VoIP Vendors Have SMBs in Their Sight Lines

“In terms of new VoIP products, this is definitely the year of the small business,”John Macario, president of Savatar, told CRM Buyer.

Macario has attended several VON Conference and Expos — the voice-data industry’s primary trade show — over the years. At this year’s show, now drawing to a close, he says he heard the words “SMB” and “VoIP” in the same sentence more often than at the three previous shows combined.

SMBs have emerged as an important end-user constituency for VoIP technology, Macario contends.

Awareness but not Understanding

Indeed, a number of companies introduced VoIP products specifically designed for the SMB at the VON show. Even prior to this event, though, it was becoming clear that vendors were targeting this space.

Over the past few months, AT&T, Avaya, Lucent, Broadsoft and Sprint have all introduced initiatives targeting this end of the market.

That’s the good news. The bad is that vendors still do not seem to understand SMBs — at least, not judging from their product pitches, according to a recently released survey by Savatar.

Savatar polled 560 SMB executives. The vast majority of those who had deployed a VoIP system thought it met or exceeded expectations — but not for the reasons VoIP providers have been touting.

SMBs are primarily interested in the business case VoIP can offer — they want lower total cost of ownership and better system management. Providers, however, are still trying to sell SMBs on features and functions.

Also, Savatar said, not all SMBs are current on the providers and the services that are offered. “Companies that want to sell into this market need to concentrate on education as well as product development if they want to see it take off.”

For instance, of those survey respondents that have not deployed VoIP, 55 percent expected its cost to be “about the same” or “worse,” while 56 percent echoed that sentiment regarding features. These numbers jump significantly for system management (74 percent) and migration (77 percent) issues.

“Are vendors getting the message across about the economic advantages VoIP can bring? The answer is patently no,” Savatar said.

On Display

Products on display at the VON trade show, many of which emphasized cost structures favorable to SMBs, suggest some vendors are starting to catch on.

Switchvox SMB, for instance, emphasized its low price — US$2,495 — for its new IP PBX product. Another vendor, Allworx, highlighted how small businesses with high call volumes can avoid purchasing expensive attendant hardware with its new Call Assistant software application.

Most vendors could not resist showing off new features and functions. Another SMB VoIP offering on display was Whaleback Systems’ new mobile application.

Then there is Microsoft, the world’s most ubiquitous small business application provider. At the show, Blake Irving, corporate vice president of the MSN Communication Services and Member Platform group, detailed the company’s VoIP strategy for Windows Live in a keynote speech.

“Our mission with Windows Live is to deepen people’s relationships with whomever and whatever matters most to them,” Irving said. “We will get there by working closely with the whole ecosystem of telecommunications, Internet services and hardware manufacturing partners to build a complete presence- and contact-centric communications experience.”

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