The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist

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1 Subtitle The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Everything You Need to Consider Before Deployment The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

2 Contents Importance of a Business Phone System...3 A Phone System is a Long-Term Investment...3 Defining the Scope...4 What are the events triggering the decision to buy the phone system?...4 What are the specific requirements of the business?...4 What are the premium features the business needs?...5 What are the possible calling patterns for your business?...6 Vendor Shortlisting...6 Which vendors fit your chosen operation model?...6 Which vendors respect the budget?...7 Which vendors service the same industry?...7 What are the general contractual terms of the vendors?...7 What are the training and support provided by the vendors?...8 Pre-Deployment Considerations...8 Will the present infrastructure support the new system?...8 What are the possible software updates needed?...9 Conclusion References The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

3 Importance of a Business Phone System According to B2B lead generation expert Norman Campbell, it takes between 4 and 9 calls to yield a single viable B2B lead! Why is this statistic important? Because it simply brings into perspective the volume of calls, even a small business needs to place to thrive and operate successfully. For both B2B and B2C ventures, producing a list of prospective buyers is only a small part of the story. Voice communication is still the king and when it comes to tackling customer issues and keeping picky buyers and inquisitive leads satisfied. Even though most of the global market has realized the importance of dedicated phone systems or Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs), it is worth the time to reiterate their advantages over legacy phone systems without business oriented features. With a dedicated phone system, employees share a common platform: they can transfer calls to their colleagues and even to the management without ever leaving their desk. This improves productivity and concentration, cutting down idle chit-chat by up to 42%. PBXs cut down communication costs: the right platforms have all the tools needed to monitor call performance, identify and remedy unproductive call patterns and even restrict the number of long distance and international calls, making up for the initial investment in terms of a healthy ROI. Last but not the least, PBXs offer growing businesses a wide range of advanced features, which discussed in subsequent sections. Moreover, with VoIP PBX, scaling a business is just a matter of purchasing additional connections from the vendor. A Phone System is a Long-Term Investment There is a large number of business phone systems on the market today. Traditional PBXs continue to rule large established organizations, but for small and medium businesses the playing field is scattered with varied solutions and often confusing terms like VoIP, cloud-based, hybrid and hosted. It is extremely important that companies spend a lot of time to investigate the potential options and deliberate over the right questions to ask, in order to shortlist the best vendors and platforms. In average, businesses change phone systems only once every seven years! So it is a long-term investment and because of the interactive nature of today s businesses, one that is fundamental to the operational strategy of the company. This asset presents the important factors to consider before choosing a vendor and commencing deployment. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

4 Defining the Scope Before diving into specific categories, buyers must understand the reasons why the company is looking into deploying a new phone system (or upgrading to a better system) and the specific requirements of the business. Proper planning and selection is impossible without identifying these factors. What are the events triggering the decision to buy the phone system? These events, which force companies to consider new installations, are generally called Business Drivers. It is important to consider the why behind a long-term investment like a phone system so that down the line, the ROI expectations are within reason. Some common business drivers are: Operational Needs: Adding an office, shifting to a new building, recruiting new employees, these are all operational needs, materializing as a consequence of business activities. Under such circumstances a new phone system may not necessarily be more sophisticated or feature-rich. It simply needs to be the ideal solution to the issues arising from the operational needs. For example, if a company expands rapidly from 100 to 1,000 sales reps, the most logical choice is a hosted VoIP PBX. This PBX is not an improvement in terms of features over the legacy PBX, but it is definitely more scalable, addressing imminent issues. Technological Advancements: Sometimes a legacy system is no longer a viable choice because of technological advancements, as vendors may withdraw support for certain obsolete models. Under such circumstances, it is very important to ensure that the new system has all the latest features to give the company the needed competitive edge and also the robustness to remain adequate for at least 5 years. For example a business that is rapidly expanding to newer markets may require many new features, like find me, follow me and the auto-attendant to competently handle larger call volumes and encourage shorter resolution times. Once the triggering event is clearly defined, the whole approach of the buyer changes. Evaluating a solution becomes either finding the best fit or focusing on specific features. Each approach further shapes cost, timeline and deployment project constraints. What are the specific requirements of the business? Every business has specific requirements and improvements it expects out of a new phone system. If the previous consideration has been properly investigated, by now prospective buyers should either have specific desirable features or the details of the kind of solution needed to address pressing issues. The next step entails understanding employee needs and asking the right questions. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

