Essential questions for your Hosted Telephony RFP

You have decided to make the move to Hosted Telephony, a smart move. However, you now face the challenge of selecting the right partner to deliver this for you.

Whether you are migrating from premise-based telephony, or looking to upgrade from your existing hosted telephony provider there is one thing for sure, you have an overwhelming amount of choice.

At face value, all of the resellers appear to provide the same thing, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Scratch away the surface and you will find that resellers have all entered this space from different directions, premise-based resellers forced into having a hosted offering, IT companies naturally extending into telephony and network operators looking to add value to lines and minutes.

The origins and DNA of the reseller defines the service they provide. It is therefore key that you perform due diligence in selecting not only the right solution, but the right partner. To this end we thought we would provide a handy framework to help you, in the form of the nine essential questions to be part of your Request for Proposal (RFP).

We’re biased, but don’t stop reading. Judge us on our content. These questions are based on both our experiences and those of our customers. They should help you sort the good from the bad and choose a reseller who is less interested in what they can sell you and more interested in what they can enable you to achieve.

Q1. What percentage of your total revenue comes from Hosted Telephony subscriptions?

This question is more important than it might appear. Traditional on-premise telephony was a capital purchase, resellers made their money from the margins on the up-front sale of telephony equipment. Hosted Telephony has changed this, there is no upfront sale but a longer-term monthly recurring revenue stream.

Making the transition from the ‘sell and drop’ model to an ongoing service delivery is a tough one. If your potential partner has less than half of their turnover from recurring subscriptions, then it is likely that they have not yet been able to make the transition. The chances are they still need to focus on selling equipment to keep their business viable, and it is likely that they are spending too much time and effort supporting legacy systems and not enough time optimising their cloud-based customers.

Selling Cloud-based solutions is different from the old world of on-premise solutions. It not only requires a different business model, but a different way of thinking. When customers have a choice every month, rather than every three years, the dynamic changes beyond recognition – you need a partner that truly gets this.

Q2. Please show evidence of your financial stability.

We would strongly recommend selecting a partner that is 100% focused on the world of cloud and not carrying the baggage of a legacy on-premise business, however, you still need to be cautious as this too has risk.

There are literally hundreds of small start-ups in the UK alone, all reselling a hosted telephony service. Every week these appear, disappear or consolidate. When subscribing to a hosted telephony solution, the long-term financial stability of your provider is more important than it has ever been.

Think of this as more like a marriage than a date. You will be relying on your partner to maintain a robust platform, manage updates, be responsive to service requests and securely manage your data in the cloud. You’ll need them to be there for the long term, and not walk into the office one day to find your service has disappeared as the provider has not paid their bills.

As part of this question you need to understand their historic (3-5 year financial performance), are they profitable or burning cash. Do they have the backing of an investor, what is the term of this investment, i.e. are they relying on venture capital funds or long-term debt that is reaching the end of its term.

This isn’t about buying from the biggest, even the mighty fall, it’s about doing your homework and reducing your exposure to risk.

Q3. Please summarise your understanding of our business priorities and requirements.

It’s just a telephone right? Wrong. It’s the way you communicate with your staff, your suppliers, your prospects and your customers. It’s the heart of your communications strategy and it can do way more than you know.

If your potential partner fails to ask you about your strategy or your business priorities, how can they begin to ensure that the hosted telephony they are proposing is fit for purpose and deliver the outcomes you desire.

By asking a potential partner to play back in their words what your business priorities and solution requirements are, you can quickly understand if they truly understand your business and your needs.

Q4. Please provide three examples of where you have delivered similar solutions to businesses like ours.

References are key, it is the proof that the potential partner has done it before and more importantly delivered value to an organisation similar to yours.

Don’t settle for the two generic showcase customers. Make sure the references match your business profile and requirements as closely as possible. If they don’t initially provide you with relevant examples, ask for a list of references and choose the ones that best fit your needs in terms of business size, solution and complexity. We shouldn’t say it of course, but there’s nothing stopping you calling into their customer and gauging the experience for yourself – you are taking a big step, so look around the corners.

When you get to speak with a customer, be inquisitive, ask them about their implementation experience, the help they got with user adoption and the quality of customer support. Ask them what went wrong, something has bound to, what you are looking to understand is how good the reseller was in responding to this.

Q5. How many projects like this one have you delivered in the past 12 months?

What relevance does this have? Well, if yours is an atypical or infrequent deal for the reseller, how can you be sure that they are adequately invested in the people, infrastructure and technology needed to support your requirements?

