A Trojan Horse?

Channel veteran Steve Davis takes a look at how the end of life for two Microsoft products could prove to be a Trojan horse for resellers as voice services are added to Lync licenses. He explains.

When Microsoft announced the end of life for Office 2003 and Server 2003 I don’t think many of the Voice Reseller channel in the UK gave it a second thought.  So what I hear you say?  I expect many of us thought this will not impact on us and what we do.

However as I have now spent the last two years working with Cloud Providers and Microsoft Partners I know that this is either the biggest opportunity or the biggest threat that the voice industry has seen for a long time.

As customers are forced to look at a major examination of their IT infrastructure so a great opportunity presents itself for resellers to sell unified communications solutions. But if we ignore this opportunity, which could possibly be called a watershed, then we risk losing our customer base to other resellers who have made the move to selling solutions such as Lync.

For those customers who are looking to move from Office 2003 and Server 2003 Microsoft is heavily promoting Server 2012 and Office 365.  Office 365 is the new application suite to replace the traditional Office suite of products and it is a very compelling offering.  Pushed heavily into large enterprises it is now being widely taken up by small and medium size businesses which has traditionally been the hunting ground of the voice channel.

One of the most popular license options for Office 365 includes Lync and as a UC solution it is rapidly maturing. Along with the usual Microsoft applications such as Word and Excel Lync is very often included as an IM and presence solution.  Then, after it is installed, it is a relatively easy process to introduce the full voice functionality to the customer, either on site or hosted in a data centre.

As well as being a feature rich application for voice services it has an integrated webinar hosting application which is good as any I have used.  When the Microsoft marketing machine wakes up and understands what a great UC solution they have got then Lync is going to be hugely significant.

So how do you take advantage of Lync and make money out of selling it?

When sold as part of Office 365 the additional costs for the licenses are negligible and as a result it is not a huge revenue opportunity for channel partners.  But as with all cloud applications, the end user must have high quality bandwidth connections and this is a great margin earner for the channel.  The availability of quality broadband in the UK has improved dramatically in the past 18 months and this is helping the sale of Lync as well as other SaaS applications.

VoIP handsets and other IT hardware are typically needed in a technology refresh and the choice and margin is getting better and better.

As well as moving the client to Lync then other opportunities include selling back up and data centre hosting services.  It is now a lot easier to sell these types of services and there are a number of data centre providers in the UK market who can help you get into this rapidly growing market.

Finally customers are a lot more used to paying for support services on a monthly retainer for these types of solutions. In much the same way end users were comfortable paying for maintenance on their PABX’s and Key Systems, so they are prepared to pay for support for unified communications and other SaaS applications.

There is a huge amount of very good sales and marketing information available from Microsoft on Lync.com and their partner portal so I would strongly recommend that resellers look there first.  The sales accreditation for Lync is only a three hour course on line and pre-sales is 4.5 hours and I would recommend that you take a look at these as well.  It will give you a good insight into the requirements to achieve Microsoft’s Communications Competency.

There are 5 levels of competency within the program so most partners should be able to find a suitable level.  A conversation with the few Service Providers who have successfully completed testing with Lync is also important. This avoids the use of additional hardware such as gateways.

There are two points I would like to conclude on; one for the channel and the other for Microsoft.

For the channel, I believe you must engage as must as you can with Microsoft to learn about Lync and how to sell it.  If you don’t then one of your competitors will be pitching it to your customer.

But I also firmly believe that Microsoft has a duty to engage with the voice channel a lot more than it has done.  The UK reseller channel has been selling very successfully voice solutions into SME customers for a long time but I can’t help feeling that Microsoft have been slow in appreciating this.  I wonder why?

 

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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