Voice4Net: Better Marketing Creates Stickier Deals

As a developer of custom IVR and customer engagement solutions for contact center and communications systems, Voice4Net gets an interesting view of the UC and CC channel. And to hear CEO Rick McFarland tell it, there's a lot more that many solution providers could do to be savvier marketers and more strategic communications partners for their customers.

"We think of ourselves as the custom homebuilders of the telecom industry," McFarland told CRN in a recent interview near its Dallas headquarters. "What we do is very customized, and every deal we go into is different. It makes sense for partners to approach it the same way."

Voice4Net sells 100 percent indirect and can design for systems as small as four ports or as large as several thousand. Its specialties include multimedia contact center, screen pops, IVR, event broadcasting systems and professional voice recording, and it also markets turnkey, industry-specific app packages -- comprised of some of its most frequently used applications -- for insurance, retail, healthcare, real estate, financial services, education, utility, oil and gas, and trucking and logistics.

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It sells primarily through the Mitel and Avaya channels -- it is certified as MSA Gold Preferred and an Avaya DevConnect Technology Partner, respectively -- though also does Cisco, ShoreTel and other communications deployments. Its partnering tiers include agents, which receive commissions but don't handle support or product installation, resellers, which handle customer delivery of Voice4Net solutions along with their other installs, and development partners, who work with Voice4Net on custom development projects and share in both costs and revenue.

Of late, McFarland and his team have been focused on how to drive more value in Voice4Net's channel engagements by helping its VAR partners create stickier deals. It's for that reason Voice4Net created what McFarland called a "dealer automation portal," in which Voice4Net partners can access specific, customized marketing campaigns and customer offerings that go well beyond merely offering vendor marketing collateral with a solution provider logo slapped on it.

Among the benefits are that participating partners receive private logins and Voice4Net material tailored for them and their exact customer engagements, worked on and provided by the Voice4Net team. Voice4Net, for example, will help solution providers design custom webinars for healthcare customers, in which a Voice4Net representative talks up the solution alongside the partner and endorses the partner's approach to delivering it.

"It's not just about marketing the products, it's about building a relationship with the customers so they don't buy from someone else," McFarland said. "Dealers just can't afford to market to a broad base of potential customers. So we want to provide marketing power for them."

NEXT: Voice4Net Compensates Partner Members, Expands Channel

What's more, Voice4Net actually compensates its partners for becoming members of that portal, with the expectation that as they get more involved in the program, they'll "share the load" with Voice4Net on things like development costs and installation, Voice4Net’s McFarland explained.

Voice4Net offers both on-premise and cloud-delivered software. It launched the latter business back in 2008 as a backup and disaster recovery option for customers -- a combination on-premise system with cloud-based backup -- but it was only recently that its cloud solutions really began to take off, McFarland said. Now, customers at least want to embrace virtualization if not always full-blown cloud, and all of Voice4Net's products are completely virtualized and can run atop any major hypervisor.

According to McFarland, the company will continue to focus on expanding its channel and market presence, and it has been gradually building an executive team. It hired former Personal Communications Systems executive Houston Hastings as its vice president, business development, and former Panasonic and Toshiba executive Larry White as its vice president, channel sales, earlier this year.

The move to recurring revenue based streams for many VARs, particularly more traditional voice and data dealers, is still a hard one, McFarland said. That's why it's so important to walk them through making deals stickier, with better commissions and more varied revenue streams, he explained.

"A lot of them like to sell the big hit: they have trucks to roll and mouths to feed," he said. "But as anyone who's sold insurance knows, it's a numbers game, and recurring revenue that's there all the time is so important. Making $50, $500, $1,000 a month on that isn't going make your payroll, but if you can knock down 100 of those, you can then sit back and focus on solutions selling -- take your time with the bigger guys."

McFarland said the other big pain point he hears from dealers is in quota relief. Voice4Net is working closely with some of its more strategic partners to help them sort that out.

"Some of these guys have a $100,000-a-month quota, and they can't possibly make that on a $5,000-a-month cloud deal," he said. "So we see a way to help them devise two businesses and figure out what different compensation structures would work for them to do this. We can help here."