License to Bill: Making Money with Office 365

License to BillOriginally published in ChannelVision Magazine – Mar/Apr 2015

By Greg Plum

Microsoft Office 365 is more than a software offering. It is a movement – a platform around which businesses are being created. Those businesses include consultancies, software companies and “born in the cloud” service providers.

This is all great, and it certainly captures the attention of everyone in the IT and telecom space, including the Googles and Apples of the world, which may have written Microsoft off as old-school and way past its prime. But how do you, a telecom agent, partner, VAR, integrator or managed services provider, make money with Office 365 (or O365, since just about everything in our world is reduced to an acronym)?

Let’s first start with the basics of O365. This is Microsoft’s suite of products that have been staples in the workplace for as long as most of us can remember, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., offered as a subscription, rather than a stack of disks that you purchase and load on your computer or on-premises servers. By now, we all know the advantages of a SaaS-based model over a traditional software delivery model, so I won’t go into that here. Beyond these old “friends” that have become a critical part of our daily operations, Microsoft has opened our eyes to the possibility of collaboration with services that include OneNote, OneDrive and, my personal favorite, Lync. Lync Online, which is a component of many O365 licenses, is a powerful communications platform, offering presence, instant messaging, VoIP calling, desktop sharing, and audio and video conferencing, all from a single interface., with all of this functionality provided by Microsoft, and now available to the channel as a way to earn residual income in place of a one-time up-front commission, you might think this is your ticket to financial freedom, right? Not so fast.

The problem is the revenue itself. While O365 licenses are being consumed at a rate that surpasses sales levels of any and all commercial products ever released by the software giant, the dollars that actually hit your pocket are more academic than financially significant. So, if you cannot base your business on the sale of the O365 license, what can you do to ride this wave that Microsoft has created and propel your business into the world of converged communications? The answer: Leverage that license.

We will examine three aspects of the O365 product offering and how companies have formed entire business models around this new ecosystem: enterprise voice, customer migration and management, and add-on services.

Voice Over
First, we will focus on enterprise voice. Lync, which is due for a makeover in 2015, emerging around mid-year as “Skype for Business,” makes it possible to handle just about all of your communications through a single desktop client, with one exception: voice.

Recognizing this limitation as a significant opportunity, a handful of providers, including CallTower and Arkadin, have developed a way to voice enable 0365. The mechanism for supercharging the software suite is Microsoft Lync.

By replacing the Lync Online component with a hosted, voice-enabled, Lync package, O365 becomes a comprehensive communications solution. So, the user is able to leverage their purchase of O365 and obtain a phone system that is fully integrated into just about everything else they use on their desktop, including Exchange for email and calendaring, and even Microsoft SharePoint for shared document management. The value to the customer is the ability to replace a legacy phone system that they may have outgrown or is reaching its end of life with a completely hosted telephone system. unified communications platform behaves just like the telephone systems that today’s businesses have come to rely upon for day-to-day operations, including receptionist switchboard features, call routing to hunt groups and full IVR capabilities. Voice-enabled Lync can be configured to mirror the functionality of a legacy phone system, even to the point of feeding an office-wide intercom system to announce calls on hold.

If it’s time for your customers to re-evaluate their legacy on-premises or stand-alone hosted VoIP phone system, Lync may well be your answer. With the purchase of Office 365, they are already halfway there.

The M&M
Next, is the myriad of solutions hitting the market to assist managed service providers with the migration of emails, bulk provisioning of accounts, and on-going monitoring of system health to ensure optimal performance of the customer’s new, cutting-edge unified communications platform.

Among the companies that have developed applications that streamline the O365 provisioning process are Skykick (which is currently on Harry Brelsford’s O365Nation tour, consisting of an impressive band of traveling gypsies evangelizing the merits of O365) and Arganteal, which says its patented, subscription-based technology reduces deployment times by 60 to 70 percent. By automating the often tedious and repetitive administrative tasks associated with on-boarding new customers to O365, MSPs are able to leverage their resources more effectively, resulting in a better ROI for the project, as well as a better experience for the customer. Several of these tools have very clear user interfaces, making it possible to delegate the provisioning steps to less technical (read “less expensive”) staffers.

