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Targeting The "S" in "SMB"

By Greg Galitzine, Internet Telephony Magazine


Truly small businesses � those with fewer than 20 employees � have traditionally been given short shrift when it comes to telecommunications. Certainly there is no shortage of VoIP options for companies that employ dozens or hundreds of people; premises-based solutions as well as a variety of hosted VoIP solutions are on the menu for the more �medium-sized� of the small to medium business (SMB) set. But, what about smaller SMBs? To whom can they turn in order to embrace the features and benefits promised by VoIP?

According to Jeff Wilson at InStat, the small end of the SMB market is quite a large group, comprising nearly 11 million firms with fewer than 20 employees doing business in the U.S. That�s a fairly large opportunity for telecommunications service providers with the right mix of technology, price, and customer service.

Well, Covad is looking toward a brand-new VoIP solution, which targets the underserved market of businesses with between five and twenty employees. These businesses are familiar with VoIP, but, in many cases, they don�t have the resources or expertise to manage a complex phone system, and so, they are demanding a simpler product.

�With the continued expansion of Covad�s VoIP portfolio, they are offering a full product package for the entire spectrum of the small business market � regardless of size and technology needs,� said William Stofega, Research Manager, VoIP Services, IDC.

Covad aims to offer a new solution that features many of the services available to larger companies, but at a fraction of the cost, enabling even small businesses to have a professional looking, high-quality communications system. Just because a company is small doesn�t mean they can�t project a big-company image to the outside world.

For example, small businesses can take advantage of automated call answering and routing when customers call in. Or, they can raise the level of customer service by utilizing so-called �hunt groups� that automatically distribute incoming calls to an available person when the caller reaches a busy or unavailable extension.

Some of the other standard features Covad includes in its business VoIP offerings are:

� Local and domestic long distance calling

� Voicemail

� Three-way conference calling

� Call forwarding (using *72)

� Call waiting with Caller ID

� Speed dial

� Four-digit dialing within the office

� 911 emergency service*

� Do not disturb

� Call waiting

� 411 directory service

� Call back

Furthermore, Covad wants to make managing the phone system a simple task, well within the technical capabilities of most people. Let�s face it, a small business owner needs to focus on its core business, and hiring someone specifically to manage the phone system is a luxury for larger enterprises. Managing and customizing the features of Covad VoIP offerings is as simple as pointing and clicking a mouse in the familiar environment of a standard Web browser.

Small businesses are often extremely cost conscious as well. They don�t necessarily have the resources to spend on hiring a full-time employee to manage their communications system. Yet, they have a need to maintain a professional appearance. They might not want (or be able) to invest in high-tech VoIP phones or a full-blown hosted VoIP solution, but small businesses still demand and deserve a high-quality communications solution. It�s a challenge faced by small business owners everywhere: how to get professional quality service while keeping costs down to near consumer levels.

Of course, savvy business owners are willing to pay a bit more than the average consumer to reap the benefits of a professional offering, such as:

� Professional installation;

� A single bill for a bundled service;

� A wealth of productivity features;

� No need to hire, train, and keep IT personnel on staff;

� A stable system from a reputable vendor; and

� A single point of contact on the off chance that problems arise.

When small businesses consider the separate costs for services, such as local and long distance calling, broadband Internet access, e-mail, hosting, an so on, it makes great sense to consider an offering from a service provider that can deliver all of these disparate services � integrated with a communications package � for one price, on one bill. Remember, if the company offering these services provides them over its own managed network, then concerns about the quality of service are lessened.

Today�s small business owner faces many of the same challenges that have plagued entrepreneurs for ages. �Am I in the right location?� �Is my marketing properly targeted at my key customers?� �Am I covering all my financial bases?� �What about taxes?� �What about health insurance?�

But the good news is that they have more options than their predecessors ever dreamed of when it comes to telecommunications. Today, small business owners can feel content that the service is sized, priced, and created with them in mind. IT

* E911 service will not be available if there is a power failure, a disruption in the broadband line, or a malfunction of the broadband router. Covad strongly recommends that you maintain an alternative method of calling emergency services at all times.

Greg Galitzine is Group Editorial Director for TMC�s IP Communications group of publications, including Internet Telephony, IMS, and SIP magazines.

Covad and the Covad logo are registered trademarks of Covad Communications Group, Inc.

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