If you represent the exception, rather than the norm, the chances are you will be seen as a non-core customer. In this scenario, you will be fighting for potentially under-skilled or under-motivated resource to deliver what you need. Check on scale, product mix, geographical mix – all those factors that you feel make your flavour unique.

Another possibility is that your reseller is using you as an opportunity to open a new market. Fair enough, everyone has to start somewhere. However, there will be an element of risk involved in this and it should be a risk borne by your supplier, not you. If this is the case, you should be looking for compensation in the form of a discount or other incentive. You need a reward for bearing some of the risk.

Q6. Please outline how your Account Managers are measured and rewarded

This ties back to question one, is the potential partner a true ‘service provider’ or a ‘reseller’. The first indicator of this is the role of the Account Manager, are they a sales person with a fancy title or, are they managing ongoing relationships with their success being intrinsically linked to their customers’ ongoing satisfaction.

Ask questions about ongoing relationship, does your account manager disappear when the deal is signed or do they continue to manage you as a customer? What is their customer lifecycle management process and what focus, other than words, do they have on your success?

In today’s world, when purchasing a service, you should expect regular contact with your account manager; enabling you to continually evolve your solution, align it to your needs and ensure you are making the most of your investment. This will only happen if your account manager is missioned and incentivised to do this.

Q7. Please provide results of your latest customer satisfaction survey.

When signing up to a hosted service, the provider’s track record on customer satisfaction is critical. It is not sufficient to be told that they get a score of 9 out of 10 when closing support tickets, you need to know that their customers are satisfied with their service delivery 365 days a year.

Ask to see the results of their last customer survey; if they have anything to hide then this will most certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons!

The results of the survey will give you an indication of how well this potential partner performs, but more importantly, you need to understand the process behind the survey, this will tell you how serious they take customer satisfaction. Do they have a formal process? Do they use Net Promotor score? What is the frequency of surveys? Is it independent? Are leaders and people incentivised on the results? How does it influence change and continual improvement plans?

Q8.Do you have more than one solution we should consider? if so, please specify.

If the reseller offers every possible solution available on the market it would be right to consider them a ‘jack of all trades’ and it would be hard to see how they could have the in-depth expertise in each of these. However, if they are tied to a single vendor, a model which has traditionally given resellers economies of scale, then your choice could be compromised.

Modern organisations have a broad set of requirements for unified communications and collaboration. As such, it is unlikely that a single solution will provide the best capabilities in every area. So your reseller should be in a position to offer a choice of vendor technologies within each category (i.e. unified communications, conferencing, video, etc.) and have the experience to seamlessly integrate them to provide the best overall solution.

Caution here is strongly recommended, whereas many resellers claim to be vendor neutral, it is not just about how many products they have in their portfolio, it is about their competence of delivering on these. Ask the difficult questions and uncover where they have a one-size-fits-all solution and where they have successfully deployed and supported a multi-vendor solution.

Q9. What proportion of business do you represent for each of your technology partners?

Although the last of our nine essential questions, it is still very important – does your potential partner have a seat at the right table? It is likely that the potential partners you are looking at sell someone else’s technology. You may gain a strong service ‘wrap’ but are you losing direct access to the actual technology provider.

The relative importance of your potential reseller to its technology provider will directly reflect on your relative importance too. If your reseller is not in the top 10-20 resellers for their chosen technology they may struggle to get mind-share at the top table. The more relevant and important your reseller, the more influence they can exert. This not only ensures any support issues that need escalating get the attention they deserve, but also means you have a voice in shaping future technology roadmaps.

This is a careful balance, select the biggest reseller, and your relevance across their customers may be small, select the smallest reseller and whilst you may be their biggest customer, they carry no weight with their vendor.

How do we know these are the right questions to ask?

Because these are the ones we have been asked by some of our more demanding and insightful customers. They’re also the ones we ask ourselves.

As early adopters of cloud communications, we have been providing hosted telephony for over ten years. In that time, we have seen the market evolve in line with more demanding customer requirements. Customers who have a choice every month when they pay their subscription tend to have higher standards and we are continuously rising to meet them. That’s a good thing.

Your choice of technology is important, but so too is your choice of partner. As businesses move away from a one-time, up-front investment in technology to an as-a-service model, the long-term relationship between customer and supplier becomes increasingly relevant.

If you want to quiz us on Hosted Telephony, Unified Comms & Collaboration applications, or even ask us these questions, then we would love to hear from you.

You can contact the IP Solutions team on 0800 440 2642.

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