Once customers are successfully migrated to Office 365, especially when leveraged as a complete unified communications platform, on-going monitoring of the entire system becomes a mission-critical component. The folks over at VXSuite have recognized this and provide call reporting, network analytics and monitoring/alerting to both on-premises and hosted (O365) Lync implementations. Its diagnostic tools also can be implemented prior to Lync deployments to identify the health of the network and its ability to effectively support enterprise voice with Lync. VXSuite is available to the telecom and IT channel through large master agency Telarus.

Nuts & Bolt-ons
Saving for last one of my favorite ways to increase revenue with O365, we will now cover a few add-on services that leverage the license to provide additional functionality, while creating an incremental residual revenue opportunity for channel partners in both the IT and telecom spaces.

As a “conferencing old-timer,” of course I was excited to learn of the existence of a specialized conferencing option that can be integrated into Lync to create a true hybrid experience, allowing meeting participants to access the audio component of a Lync meeting by simply dialing a phone number and passcode. This Lync-enabled, or “hybrid,” bridge is a refreshing alternative to the standalone conferencing services that have fallen victim to telecom’s ubiquitous “race to zero,” leaving channel partners with razor thin margins barely worth chasing. Not a day goes by that I don’t evangelize the value of a hybrid bridge to my current and prospective channel partners. If you are touching conferencing or Office 365 in any way, you need to be aware of this service option and how it will save your customers money and provide you with a coveted incremental residual revenue stream. I am happy to report that conferencing is alive and well and is even a critical value-add to industry darling, Lync.

It should be noted that only three conferencing service providers have been authorized by Microsoft to integrate into O365, providing the functionality described above. These providers are industry giants Intercall, PGi and BT Conference. By working with a company that can provide a conference bridge that integrates fully into O365, you can be guaranteed fatter residual commission checks, with very little barrier to entry.

Another company on the O365Nation tour is attachedapps, headed by former Microsoft executive Dave Waldrop. Waldrop and his team are working to address one of the major pain points by providing a service that offers, in the company’s words, “powerfully simple tools to maintain, manage and grow SMB customers.” Attachedapps integrates nicely into O365 as a light and cost-effective CRM add-on. While Dynamics is the CRM workhorse of the Microsoft family of products, it can be cost prohibitive for some SMB customers, offering more functionality than may be required.

Finally, a Lync add-on that offers large-scale event tools for its users is EventBuilder’s L+ service. As the company’s name suggests, it enhances the value of Lync by providing robust scheduling, registration, recording and reporting functionality. While the native Lync service has gained widespread acceptance as a small group collaboration tool, many turn to other industry staples, such as WebEx or GoToMeeting, for their larger, scheduled events or webinars. L+ expands the reach of Lync from hundreds to thousands, all using the Lync client the customer uses for their small point-to-point chats with colleagues. Goodbye “siloed” or stand-alone services; scalable UC is now a cost-effective reality.

As you can see, our industry recognizes the value of Office 365 and is delivering ways to increase usability for all license holders. The great news for us channel professionals is that these companies are eager to work with channel partners to evangelize the benefits of Office 365, enhance the functionality of the licenses and provide an opportunity for incremental revenue.
So, the answer is a resounding “yes,” you can make money with Office 365, if you look outside of the shrink-wrapped box.

Office 365: Microsoft’s ‘Win’ Presents Channel Opportunity

Originally published in the Channel Partners Peer-to-Peer Blog  (December 4, 2014)

By now you have certainly heard about the SaaS tsunami known as Office 365. With this new delivery model, Microsoft is enjoying its fastest selling software platform in history. Great news for Microsoft, right? Sure, but even better news for telecom and IT channel partners.

