncommon to hear kids complaining about having to go back to school, or questioning the real-world applications of what’s being taught in the classroom. As adults, we also tend to overlook or forget the benefits of a structured learning program, long after those school doors have shut behind us for the last time. Yet, continuing education should reach far into the workplace for the lifetime of our careers, particularly in our quickly evolving, technology-filled world. Ongoing training programs are especially beneficial to a value-added reseller (VAR). digium

For VARs in the technology sector, the importance of continually educating and training employees can make a significant difference in selling, installing and supporting your customers’ solutions. This customer-centric approach also plays a tremendous role in managing and improving your margin and profit. Investing in and completing technical certifications to become experts in the vendors’ solutions you sell may require an upfront cost, but it is well worth it – you should see a significant return on investment when it comes to training.

Having product experts on your technical staff acting as subject matter experts allows you to have a much more efficient and effective process when it comes to supporting customers. Additionally, once you have a set of employees certified on a vendor’s solutions, those employees can then use the training resources provided by that solution vendor to set up an internal training process for the rest of your organization, helping ensure that all of your employees are knowledgeable and able to support your customers. A well-trained staff goes a long way in supporting and protecting the lifetime value of a customer. After all, customers can lose confidence in their VAR if they do not see them as true experts in the solutions they offer.


As part of establishing an internal training process for your organization, you need to start by training the entire sales team. This includes educating your sales and sales support staff, the sales engineers, and the internal and/or external account managers. A sales team must have the ability to articulate the benefits of a product or solution, and how it can solve problems or improve processes for a customer’s specific needs. Not only does the sales process need to match the margin goals of the organization, but the training of the sales team (and training that may be available to the end users) also needs to be aligned with the sales process as it could be the key to closing deals and improving margin.

Once a deal is won, installation of the solution will begin and training will once again have a distinct impact on the process. Successful training of the installation technicians and the administrators that are installing and supporting the solution will factor heavily into your margin and cost reduction, mainly in terms of employee hours required to complete the install. Well-trained techs can cut the installation time significantly and allow more customers to be serviced by your organization. More customers, installs and monthly recurring support revenue will assist in providing the growth path for any successful VAR.

During and after the installation of the solution, the end customer can be trained in order to shift part of the support burden to that customer. This is particularly applicable when it comes to enabling the customer (and their employees) to handle basic tasks and management functions of a vendor’s solution. Sometimes, that may come down to training the customer’s organization on something as simple as knowing how to access solution help features, or training the end customers to use a database or knowledge base to assist in correcting issues on their own. Training the end customer can also provide additional revenue to any sale. Whether the sale of training is vendor provided or consists of training courses built by you as the VAR, there is the possibility of additional revenue by selling that end-user training.

Training is often an overlooked topic or is prioritized much lower compared to other business projects and goals. However, taking the time to ensure your team is well trained to sell and support the customer will bring more profit and margin per signed customer. It also allows you to free up time to increase the number of customers you are able to service, and to offer improved service and support that helps retain those customers for the long term.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Digium Switchvox Cloud 6.0 provides lower cost option to SMBs

Competitors hoping to entice both small business and enterprise customers need to offer fair, scalable pricing with high-quality solutions, and VoIP provider Digium realized this with Switchvox Cloud 6.0.

Digium, Inc. announced yesterday the release of cloud-based UC service Switchvox Cloud 6.0, which now offers a metered pricing structure for organizations with low usage patterns that want the features and opportunities of a business-class phone service.

"Switchvox Cloud's new, lower cost, metered offering starts at $12.99 per user, per month, reducing the barrier to entry for customers looking to migrate to cloud communications," said Channing Hinkle, product manager for Switchvox Cloud.  "Companies with variable call volumes, due to seasonality or other events, can save money by paying for only the minutes they use.  It's the perfect complement to our current Switchvox Cloud unlimited minutes offering for users with more consistent call volumes."

Important features of version 6.0 include updated call control and call visibility widgets, options for integration with CRM tools such as Salesforce and enhanced administrative tools.

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Tapping into Channel Program Resources to Support Reseller Growth

By Pete Engler

As a business owner, you know the best formula for distributing funds and other resources throughout your organization in order to support growth. Even so, the budgeting process can be tedious, and for small to medium businesses (SMBs) there is often a give-and-take strategy. That means sacrifices may be required in one or more areas of the company to allow for larger investments in another part of the business.  The first question then becomes: Where are the cuts (or savings) going to come from to help fuel your plans for growth? The next question should be: Are there any alternatives to help offset the ‘sacrifices’ you’re making, or are there creative ways to add resources without implementing drastic cost-cutting measures? If you are a value added reseller, the answer to the second question is a resounding, “Yes - there are alternatives!”  