5 It is a good practice to hold small focus group conversations with business employees who will use the phone system on a regular basis, especially if the triggering event is a technological advancement. If the cornerstone of a business is nurturing repeat clients, a phone system with easy integration to CRM is the right choice. However if the company in question thrives from new sales, it may be a better to choose the group hunt feature that allows an incoming call to ping several connections simultaneously to find the first available representative. If the triggering event is more tactical or strategic in nature, a focus group with the management is needed. This meeting should yield answers to questions like: - Where will the business be 10 years from now? - What is the expected ROI from the new phone system? - What are the constraints the phone system has to work with (unreliable internet connection at the new location, poor structure of the building rendering it unfit for an onpremises PBX, and so on)? Checking this item off means the business has a final list of required features and specifications, which it can then tally with the features and specs of shortlisted vendors in order to make an informed choice. Do not skip this step because 80% of companies end up paying for provisions they never use! What are the premium features the business needs? This is a relatively new addition to the phone buyers checklist. With new vendors emerging all over the market, innovation is the name of the game. Identifying the basic system features is rarely enough. These essential features are recommended by employees and other business stakeholders, who may not even be aware of the latest, cutting edge value-add features available for deployment. Businesses may call in communication technology consultants and specialists to evaluate the features list and identify premium additions that benefit the company. According to Charter Business, the most popularly leveraged advanced features are: Unified Communications (UC) or the ability to transcend VoIP and knit instant messaging, video conferencing, mobility and collaboration capabilities seamlessly. Selective Forwarding or the ability to forward incoming calls to different nodes depending on the schedule of the representatives and the identity of the caller. Imagine the ease with which a customer rep can forward the call of an irate customer to the manager for pacification without needlessly prolonging the process by attending the call first. Auto Callback or the ability to continuously call a busy number without redialing. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

6 Voic and Fax to which is revolutionizing not only communication but also project management by allowing all resources pertaining to a particular client to reside in one virtual location. Auto-Attendant which is the most dominant call center trend of 2015, in line with the growing popularity of effective self-service. What are the possible calling patterns for your business? This is a specific consideration which may seem like a later-stage item. But it is necessary to identify the business s calling patterns and trends before shortlisting vendors. If the business is global, it is reasonable to assume a large number of international calls will be made. Local businesses are more reliant on short distance voice conversations. Not only do different vendors have different call charge plans, the whole operation model of the phone system may also be influenced by calling patterns. In the absence of other unfavorable factors, a business may very well shift to VoIP considering the long term savings on international calls! Vendor Shortlisting More than final vendor selection, the shortlisting process is critical. The final selection can take place only after the pre-deployment factors have also been considered. Vendor shortlisting involves scrutinizing the features provided by the vendor, the budget balance and past vendor performance. Which vendors fit your chosen operation model? Generally the business drivers dictate the operation model. This has already been discussed in some detail in the previous section. Buyers presently have three operation models to choose from: On-Premises PBXs: These exchanges run on servers installed directly on premise. On-Premises PBXs are very robust and are fully controlled by the in-house IT team. Businesses regularly dealing with sensitive information might opt for this option. VoIP PBXs These exchanges leverage Voice over Internet Protocol to not only offer streaming multimedia and file transfer, but also reduced call costs. They are perfect for modern businesses in competitive mode. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

7 Hosted or In-Cloud PBXs These exchanges do not reside on the premise of the business in question. They are maintained (hosted) by the vendor either at a remote location or in the cloud. Ideal for small to medium sized agile businesses opening up offices in new markets. Which vendors respect the budget? The deployment budget is a very important constraint. It is generally non-negotiable and to a large extent, vendor shortlisting is governed by the budget. The ideal case scenario is finding at least two vendors which provide all the essential and premium features within the stipulated budget. However that may not be the reality. Extensive studies have shown that when faced with out-of-budget options, it is better to let go of some premium or advanced features rather than entice management to increase the budget. It later helps justify the ROI. Which vendors service the same industry? Due to rising competitiveness, businesses must perform to the best of their abilities every single day. Cutting some slack is no longer an option. As with CRMs and ERPs, phone systems also change subtly from niche to niche and industry to industry. Hence in order to ensure the perfect fit, it is important to ask your potential list of candidates to: Provide references you can connect with for corroboration and clarification Elaborate upon their experience serving your industry Provide the specifications of the models being used by your competitors. There may be confidentiality issues around this, but it is your job to ask. If the vendor can t provide this information, either the product doesn t lend itself well to the unique demands of your niche or the performance track record of the vendor is questionable. Most prospects stop at the budget fit! It is important to go one step further and assure an industry fit as well. What are the general contractual terms of the vendors? Simply finding a good potential vendor within the stipulated budget is not the end of the investigation. Most vendors have certain terms and conditions in their policies which are unique to them. It is a good practice to look into these as well. Some areas of consideration include, but are not restricted to: Cancellation and Return policies Upgrade policies Provisions in the instance of discontinuing a particular product Licensing per user (especially for hosted or cloud-based solutions) The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

