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.

A Glimpse Inside Microsoft


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