The vendors, whose products and services you sell, may hold the key to you accessing platforms and services that could be utilized within your organization as part of your growth strategy. By tapping into these vendor-provided resources, not only does it help you avoid having to make cutbacks, but it may also free up precious cash in your budget. After all, why invest in marketing or training solutions with your dollars if one of your vendors offers you access to similar solutions as a benefit of their channel program?

Before your next cycle of budget planning begins, take a closer look at the sales, marketing, and training tools, along with any other resources your vendors provide. Here are some examples of common vendor-provided resources and support that have been successful for partners:

Training tools are extremely important resources to utilize for your entire customer-facing staff.  Having a well-educated staff for the products and services you offer translates into satisfied customers, especially if your business model is that of a managed services provider. When your customer calls in with an issue, having a knowledgeable staff to answer the call will help lead to a quick resolution and make a significant difference in that customer’s experience. Some vendors may also provide partners with free (or discounted) end-user training videos and classes that you can offer to your customers. Using these pre-packaged resources means you don’t have to invest money in creating your own training materials or programs (and in some cases, you can sell the training and use it as another revenue source).    

Content Syndication is a web-based tool that allows vendors to replicate product or service microsites to their resellers. That means you get a hassle-free way to add vendor-specific product and service information to your website. Content syndication services are usually pretty simple to use so you don’t have to invest in a lot of extra web resources. While the vendor controls the information and how it is presented, as a reseller, you benefit from the consistent look and feel of the design, and from having up-to-date information maintained by the vendor with minimal effort needed by you to implement these tools. For replicating microsites the process is as easy as generating HTML code from the content syndication platform and adding it to your website. In addition to providing product-related content, some content syndication platforms also provide email functionality and social media, or social sharing, functionality. This additional marketing support can make a big difference for your business.

Joint webinars are seminars conducted over the Internet by a vendor and reseller. They allow your customers to get information, answer questions, see a product or service in action or become educated as to how the product or solution can solve problems they are experiencing in their business. Webinars are great for any level of customer interest but may work best for those not too far along in the decision-making process. Vendors will often host the webinar with you, or provide you with webinar content so you can host your own. This saves you from investing your marketing efforts to create a webinar from scratch. And, if using the vendor’s webinar hosting solution (such as GoToWebinar), you avoid having to pay for the cost of that solution.

Lunch and learns are in-person training or educational opportunities designed to circulate information to the attendees on a specific topic. Lunch and learns present a more personal experience and should typically be reserved for prospects further along in the buying process but haven’t committed to a purchase. These prospects may need this extra, in-person session to be swayed into making that final decision. Vendors will often provide you with program content, marketing messaging and materials to promote it. They may even send additional sales or technical support to help you properly staff the event.

Live event promotions can be more creative and casual than a standard lunch and learn. Vendors are usually willing to help you identify, promote, and host a fun, but effective prospecting event. While golf tournaments may be come to mind, ask vendors for insight into alternative events that have been effective for other channel partners. A couple of ideas that have worked in the past includeaMovie afternoons/evening event and even an indoor skydiving event. Typically there is a sales pitch before or after the event to the prospects. These types of events would also be perfect for prospects well along the purchasing decision process that need a final push to make a buying decision.

Partner Portal is a website that allows a vendor's partner community to access marketing resources, pricing and sales information, as well as technical details and support (that may be unavailable to end users). For example, a partner portal may list promotions or discounts for the partner or end user, marketing collateral, competitive data, selling practices, training or support information, and host of other content. The partner portal is typically accessed through the vendor's website, with the use of sign on credentials assigned to each partner. Having access to this information can be extremely helpful, especially competitive data and industry insights/reports that you may otherwise have to pay for or spend lots of time researching and putting together on your own.

Marketing Collateral is the collection of tools used to support the sales of a product or service. Collateral can be, but is not limited to, printed and electronic product information (brochures, flyers, postcards, etc.), product data sheets, white papers, PowerPoint presentations, competitive battle cards, case studies and more. These tools are intended to make the sales effort easier and more effective. Using co-branded vendor collateral can benefit you by creating credibility for your business. It also provides your marketing and sales teams an effective way of explaining the benefits of the vendor’s product or service.