8 Tricky upgrade policies may require buyers to pay extra every time an upgrade is introduced. Licensing issues are extremely complicated. This is why Microsoft advocates using the services of a licensing consultant before purchasing their enterprise products. Also be on the lookout for hidden costs. What are the training and support provided by the vendors? Training and support are two fundamental factors in favor of or against a particular vendor. Most of the US based workforce still comprises of baby boomers followed by the Millennials. These generations are not born into technology and hence may face problems using very sophisticated phone systems. When the products being considered are industry standards, then many 3 rd party providers offer training sessions to improve adoption upon roll out. However for smaller vendors, this service has to be offered by the party itself or the in-house IT team may be left grappling with the responsibility of user orientation. Support is required both during deployment and after it. Fonality is a vendor that proudly provides managed services where account managers assist buyers with the implementation of the phone system. Shortlisted vendors must have dedicated Help Desks, call back within 24 hours and active and chat support to be even considered as an option. Pre-Deployment Considerations Some businesses prefer selecting a vendor and then proceeding to the pre-deployment considerations. This is a big mistake. The pre-deployment assessment generally ends up changing (sometimes considerably) the definition of the support required from the vendor to set the project rolling. We in fact recommend an iterative approach wherein prospects must check off the items from this section and revisit the vendor shortlisting to make required alterations and updates. Will the present infrastructure support the new system? This is an obvious consideration but one that is not investigated properly. Prospective buyers should start out by evaluating: The hardware present in the office. If a legacy system is being replaced with a VoIP, then IP phones (or nodes) are required. Depending upon the features list this may be a major chunk of the stipulated budget. Good quality IP phones can cost as much as $100 per node. On the other hand, migration to a hosted solution may eliminate the need of phones in the first place and shift the focus to reliable internet availability. It is smart to have an alternative planned for downtime like an additional back-up broadband service from another provider. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

9 The nodes, connectors and the wiring. This is particularly important if a new on-premises system is being installed in an old building. Many companies have discovered faulty and potentially dangerous wiring during phone system deployments. This is an expensive and time consuming delay which needs to be contended with before the actual implementation begins. Software also has an important hand to play but that is tackled in the next item. This review must be documented and the changes needed tackled beforehand to ensure smooth deployment of the new phone system. In rare cases the existing infrastructure may not be able to support the platform choice. In such cases, it is back to the drawing board for the IT team and the management to reach a compromise. What are the possible software updates needed? Most businesses these days have a CRM, a marketing automation platform and an ERP in place. To provide leads and prospects with a positive experience, it is imperative to integrate CRMs, ERPs and phone systems (including contact centers) together. The platform being purchased should ideally connect to existing databases and systems via APIs. If not, then custom connectors may be required which have to be coded from scratch. If the phone system is more important and maintenance intensive (like an on-premises model), then it may be a good idea to swap CRM or Marketing Automation vendors in favor of ones which do have available APIs to take advantage of. The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

10 Conclusion This list is a comprehensive look at important factors to be considered before purchasing a phone system. Prospective buyers should chose a vendor only after ticking each item off the list and then proceed with the final round of negotiations. The right phone system is an asset which not only yields good returns but also boosts productivity and collaboration which are the intangible assets of a team. References ShoreTel Sky, Phone System Buyers Guide, Accessed on 12/2/2014 Fonality, Phone System Buying Guide, Accessed on 12/2/2014 The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist, The Modern Company, Accessed on 12/2/2014 Phone System Checklist, Telephone Systems UK, Accessed on 12/2/2014 Seven Tips to Choose the Right Business Phone System, ShoreTel, Accessed on 12/2/2014 Phone_System.html/ The Advantages of a Telephone System in Small Business, Chron, Accessed on 12/2/2014 Charter Business Phone Systems, Charter Business, Accessed on 12/2/2014 https://www.charterbusiness.com/content/charter-business-phone The Ultimate Phone System Buyer s Checklist Compare Business Products

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