Verizon Enterprise Solutions is launching its first hosted PBX service for small and medium businesses with the help of its indirect sales channel.
Called the Virtual Communications Express, the service was made commercially available Oct. 5, and has been in customer trials for the past three months with Verizon Indirect Solutions Partner (VISP) agents and their customers, said Janet Schijns, vice president of Mid-Market Solutions and Alternate Channels for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. Schijns said Verizon is planning to leverage indirect channels to sell the service as well. The carrier already trained its agents ahead of the direct sales force and is creating marketing programs for agents.
Schijns said the launch has been collaborative; partners helped the company with refining its pitch for the product, for example. “This represents the first of many solutions that will be ‘channel first,'” she said.
Verizon is targeting the service to SMBs, companies with 20-999 employees, for the first time. It’s previous foray into cloud communications was only available to large enterprises.
Virtual Communications Express combines Verizons VoIP solution with Broadsofts cloud infrastructure to deliver unlimited local and long-distance calling as well as features such as simultaneous ringing; visual voice-mail messages; and Office Anywhere,” which forwards incoming calls from an office to a mobile/home line and displays outgoing calls made from a mobile/home phone as coming from an office phone number. The service also enables traditional PBX features, such as enhanced hunt group and call queuing.
In addition, Virtual Communications Express can be combined with Google Apps to enable capabilities, such as presence of other Google users and click-to-call” from email, calendar and chat.
Administrators can authorize and manage user-feature availability through a dedicated online tool. Similarly, employees can manage their communications from the Web or their office phone to designate where they want to be reached whether in the office, or on a mobile device.
Integration with Android and iOS operating systems is planned for early 2013 so that users will be able to also use the collaborative features from their mobile devices, Schijns said.
To use the service, customers need a Verizon-certified phone (Verizon is using Polycom) and an Internet connection, from any broadband provider. The cost for the service is $35 per month, per user, plus the cost of the phone. Users can rent the phones as part of the monthly charge for $10-15, depending on the phone model.
Commissions to agents are upfront and based on a percentage of the total deal value as well as the partner’s level in the VISP program.
Schijns said she believes the service will be appealing to telecom agents since it’s “BYOB.” They can use any network provider they choose, which gives them the ability to serve customers that require multicarrier networks because of the locations of their offices, for example.
To make this work, Verizon has developed simple tools that help determine whether the customer network can handle the service.
Frank Moynihan, CEO of Jade Intel, an exclusive Verizon agent since fall 2010, was one of the trial participants. He installed the service at his own company as well as at two of his existing customers.
Jade Intel targets SMBs nationwide with one focus being winbacks for Verizon. Without a hosted PBX offer, the agency was unable to easily migrate customers dissatisfied with their existing hosted PBX services, but still encumbered by a phone lease. Now, Moynihan said, he has a similar product to offer, making him more competitive in the market. Plus, he added, Verizon has developed a pre-sale network assessment to make sure that the service will perform as advertised. In his own case, for example, the assessment resolved three issues with his company’s network before implementing the service.
Aside from existing hosted PBX users, Moynihan sees a ready market for Verizon’s hosted PBX service as an alternative for companies that are considering upgrading to advanced features or moving from a key system to a PBX.
“It offers increased value in services for what they are paying today,” Moynihan said.
Because of the price point, it’s also good for very small businesses, like a pizza parlor, that need auto attendant and other call-routing features but can’t afford a key system or PBX.
Schijns said two of the favored features among the trial users were unlimited calling and simultaneous ring. They liked the ability to customize the simultaneous-ring feature by time of day and caller, she added.
Moynihan said ease of use was praised by his trial customers. He volunteered Jade Intel for the trial to help sort out problems before commercial launch.
“Out of the gate, I was surprised how well it worked,” Moynihan said, noting the one instance that surfaced was related to a phone set, not the service itself.
In addition, Moynihan found the service easy to install. For a 10-phone deployment, he estimated it would take 30 minutes.
Besides giving Jade Intel a more competitive portfolio, Moynihan said he expects the product to be a big seller, projecting his agency soon will be selling 500 seats per month.