The marketing tools can vary a great deal between vendors, from simple collateral (brochures, competitor slicks, etc) and promotions (giveaways, contests) to the shared cost of events and B2B platforms that integrate into a reseller’s sales tools (website, content syndication, etc). Utilizing all that is offered by a vendor will still require using some of your own budget, but it’s possible to further offset the costs if there is potential for using marketing development funds (MDF.) MDFs are funds made available by avendor to help channel partners sell its products and create awareness. Regardless of the availability of MDF funds, there should still be plenty of vendor-provided tools and resources available to make your sales process easier and help supplement your company’s own resources to make your budget stretch a little farther.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Here or there: Digium compares hosted and on-premises VoIP solutions

Digium released recently an infographic comparing the costs and benefits of both hosted and on-premises VoIP solutions.hosted vs prem v3 00000003

Hosted VoIP, known also as a cloud-based phone system, has proved to be a tough competitor for traditional on-premises systems. While on-premises solutions offer control and customization, according to the infographic, hosted solutions work especially well for SMBs without in-house IT resources.

The infographic covers cost, future expansion, control, flexibility and implementation before providing recommendations for businesses on the solution best to adopt.

The full infographic is available to the right, and more information about hosted and on-premises solutions is accessible here.

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SIP Trunking Offers Revenue Stream for Resellers and Savings for Customers

By Pete Engler

As a reseller, offering new or cutting-edge technology products and services to your customers can be high stakes. If the gamble pays off, you will have a happy, long-term customer who brags about their (now) tech-savvy business and your insightful recommendations that brought their business up to speed. If the solution is a bust, not only could you lose the confidence of that customer but also any hope for referrals could vanish, instantly. Many resellers witnessed this type of dilemma first-hand in the late 1990s, when VoIP (voice over IP) services and SIP (session interruption protocol) trunking was first introduced and began to change the landscape in the telecommunications world. Both VoIP and SIP trunking have come a long way, but the question remains whether or not resellers are really letting the “gamble” of that once-new technology now pay dividends in their own businesses. digiumlogo

In its early days, VoIP had a reputation for being unreliable and plagued with voice quality issues. Much of this was due to infrastructure issues, such as low bandwidth connections and networks not being able to support prioritizing voice packets over data and supporting or utilizing quality of service (QoS), which is essential to VoIP. Even today, when commingling the packets of VoIP over the same networks as data, jitter and latency can be expected but can be properly managed with the right networking infrastructure. Maintaining and using networks that have adequate bandwidth and QoS ability, prioritizing the voice packets over data, are still the keys to quality VoIP service. Major strides over the last 15 years have been made in the provider networks, as well as the local area network infrastructure products to support VoIP services.

The advances in VoIP and specifically SIP trunking (an alternative to traditional PSTN services) throughout the carrier and business infrastructure markets are changing the landscape of services deployed. In fact, the fear of VoIP that once kept many businesses, and even consumers, firmly entrenched with PSTN services has been subsiding, especially in the last few years. Infonetics, an international market and research firm, predicts SIP trunking adoption will increase by 55 percent in 2015, sustaining a 50 percent or better yearly increase in the last few years.

While strides have been made in the quality of service and reliability of SIP trunking and VoIP, there is another major factor helping accelerate business adoption rates: cost savings. Gartner estimates that SIP trunking saves businesses up to 50 percent over legacy PSTN services. That type of ROI is hardly a gamble for any business.

While all of these service improvements and increased adoption rates are great for the providers of telecommunications services, the benefits extend through to resellers and integrators as well. Traditionally, the process of dealing with legacy providers has been thought of as time consuming and cumbersome. SIP trunking opens up a wider variety of providers to choose from, removing some of the aggravating barriers to upgrading services. Additionally, resellers now have the option of purchasing SIP trunking through a simplified online process, making it much easier to buy and manage the services for an end customer. Increased competition and product options also result in better service and prices for the customer, and in faster deployment times and reduced support time. For the reseller/integrator, this all translates into higher margins.

The addition of monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is a significant benefit for the reseller when offering SIP trunking in a portfolio of products and services. Most SIP providers will pay a percentage of the monthly revenue as long as the customer is attached to the service. The traditional model for telecommunications resellers/integrators consisted of selling hardware systems each month, starting at zero revenue on the first day of each month. By building a steady stream of MRR through SIP trunking and other cloud services, resellers can now offset that monthly scramble from zero.

What if customers are not convinced they want to move from their current PSTN services? SIP trunking provides a great opportunity to sell it as a backup option in the event of a PSTN related service issue. Most modern unified communications (UC) systems are capable of multiple calling path configurations or legacy PBXs can take advantage of a VoIP gateway to manage the connection and call routing between a legacy PSTN connection and SIP trunking. By positioning the SIP trunking as a ‘failover’ route for calls, the communications manager within that business will have a sense of security about the service provided to the employees, while the reseller/integrator receives the MRR. That’s a win for everyone.

