AVANT Communications, a Chicago-based master agent that has counted unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) sales as a big part of business over the last 11 years, experienced quarterly year-over-year growth of 125 percent during Q1 2021.
“The growth is not even relatable — that’s a crazy statistic,” said AVANT president and co-founder Drew Lydecker on the meteoric rise of UCaaS over the past year. “In fact, 35 percent of all our UCaaS seats purchased happened in 2020.”
UCaaS, Lydecker said, isn’t just a replacement of a premise-based phone system. Rather, it’s an entirely different way to communicate internally and externally. “It is a tool that can fundamentally change a company. It gives them analytics, visibility, and customer experience. There’s a lot of research that goes into it … and making the right decision has never been more important.”
[RELATED: Cloud Contact Center And UCaaS – Better Together Or Best Of Breed?]
Enter the master agent. These companies represent a portfolio of different vendors and offer trainings to help solution providers close deals. Master agents have been instrumental in driving UCaaS sales by arming partners with the know-how to identify the right provider and the resources to build communication and collaboration solutions that will serve the unique needs of each client.
AVANT has dedicated engineers and solutions architects trained on all providers in its portfolio who can help trusted advisors ask their customers intelligent, challenging questions to get to the bottom of what their environment looks like today and what they’ll want in the future, Lydecker said . AVANT Cloud Academy training is also available to partners, as well as the company’s UCaaS Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Assessment tool. Introduced in November, this ROI calculator lets solution providers quantify hard and soft costs associated with cloud communications solutions versus traditional, premise-based PBX solutions, so that customers know exactly what they’re taking on and can make informed decisions, he said.
Sales growth also “exploded” in 2020 for Sandler Partners, a privately held master agent based in Hermosa Beach, California. Not only did the company see a 45 percent year-over-year increase in UCaaS sales last year, but Sandler also expanded its company in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing on 35 more sales and marketing professionals to support its dramatically growing partner base. The master agent brought on about 1,000 new partners in the last year, said Alan Sandler, founder and managing partner of Sandler Partners.
Sandler has been helping its agent partners close more large, sophisticated UCaaS deals since the start of the pandemic. “Probably 50 percent of [those deals] were from companies that were already on the verge of going to hosted voice, and I think COVID just pushed a lot of that over the edge,” said Eric Beller, senior vice president of sales and complex solutions for Sandler Partners.
Many customers went into “panic mode” at the start of the pandemic and slapped on a Band-Aid by buying quick-fix solutions for their employees to start using right away, master agents say. Now, companies are making longer-term decisions about their collaboration needs and it’s showing, said Mark Morgan, president of Intelisys, a Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent owned by ScanSource.
“Especially with the permanence of remote work and the growth of cloud, partners are including us on more complex solutions,” Morgan said. That’s because businesses are considering their unique communication needs and determining which existing platforms they need to integrate into their collaboration strategy, he said.
“Many customers are either more savvy than they were a year ago, their budgets have changed, or the decision-maker roles have shifted. They are looking at architecting a solution for a hybrid office space – how do they work in the office, from home, or in a flex environment?” Morgan said.
While 2020 was arguably a one-off, an unprecedented year that forced businesses all over the world to make IT purchases they weren’t necessarily expecting to keep their companies up and running and their employees productive, master agents don’t see demand for UCaaS even remotely slowing down.
“We are actually predicting even a larger increase in 2021,” AVANT’s Lydecker said. “We’re already seeing it — the large enterprise deal — the 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and the 100,000 seats deals. It’s already here.”
While UCaaS itself is a massive growth opportunity, Intelisys’ Morgan said the company is urging partners to have contact center as a service, or UC security conversations with their customers and prospects.
“The amount of pull-through business that we’re seeing across complementary technologies has been really impressive,” he said. “Sales partners who ask the right questions and focus on upselling technologies are winning.”
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