Lync Online, which is a component of many O365 licenses, is a powerful communications platform, offering presence, instant messaging, voice over IP (VoIP) calling, desktop sharing, and audio and video conferencing … all from a single interface.  Lync makes it possible to handle just about all of your communications through a single desktop client, with one exception — PSTN voice, the service that countless telecom providers, resellers, and agents have built their businesses around since the dawn of the telecom era, circa 1878.  Sounds like an opportunity to me.

There are actually two opportunities to consider. The first results from the addition of a hybrid, or “Lync-enabled,” audio conferencing bridge, which allows meeting participants to join a Lync meeting by simply dialing a toll or toll-free number and pass code.  Why is this important new-office-365-logo-orange-png-1888c397654to us in the channel?

Well, for the customer there may be a savings of 50 percent or more over their current conferencing bill.  All participants that have access to a computer or even a mobile device with the Lync app are able to participate in the meeting without incurring a per-minute charge.  Those participants that opt to dial the phone number and pass code will incur a metered charge.  For the channel partner, this metered charge is a commissionable item.  For MSPs or VARs typically earning between 5-12 percent residual commissions on the sale of Office 365 licenses, conferencing commissions in the neighborhood of 50 percent are pretty enticing.  With the hybrid bridge, everybody wins.

The second opportunity to interface with O365 involves adding enterprise voice (dial tone) to the license.  By replacing the Lync Online component with a voice-enabled Lync package, O365 becomes a comprehensive communications solution. The customer is now able to leverage their purchase of O365 to obtain a phone system that is fully integrated into everything they use on their desktop, including Exchange for email and calendaring, and even Microsoft SharePoint for shared document management. In addition, call center components can be incorporated for high-volume telephone operations. The value to the customer is the ability to replace a legacy phone system that they have outgrown or is reaching the end of its life with a completely hosted telephone system.  As we all know, there is no shortage of hosted VoIP providers in the market.  The difference with this solution is that it fully integrates with Lync and O365 for a seamless communications experience for the customer.

This unified communications (UC) platform behaves just like the telephone systems that today’s businesses have come to rely upon for day-to-day operations, including receptionist switchboard features, call routing to  hunt groups, and full IVR capabilities. Voice-enabled Lync can be configured to mirror the functionality of a legacy phone system, even to the point of feeding an office-wide intercom system to announce calls on hold.

O365 represents a rising tide in our industry. The great news for those of us who have chosen to make a career assisting customers with their communications needs, is that Microsoft’s “win” becomes a massive platform for us to deliver various telecom services, from simple PSTN conferencing, to full-blown hosted unified communications.  Sounds like a win for us as well.

Greg Plum recently launched PlumUC to provide the telecom and IT channels access to a wide range of unified communication, conferencing & collaborations solutions. He has been involved in channel development since 2001 and has enjoyed building channel sales operations from scratch. Plum’s passion for the channel, as well as his desire to form long-term relationships with his partners, gained him the honor of being named a Channel Partners Channel Executive of the Year Finalist in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Telarus Partner Summit… From a Rookie’s Perspective

ImageAs a new supplier for Telarus, StartMeeting was invited to sponsor their second annual Partner Summit in Park City, UT.  As a long-time admirer of what Telarus has created in the channel, I was eager to immerse myself into the Telarus world… even if it had to be at 8,000 feet (not an insignificant detail for this sea-level dweller).

When I arrived at the airport, we were greeted by Telarus support personnel who welcomed us, fed us snacks, including that liquid ambrosia of high altitudes (also known as water at home), then carted us about an hour away to the Stein Eriksen Lodge, just outside of Park City.  The setting is spectacular!