Of course, for resellers, the key to providing SIP trunking services is to choose vendors that offer easy purchasing options, preferably all online, and excellent monthly commissions on the services sold to your customer. At the end of the day, it should be clear that offering VoIP and SIP trunking services is no longer a gamble. But, as a reseller, you do risk missing out on some consistent wins if MRR is not part of your business strategy.

Pete Engler is the channel marketing manager at Digium, a business communications company based in Huntsville, Ala., that delivers enterprise-class Unified Communications.

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Digium Discusses Benefits of a Phone System in the Cloud

Digium Discusses Benefits of a Phone System in the Cloud

Digium released last week an infographic detailing the benefits of cloud-based phone systems, a solution especially suited for SMBs.

and remote businesses looking to reduce costs, minimize IT resources and keep employees connected regardless of location. cloudinfographic

“The beauty of Cloud applications and VoIP phones systems are that they are located in secure data centers, and vendors take responsibility for owning, configuring, and managing them,” Cora Cloud, Digium content marketing specialist, said.

Full-featured Unified Communication solution Switchvox Cloud, designed for SMBs, includes UC features in a cloud format, which Digium suggested is the superior option for SMB phone systems.

According to the infographic, 82 percent of companies reduced costs by moving to the cloud, and cloud-based phone systems also saved energy and server space.

The full infographic is available  to the right.

P.S. Be sure to attend our online Office 365 connected conference, June 2-3. No travel, no hotel, no traffic! Sign-up here: getconnected.o365nation.com

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Why UC is the Secret Tool for Building and Maintaining Your Brand

Brian Ferguson DigiumBy Brian Ferguson, Product Marketing Manager, Digium

Having a well-known and reputable brand is vital to a company’s overall success, today. Companies are increasingly dedicating more dollars to building and maintaining their brand, and it usually comes out of their marketing budget. Larger brands are shelling out millions of dollars to support brand building; but, for SMBs, an Unified Communications (UC) phone system is often an overlooked – and affordable – tool to help not only build their brand, but compete with the big guys.

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The Cloud vs. Premises PBX War: Is Prem Dead?

Brian Ferguson DigiumBy Brian Ferguson, Product Marketing Manager, Digium

By now you obviously are aware that “Cloud” is a buzzword that has made its way into every corner of the tech industry, including telephony. Hosted PBX deployments are all the rage. The perception in the market is that everyone is running to vendors as fast as possible and putting their Unified Communications (UC) phone systems in the cloud. So does that mean that the premises-based PBX model is dead? Assuming the demise of the on-site PBX may be a reach.

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Digium Launches Digium Cloud Services with Acquisition of VocalCloud

Digium logoDigium earlier this week said that it acquired VocalCloud, a provider of cloud-based VoIP solutions, in order to create Digium Cloud Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Digium.

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Guest Blog: Decoding UC: 5 Core Benefits of Unified Communications

Brian FergusonBy Brian Ferguson, Product Marketing Manager, Digium

The term Unified Communications (UC) has been poorly defined by the industry and clouded by mixed marketing messages. Every major IP communications vendor has a UC section on its Web site with hyperbolic statements such as, “UC is changing the way you do business” or “Reinvent your productivity capacity with UC!” To help clear it up for those SMBs that may be in the market for a UC system, let’s first define Unified Communications: UC is the merging of many different communication methods including voice, email, video and instant messaging into one unified system.

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Guest Blog: 7 Tips for an Effective Unified Communications Security Strategy

By Billy Chia, Technical Marketing Specialist, Digium

Unified Communications (UC) presents unique security challenges because it brings disparate technologies, such as VoIP, video, chat, email and presence, together into one unified messaging system. As the technology has become more complex and more accessible from the public Internet, the security threat has increased. While large businesses can dedicate substantial resources toward securing their communications, SMBs need solutions that are both effective and simple to manage security.

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Digium IP Phones Now Include Custom App Creation for Open Source Developers

Digium has announced the general availability of the Digium Phone App Engine and Phone API Information Center for its IP phones. The Digium IP phones include an applications engine that uses a free and open API.  The JavaScript API allows developers to easily create custom phone apps that extend the power of Asterisk, an open source IP telephony software, and Switchvox, Digium’s Unified Communications solution, to the Digium IP phones.  These applications go far beyond simple XML pages and integrate custom business processes directly on the phone display.

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