Nearly a year after previewing its indirect sales strategy for its nascent business services, Skype Inc. announced Tuesday that it is formally launching a channel program for its Skype for Business Solutions in the United States.
The move comes a week after announcing that its business service Skype Connect (formerly Skype for SIP) is out of beta and commercially available news that was overshadowed by rumors that Cisco Systems Inc. may be looking to buy the VoIP provider. This development, as well as the release of another solution for businesses, Skype Manager, in May, were prerequisites to the launch of the partner program and the reason for the delay, explained Ian Robin, Skypes director of sales and commercial development, in an interview with PHONE+.
The Skype Channel Partner Program is unusual in the marketplace in that it does not offer its partners commissions or margins on Skype services. In fact, channel partners will not be reselling any Skype products to customers; all Skype products will be bought directly from Skype. Instead, the program seeks to fulfill the demand from businesses for VARs and integrators that can help them implement Skype services for their communications and collaboration needs.
The upside for the partners is the ability to generate revenues directly from customers on professional services, such as consulting, installation, configuration, maintenance and support services, related to implementing Skype services, explained Robin.
So basically, channel partners will help businesses set up Skype and buy and use Skype products, including Skype Connect, Skype Business Client and Skype Manager. For example, they will help Skype Manager customers use and manage the Skype Business Client on their desktop and mobile phones via business accounts or connect their existing PBX or unified communications systems to Skype using Skype Connect. They may also sell third-party hardware and software for use with Skype.
What Skype offers its channel partners, then, is training, sales and marketing collateral, customer tracking and reporting tools, as well as support and account management, Robin said.
Prospective partners can apply to be part of the program, but Robin said Skype will be selective” about which partners it accepts, looking for those that have strong customer relationships and a proven professional services practice.
During a trial period, 20 partners were enrolled and trained in the program. Among them, Robin said, were VARs and integrators of various backgrounds, including PBXs, networking, software and video, but all of them had a service-orientation. One of these is Atlanta-based Precedent Technologies.
Skype is a well-known brand and Ive used it personally for years,” said Patrick Carley, CEO of Precedent Technologies, in a press statement. I believe Skypes business solutions appeal to our diverse client base be it smaller companies that are just getting started and need to watch their infrastructure costs closely or larger companies who may be interested in using Skype to supplement their international communications.”
Skype also plans to work with manufacturers of the IP-enabled PBX and UC systems that have been certified as interoperable with Skype Connect to introduce the Skype Channel Partner Program to their existing channel partners. Among these interoperability partners are Avaya Inc., Cisco, Siemens Enterprise Communications and ShoreTel Inc. (Skype Connect is meant to complement existing telephone services used with a corporate PBX, not as a standalone solution as it does not support E911.)
As of June 30, Skype claimed more than 2,400 active users of Skype Connect and 161,000 businesses operating Skype Manager. In addition, an internal Skype survey of more than 40,000 users conducted in the first quarter of 2010 found approximately 37 percent of the respondents had used Skypes platform occasionally or often for some business or business-related purposes.
Robin said the cycle of adoption for Skype services among businesses begins with the individual who uses the services personally and begins to use them in the business. As more users within an organization use Skype, the network or telecom administrator, then, wants to manage and control that usage. Business Control Panel and its successor, Skype Manager, enable them to do that, Robin explained.
Channel partners also will be given access to a multitenant version of Skype Manager so that they can manage their customers accounts, Robin added.
The Skype Channel Partner Program will have one tier and partners will be provided a logo to identify themselves. Leads received by Skype from business prospects will be distributed to partners.