Comms Business Magazine talks to Roy Stephenson, SIP Brand Manager at distributor at Trust, about SIP phones, how to differentiate when you can have a SIP client on your smartphone and what to look for in a supplier.
Trust Distribution has recently been appointed by VTech as distributor for their range of SIP phones which have been introduced to the UK this month. SIP Brand Manager at Trust Roy Stephenson has been involved in the SIP market for some time and is very excited about the new opportunity his company has for channel resellers.
The SIP phone market is very crowded – what is special about the VTech product range?
To be honest, I don’t think that our industry is over-supplied by any means. While there are now several established brands in the SIP handset space, the market has experienced rapid growth for a few years now, and is set to do so for several years to come before a saturation point even gets close. For this reason, I am confident that there is still plenty of room for a credible new entrant.
Due to its specialism in OEM manufacturing, VTech’s size in the telecoms industry has effectively been a ‘well-kept secret’, at least in the UK. Who knew that they are the world’s largest cordless phone manufacturer? But of course, with that scale comes a wealth of experience in product design, development and manufacturing, all in-house too. The VTech name is heavily linked with telephones in the USA where the ErisTerminals are already available and I can tell you that their commitment to become one of the major players in SIP phones is deadly serious and long-term.
VTech’s heritage and skills shine through in the ErisTerminal range’s obvious high quality of build, and in some rather interesting features such as the mid-range VSP725A and high-end VSP735A’s embedded DECT module. This enables both a DECT cordless handset and headset to be twinned with the phone so that users can leave their desk and yet remain in touch with their work.
Aside from this, VTech’s scale as a manufacturer and the fact that they own all their own production facilities mean that costs can be kept to a minimum, and selling prices can be especially competitive.
What are the top three features resellers should look for in selecting SIP phones for their customers?
Resellers want to keep costs low and customer satisfaction high. From the end users’ point of view, the handset on the desk is the main way in which they judge the service their supplier is giving them. So when choosing a phone, firstly the reseller should consider its build quality; if the phone looks and feels well-made, then users’ perception of their whole telecom service are immediately raised. Secondly, resellers need to work with products that they can learn and understand quickly. With a simple and logical interface, support for many different methods of provisioning and a handy software configuration tool, installers can quickly get to grips with VTech phones and thus minimise the amount of time and expense spent on staff training. Finally, resellers need to know that they can make a fair, realistic level of profit on the solutions they provide – enough to justify the fact that they are delivering a true service to their customers, with advice, training and on-going support.
What are the stand out attributes resellers should be looking for from a SIP phone distributor?
Naturally, we all prefer to do business with people that we get on well with and have total faith in. It’s definitely easier to work closely with a distributor who only works channel customers as there can be a much closer level of cooperation, untroubled by concerns about conflicts of interest that may stem from sharing information with a distributor who may also be targeting the same customers as the reseller. Beyond that installers also want to know that their distributor can offer a great level of advice, training and support in a spirit of honesty and proactivity.
Resellers should, and do, expect the logistics side of distribution to work like clockwork every time. Here at Trust, as we approach our 10th birthday with strong year-on-year growth, we have the experience to make sure that stock is available, and orders are processed and dispatched with the utmost efficiency. Beyond that though, many installers who work with SIP phones want to automate the provisioning process, so that they can simply ship phones to the customer and take care of the configuration remotely. In these cases, distributors need to be able to ensure that the phones they ship can be directed to installers’ provisioning servers and to pass on the serial numbers and MAC addresses to their customers as early as possible.
How relevant do you believe SIP desk phones are for business when compared to having a mobile SIP client on your cell phone?
I have now spent six years selling SIP desk phones and in the early days I was initially concerned that smartphone apps were a threat. However, my experience and the market’s growth figures demonstrate that this is not the case. Softphones absolutely do have a place, and there are some excellent ones available. Having said that, customers prefer the dependability of a dedicated piece of hardware on their desk that is designed for the job and available at all times; the more important the phone is to a customer, the more they see things this way.
What’s more, desk phones allow you to hold the phone to your ear while pressing buttons on the phone base. Have you tried putting callers on hold while looking up a colleague’s number, or transferring a call, using a softphone?
Speaking personally, I find a desk phone’s handset far more comfortable to hold, delivers better audio and doesn’t get as hot against my ear as my mobile phone does on long calls! In summary, softphones can be a great addition to, rather than a replacement for, the good old desk phone.
How important is warranty on SIP phones for resellers and their customers?
The most important point with regard to warranty is that it is best if the phone doesn’t go wrong in the first place! I’m delighted with the reliability of the ErisTerminal range and this is hugely beneficial to installers because every failure leads to an unhappy customer and takes time and effort to put right. However, we all know that a small number of phones will go wrong. With their three-year warranty, resellers can choose VTech SIP phones as part of a long-term hosted contract, or as part of a leased PBX installation, and can remain confident that the profit they earn at the time of sale won’t be eaten away by paying to replace dead phones.
Can resellers make good, on-going margins on VTech SIP phones?
In a word, yes! I’ve seen how products can become commoditised quickly, as the suppliers who provide the least amount of service can afford to live on the lowest margins and ultimately set prices below a level where those companies who want to use a handset as part of a solution that they install, support and maintain, simply have no room to participate in the supply of the handset on the desk.
Obviously, looking at things from the point of view of a buyer, no-one wants to pay more for their phones than they have to. However, I think everyone accepts and understands that if they are buying not just a box with a product inside it, but also the backing that comes with it to make sure that are kept happy, then that service also has a value. We want to be the service providers’ and installers’ friend, especially those who make a strong commitment to us, and we are going to ensure that selling VTech SIP phones is a profitable choice.
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