Skype has made no secret of its plans to go after the business market, but it finally shed some light on its go-to-market strategy, unveiling details of its Skype Service Partner Program during a keynote address Wednesday at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo by Chief Strategy Officer Christopher Dean.
The company has not offered a date certain for the launch of its channel program, but said it will be sometime in fourth quarter. A spokesperson for the company said potential partners for the first time can sign up to be a partner and go through training in anticipation of go-live.
Dean acknowledged that while Skype has been successful selling a consumer service directly on the Web, that’s not the way businesses buy. “Businesses buy technology through the channel,” he said, noting that small and medium business, in particular, rely on trusted advisers such as VARs and consultants.
While many (35 percent according to the company’s own surveys) Skype subscribers use the tool for business reasons, the company has developed a product specifically for use with a business telephony system. Called Skype for SIP, it allows existing SIP-based systems to connect to the Skype community. So far, Skype has announced interoperability of Skype for SIP with UC systems from Cisco Systems Inc., ShoreTel Inc. and the SIPfoundry open source community.
With Skype for SIP, users of these systems can direct outbound calls to mobile devices and landlines via Skype, while also allowing them to receive inbound calls from more than 480 million registered Skype users. Skype calls are received and handled or directed in the same way as any other inbound caller.
In addition, if a company buys and associates online Skype numbers with their system, it can then receive inbound calls via Skype from business contacts and customers calling from landline and mobile phones.
To sell Skype for SIP, VARs will need to register for the Skype Service Partner Program and pass an online certification exam.
Skype for SIP was designed for the channel from the ground up, said Skype’s head of commercial development, Ian Robin, in an advance interview about Wednesday’s announcement. It has accelerated Skype’s plans to build a partner program, but the company is taking care to release it as fully baked as possible – complete with training, support tools and incentive programs.
He said the program will be global, but initially will be offered with English-only support.
To run the program, the company named one of its own, Shane McNulty, as its channel development manager in second quarter. He is working closely with Matt Jordan, the company’s enterprise business development manager, to help anticipate partner needs in selling to and supporting business customers, Robin said.
Why would a VAR want to sell Skype? Dean said it’s an overlay service that drives demand. “Saving money is just the start of what we do for customers,” he said, explaining that Skype offers a “UC lite” experience, including audio conferencing, video, desktop sharing, presence, IM, file sharing and more. “Skype is much more than voice.”
Sixty-two percent of customers using Skype for business reported communicating better with the tool, and 80 percent reported increased productivity.