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.

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A Glimpse Inside Microsoft

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A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at my very first Microsoft-sponsored event… the SMB Nation 2014 Fall Conference in Redmond, WA.  I had no idea what to expect from my first peek inside the behemoth that is known the world over, save for the small percentage of Apple diehards, as THE gold standard in computing.  Until this visit, I had always viewed Microsoft in a similar way that I view other larger-than-life entities, such as Congress and the Wizard of Oz — faceless, impersonal, and very powerful.

As an invited guest of SMB Nation’s founder, Harry Brelsford, I was very eager to dig in, learn everything I could about the inner sanctum, and share with all who would grant me their ear, how my company, Plum Unified Communications (aka PlumUC), has embraced the Office 365 business model and created incremental revenue streams for Microsoft partners providing Office 365 to their customers.  I had momentary visions of grandeur that included these partners watching me with bated breath and hanging on my every word…

So, being an East-coaster with school-aged kids and a regimented morning ritual before the bus makes its way up our country road and pulls in front of our home at precisely 6:45 am (Eastern) to pick up the most precious cargo there is, of course I was ready to begin my evangelical journey when the clock struck 3:00 am… Pacific.  Since I was asked to assist with the streaming of the events to the conference’s remote audience via Lync, I arrived on the Microsoft campus before the sun even considered pushing aside the prior night’s darkness… and before the guards unlocked the doors.  And to think my wife tells me that I am late for everything…

Fast forward about an hour… to when I caught my first glimpse of the Kodiak Auditorium (see inset).  I was experiencing all of those emotions that accompany all new, unfamiliar, yet highly anticipated events… excitement, nervousness, and determination to seize the day.  Since the task at hand was to prepare to stream the event live to a remote audience, I set to work with the gentlemen donning the black polos emblazoned with “Microsoft” across the pocket.  The first faces of Microsoft that I got to experience up close and personal.  Not faceless, quite personable, and, sorry guys, not all-knowing (although they were infinitely more qualified AV technicians than I!).

Fast forward another couple hours… which now makes that a full 6 hours since my day began, and our conference was underway…

Since approximately 300 attendees / sponsors were expected to be in attendance, this was certainly one of the smallest and, dare I say most intimate, conferences I had ever attended.  My mission was clear… share with everyone, who stood still long enough to listen, how PlumUC has embraced Office 365 and is focusing on providing voice enablement of the famed service suite.  Leading up to this day, Harry had been pretty emphatic referring to this event, now known as O365 Nation, as “the world’s first independent conference focusing on Office 365.”  He explained to me on numerous occasions that everyone in attendance would have some stake in the sale of Office 365 or supporting services.  He was spot on!

It was so refreshing speaking with one IT professional after another and consistently hearing, “Yes, I sell Office 365,” which was invariably followed by, “what does PlumUC do?”

“I’m glad you asked…,” and I was off to the races!

But, back to Microsoft.  Specifically, the people behind this faceless giant.  Since they were one of the premier sponsors of the event, there were quite a few MS types milling about.  I quickly learned that they were not cold, corporate types, operating in strict contrast to their laid back counterparts, whose mother-ship is due south down the Pacific coast in Cupertino.  The handful of Microsoft people I met were engaged with the conference audience, highly knowledgeable, and passionate about helping their sales partners succeed in their businesses.

This short trip had many highlights, among them an invitation to present PlumUC services to a group of Microsoft partner support staff.  Microsoft recognizes the value of their partner channel and is constantly seeking ways to help them, not only sell more Microsoft products, but by providing exposure to a wide range of supporting services to increase their monthly revenue.

So, I am now preparing to share my experiences and voice strategies with the most hallowed, yet personable, of audiences.  Sounds like another blog entry in the making…

Webinar: Voice Options for Office 365

Office 365 is the fastest growing software offering in Microsoft’s history. Not too shabby! But what does this mean to you, as an IT partner and trusted resource for your customers? I often hear, “Sure, I sell Office 365,” which is, more often than not, followed by, “the margins are just so thin.” Translation: “I can’t make any money selling it to my customers.”

Before I refute the above statemnew-office-365-logo-orange-png-1888c397654ent, let’s take just a minute to cover some background. Lync Online, which is a component of many Office 365 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… voice. Is this bad? NO… This is good! No voice equals opportunity for you!

Join us on Thursday, October 16 @ 1:00 pm ET (10:00 am PT) for a webinar where we will explain two ways that you can add voice services to Office 365 licenses. You will increase your monthly recurring revenue, while providing a more comprehensive communications solution for your current and prospective customers.

What Will You Learn?
Following this session, you will be able to add PSTN (remember this from the pre-VoIP days?) audio conferencing capability to any Office 365 license. Why is this important? A hybrid, or Lync-enabled bridge allows a user to invite non-Lync participants to join their Lync meetings by simply dialing a toll-free number and passcode. The beauty of integrating this option into Office 365 is that the meeting invites sent directly from Outlook will have the meeting access instructions automatically included in the email. I personally use this option every day, and even calls with as few as 5 participants usually have at least 1 or 2 people dialing in from their mobile phone or landline. So what? Oh… I almost forgot to mention: every minute of use is billable and commissionable to you. Earn as much as 50% margin on every one of these minutes, each and every month. The beauty of recurring revenue.

What Else?
We can even take this voice “enablement” a step further. By replacing the Lync Online component with a voice-enabled Lync package, O365 becomes not only a hosted phone system, but a comprehensive unified communications solution. So, the user is able to leverage their purchase of O365 and obtain a phone system that is fully integrated into everything else they use on their desktop, including Exchange for email and calendaring. 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 complete, hosted, telephone system
To learn more about these services and how to uncover opportunities within your current customer base, join us on Thursday, 10/16/2014 @ 1:00 pm ET (10:00 am PT).

Click to Register

If webinars are not your thing, drop me a line anytime: 302.514.PLUM (7586) or greg@plumUC.com.

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 TelecomBuyer.us, 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 match.com 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 SalesBrain.com.  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.

Gearing Up for the Telarus Partner Summit

On Tuesday, I am heading to Park City, UT for the Telarus Partner Summit. This will mark the official kick-off of our new relationship with one of the iconic master agencies in the industry. We are excited to show all attendees how StartMeeting will increase their revenue immediately.

I will try to post some pictures to this blog once I get out there. From what I hear, the Stein Eriksen Lodge is quite an impressive place!

Talk soon!

Greg
302-530-8695

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.