Immediately upon my arrival at the lodge, I felt the energy.  The nagging, dull, altitude-induced pounding in my head was replaced by excitement for what was to come…

Following check in, I met up with Steve Roy of, a long-time friend and Telarus partner, for lunch and a quick hike around the mountain.  I quickly discovered that in Utah, the sun is hotter, the terrain is more challenging (more on this later), the air is crisper, and the views resemble postcards, regardless of which direction you look.  It was time to get cleaned up for my steady stream of meetings that Telarus had lined up for me… even before the opening reception!

As you are likely aware, I am a long-time fan of Channel Partners events.  Over the years, these events have helped me generate millions of dollars in revenue.  What was different about this event was the intimacy of the community.  I felt as though I didnt need to convince anyone that I could help them grow their business.  Telarus’ endorsement already did this.  I just had to show them how.  And that is what I was planning on doing…

Throughout the 3 days that I was a resident of the Stein Eriksen Lodge, Telarus had orchestrated several meetings of pre-screened partners for me, which took place right in my suite.  These opportunities were (literally) brought to my doorstep.  Here, I will take just a second to note that Patrick Oborn did an excellent job screening partners’ interests against suppliers’ strengths to set up effective “dates”…  If Patrick ever decides to stray from telecom and IT, e-Harmony and best beware!

If you have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Adam Edwards, you are missing out.  Adam is a charismatic leader, motivator, care-taker, and, excuse the expression… ball-buster (of suppliers, that is, all in protecting his precious community of followers, er, partners.)  Feeling just a touch apprehensive walking into the lobby where everybody seemed to know each other, this rookie was greeted immediately by Adam’s welcoming smile and firm handshake.  He was sincerely grateful for our attendance and interest in working with Telarus.

Following a beautiful dinner, Adam and Rob Butler, Telarus’ VP of Sales, presented several awards.  Awards for top partners, top suppliers, and top channel managers.  This portion left me with visions of StartMeeting being recognized as Telarus’ top supplier at the next annual gathering…  A particularly memorable award was a personalized snow board, which was bestowed upon Blake Darling of Complete Communications, as the top partner.

The evening rounded out with a cocktail reception, where I met several new potential partners and reconnected with others that I had met over the years outside of the Telarus family.

Day 2 started with a truly behavior-altering presentation by Christophe Morin, Chief Pain Officer (that’s correct… CPO) for  Christophe explained what his 30+ years in the study of neuroscience has taught him about consumer buying triggers…  (translation: how to sell to anyone… including our toughest prospects… spouses or significant others), by appealing to their “reptilian brain”.  This was a presentation that anyone in attendance will not soon forget.  If you are interested in some easy ways to tweak your presentations or pitches, let me know.  I would be happy to share what I learned.  Here is a quick tip:  bullets (powerpoint, not ammunition) SUCK!

After lunch came the moment that we suppliers were either dreading or relishing… the Supplier Rapid Fire.  Each sponsor was given 4 minutes to address the audience and demonstrate what makes us different and why the Telarus partners should work with us.  As the only conferencing provider represented at the event, it was easy get noticed.  They key was to leverage these 4 precious minutes into tangible business.  Limiting StartMeeting’s differentiators to only 3 (oops… I just gave away another key to appealing to the reptilian brain), I highlighted our value proposition, providing triple the capacity at half of the cost of GoToMeeting, customization opportunities with our Meeting Wall, and ease of account set-up with our unique URL tracking.  The brief presentation was capped off by a success story, as told by Tom Spooner of Telecom Insite, who provided StartMeeting service to a lawfirm looking for a comprehensive audio and web conferencing solution.  Thanks, Tom, for going under the gun to share your experience!

