Look Beyond Gartner for SMB UCaaS and Hosted VoIP
At the recent ITExpo in Las Vegas, one thing that surprised me was the number of hosted VoIP and UCaaS Service Providers in the exhibit hall and I am sure there will be many more at the upcoming Channel Partners Conference in Chicago. Most of them I had never heard of and they all appeared to be pursuing channel partner programs of their own. Their primary channel is the traditional telecom agent, but they all are pursuing the IT VAR channel, as well, with the two channels converging. I kept thinking to myself, “If I were an agent or IT VAR, how would I evaluate these companies to select the right solution for my business and customers?” – especially if I were servicing the SMB market, which is where many solution providers make their living.
The logical place to start is with what you see your customers using. To gain a general industry and technology perspective many people look for a Gartner study, but it doesn’t appear that Gartner really covers the whole spectrum of solutions available to solution providers and customers in the SMB market. Its research appears to be intended primarily for enterprise end-users which is understandable as that is who the majority of their clients are. Gartner has three reports out:
- MarketScope for Unified Communications for the SMB Market, North America (Dated: 21 August 2013)
- Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications (Dated: 31 July 2013)
- Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, North America (Dated: 19 November 2012)
Each report has around 12 vendors, but there are a fair number represented in multiple reports, so all together there are approximately 20 unique vendors under consideration. TMC, which puts on the IT Expo show, lists about 48 Hosted VOIP Service Providers on its site. From our data, we come up with at least 100, which is still an incomplete picture. The Gartner criteria in the UCAAS Report is an entire page long, but the >$25M in revenue requirement would exclude the majority of the field and it lists enterprise-level requirements, so two of the reports are essentially enterprise-focused. That leaves us with the SMB report, which is primarily an analysis of the main UC hardware and software vendors with a paragraph on their “Cloud” offerings. It may provide a starting point, but with 80 percent of the companies not really part of the analysis, it leaves quite a few out.
If you are a solution provider, how do you compare all of the options and make a decision on who to partner with? First, you should understand who your customers are and try to match a solution to their requirements as best you can. Unless you are selling into enterprise accounts exclusively, I would recommend looking beyond Gartner for the full range of alternatives for channels serving the SMB market.
Here are a few considerations for partner selection:
- Service reliability – what assurances can they provide for system uptime? (See recent Intermedia email outage)
- Solution architecture – specifically, do they match well with your strategic technology or vendor partnerships?
- Financial viability – this is critical with any long-term service contract
- Network geographic reach and points of presence
- Vertical markets – compare the markets they service or specialize in to your customer base
- Executive level relationship – who do you call when something happens?
- Build your own – is your plan to build out your own infrastructure eventually?
- White label vs. resell – who owns the customer relationship?
- Technical support resolution – how is the customer supported and who does it?
Obviously there are many more considerations that go into selecting a partner. We welcome your suggestions or comments. I would encourage you to at least take a look at the smaller service providers, especially if you are selling into the SMB market. One thing is certain: with so many alternatives, there is going to be considerable consolidation in this space, as evidenced by Digium recently announcing its acquisition of VocalCloud.