Why SMBs Need More Than a Phone System

Why SMBs Need More Than a Phone System

By Jon Arnold December 5, 2013 3 Comments
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Why SMBs Need More Than a Phone System by Jon Arnold

When you’re immersed in the world of UC as much as we are here at UCStrategies, it’s easy to forget that most businesses are still using legacy phone systems. Not only that, but many are perfectly happy and may not even be aware of how much things are changing. For UC vendors, this is both a blessing and a curse, as there’s a big untapped market, but only if you can bring the horse to water.

This is especially true for the SMB market, where IT resources are limited, and everyday challenges make it difficult to keep up with technology trends. For many, if the telephony system is doing its job, that’s all they need to know, and then it’s off to manage more pressing business issues.

In our world, we would like nothing more than to corner SMB decision-makers for two minutes and ask what “doing its job” means for them. If we hear that their expectations are along the lines of providing reliable dial tone at a reasonable cost, then we know where the bar has been set for telephony.

That’s a pretty low bar, and fortunately, it doesn’t speak for all SMBs. When looking to drive UC adoption in this market, it’s important to focus on the right kind of SMBs. While some SMBs are challenged enough just to get by, others are in a healthy growth mode. For them, technology has strategic business value, and they will look to leverage it in ways that help them level the playing field against larger, enterprise-scale competitors. These are the kinds of businesses that will truly benefit from UC.

We know that SMBs can use every competitive advantage they can get, but in general, they don’t view communications this way.  Businesses that think of VoIP as a way to lower telecom costs, but not much else, will always be laggards and are not yet good candidates for UC. In time, they will be, but my focus here is on the other type of business just described.

If that reflects your situation, then hopefully you see there’s more to communications than VoIP, and how UC can do more for your business than any legacy phone system ever could. By extension, this should also mean that you no longer define your communications needs around a phone system.

For UC solutions providers or channels thinking about how to approach the SMB market with UC, the key takeaway is to not view this as a homogenous group. To build up a customer base, you need to target the right kind of SMBs – as described above – as they will be more receptive today to your value proposition than those with solely a cost-savings mentality. For these types of businesses, here are three attributes that your value proposition should address – and note that they apply equally well whether you’re selling directly or through channels.

1. SMBs need a communications solution, not a phone system

For businesses that have only known TDM, this may seem like a big leap, but it really is the starting point in getting SMBs on a path the UC. The first step is getting buy-in for VoIP, but to them, this may be little more than a horizontal move for updating the phone system. You need to show them how VoIP can be a stepping stone to UC, and that there’s something bigger to consider. Remember, the UC concept will not be first nature to SMBs – the term is a vendor-driven construct. You may find it easier to talk about a more complete communications solution, one that integrates many applications into a consistent user experience.

2. UC has more value driving productivity than reducing telephony costs

This success factor flows from the above point, where the focus shifts from the needs of IT to the needs of employees. In terms of value to the business, UC has relevance to both groups, and the key is getting management to see this as being more than just a solution to help IT keep costs under control. UC can actually deliver on that need, but never before has communications technology had so much potential to make all employees more productive. Telephony is just one of many applications with UC, and when employees are empowered like this, the technology can have a transformational impact on how things get done and how employees can support the needs of their customers. In other words, while reducing telephony costs has tactical value, the productivity gains that UC can enable will have strategic value that all key decision-makers will understand.

3. Manageable deployment options are viable for any situation

Strategic value aside, UC is still about technology at its core. There’s no denying that the underlying technologies are complex and UC is far from being plug-and-play. While it’s understandable that this would turn many SMBs away from UC, the reality is somewhat different. UC continues to evolve on many levels, especially to be more user-friendly for employees, and more network-friendly for IT managers. You need SMBs to see how they can choose from a wide range of options, regardless of the state of their network, their IT resources, and management’s fiscal situation. For businesses that still want to own and operate their technology, premise-based UC allows them to make a familiar transition from their legacy phone system. Conversely, there are many SMBs who are going in the opposite direction and welcome cloud-based options that allow them to focus resources on core competencies that drive business growth. As such, technology complexity should not serve as an obstacle to making decisions that are in the best interests of the business at large.


This may not be a comprehensive set of success factors, but it will go a long way to getting the right conversations going about UC. Not only that, but it provides good guidance in terms of what SMBs should look for in a provider of UC solutions. If you’re not having these kinds of conversations now, both inside your business and with potential UC partners, then you’re probably still thinking about phone systems.

After reading this analysis, I hope you’re ready for a different conversation, and if so, there are plenty of UC providers ready to take your call. You may be surprised to learn how many providers are out there, and you’ll need to do your research.

To kick-start things in that direction, if you want to see what a UC provider looks like that embodies the above attributes, Fonality would be a good place to start. Having been in this business a long time, they understand the technologies that drive UC, and more importantly, know how to translate that into solutions that work for SMBs – especially those in growth mode. Don’t stop there, though, but research is always easier when you start off on the right foot.

This paper is sponsored by Fonality.


3 Responses to "Why SMBs Need More Than a Phone System" - Add Yours

marc herman 12/5/2013 11:47:55 AM

I would agree that the sub-100 user market needs a communication solution, something more than dial tone at a good price (which is the #1 requirement). Is it UC? In my opinion, only if you are using it in the broadest sense - meaning it includes social media integration and filtering, e.g. communicating in/out to customers via a Facebook page. SMBs are agile, they will adapt the most cost effective, available technology and use it to their advantage. If there is something new to learn, which I believe there is, then they need to be taught.
Art Rosenberg 12/5/2013 12:39:55 PM


Good points!

However, we are starting to see UC increasingly start to show up in mobile customer services, especially in "cloud" based, online mobile apps(self-services) where flexible "click-for- assistance" is required. SMBs will have the same need to satisfy their customers as larger organizations, but they will have even more need to do so with self-service applications that are UC enabled.

The trend with telephony is moving towards both consumer mobility and Web-based contacts through the likes of WebRTC, rather than the PSTN. So, where the consumers are going will dictate where any size organization has to follow, especially when it can also reduce operational and technology costs.
Tim Banting 12/13/2013 6:25:21 AM

Great post. I have always been amazed at how UC vendors seem to target the SMB based on seat count and not by needs. SMB has, until now, been the smaller brother to the enterprise 10,000 seat IP-PBX!

Segmentation is about dividing a broad market into subsets of consumers who have common needs. Not all SMBs have an office, some don't have an IT department, their needs as complex as a large enterprise.

UCaaS needs to be more than just "IP-Centrex". We are no longer tethered to our desks. A lot of us can be productive from wherever we have an internet connection. SMB is a demanding, price sensitive, business-value focussed segment.

Having 100s of cloud offerings, with pretty much the same "value proposition" will end up in a cut throat and bloody race to the bottom on price.

2014 is going to see a lot of vendors focusing on this under-served space- premise mobile and cloud. It's going to be an interesting 12 months!

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