The Supplier Rapid Fire was followed by the Supplier Fair.  This gave partners to opportunity to speak one-on-one with us suppliers.  I am happy to report that I had a steady stream of partners interested in adding StartMeeting to their list of services that they offer to their customers.  After being happily bombarded for 90 minutes, the fair ended, giving us just enough time to squeeze in a couple more pre-arranged meetings, followed by the Partner Dine Around.  This was a great concept…  once again, Patrick played matchmaker and paired partners with suppliers for a night out on the town and the opportunity to strategize over a memorable meal at one of Park City’s finest restaurants.  My companions for the evening were SolveForce’s powers-that-be, including CEO Ron Legarski.  i would be remiss if I didn’t mention the restaurant… J&G Grill.  What an amazing experience!  To reach our meal, we were loaded onto a frenicular, which is kind of a cross between a posh gondola and a slow roller coaster, which eased us up the mountain to the welcoming culinary retreat located within the St. Regis Hotel.  Rather than bore you with the details of our spectacular meal, I will just say:  “GO!”… you won’t be sorry.

With my schedule spanning from 7 am to the wee hours of the following day, I can honestly say that this day felt a little more like telecom boot camp than anything else.  The previous 17 or so hours emplanted StartMeeting into the brains of some of Telarus’ most successful agents.  The exhaustion that followed was well worth it.

The following morning, partners and suppliers were whisked off to various activities, including fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and “spa”-ing.  As a former, relatively competent mountain biker, I jumped at the chance to ride.  The key word here is “relatively”.  I quickly learned that the east coast trails that I used to frequent, pre-wife and kids, only vaguely resembled the trails snaking thru Deer Valley, 8000 feet above my preferred altitude.  Our 3+ hour ride was filled with rugged terrain, sharp switchbacks, vicious drops and single track barely wider than my tires.  Having been catapulted over my handlebars not once, but twice, I am eternally grateful for the arm and leg armor that I was encouraged to strap on before mounting my beautiful full suspension ride.  The picture above shows what remained of the group of 12 who started the trek.  Seth Ferguson of Telarus, to the right of yours truly, holding his bike and showcasing his “taco-ed” front tire, was awarded the spill of the day, resulting in a badge of honor cut on his face and a sprained wrist.  This ride was one for the books…

We hobbled from our rented bikes to the closest lunch spot to recount our favorite moments of our ride.  I found myself among some really top-notch telecom and IT folks.  Conversation meandered between aches and pains that were setting in and how we all might be able to work together.  I do believe that this experience had been a bonding event, not unlike boot camp or the trials experienced by the Gilligan’s Island inhabitants following the wreck of the Minnow.

The Telarus Partner Summit wound down with a dinner, slideshow of pictures shot within the past 48 action-packed hours, and a farewell by Adam and Patrick.  Thinking of just about every detail possible, Adam announced that they had made special arrangements to have the NBA championship final game broadcast on the large screens in the banquet room… not an easy feat given the room was completed only 2 weeks prior and was not wired for this type of broadcast.  They found a way to make it happen and treated the attendees to one of the most exciting finishes in NBA history!

I am writing this from thousands of miles away, both physically and mentally.  I am now on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard with my family.  While the island bike trails here are much more tame, my mind continues to drift back to my first Telarus Partners Summit.  Congratulations to Adam, Patrick, and their incredible staff who put on such a memorable and productive event… regardless of your perspective:  partner or even rookie supplier.

StartMeeting and Cory Communications Working Together

StartMeeting and Cory Communications Working Together

We are excited to work with Cory Communications.  Jack Zoblin and I have worked together, off and on, for the past decade.  In fact he is the source of one of my favorite sales stories…  Everyone complains about long sales cycles, but in this case, I think I have a legitimate gripe. 

I met following a Channel Partners Conference in the airport terminal.  We hit it off pretty well and there seemed to be several good reasons for us to work together… immediately.  Well,  we did formalize an agreement for Jack to partner with my company at the time to offer our conferencing services… FOUR YEARS LATER!

This is, far and away, the longest sales cycle I have ever had the pleasure of navigating.  But, one thing is for sure – during those 4 years of Jack saying, “we’re going to work together when the time is right,” we were bonding both professionally and personally, little by little.  I think it is safe to say that Jack and I will carry our mutual respect for each other, while striving to generate revenue together, for the balance of our telecom careers.