Skype continues is foray into the business arena, this time with a channel program that aims to leverage the relationships SMBs have with their trusted technology advisers.A few days ago, the company unveiled its U.S. partner initiative, under which solution providers will get training, sales and marketing collateral, account management services, and customer tracking tools from Skype. "We don't have any target numbers; we're just looking for the right types of partners," says Ian Robin, director of sales and commercial development for the vendor. "The ideal partner is one that does installation, configuration, customization, integration, and ongoing maintenance of technology for the customer -- one that can wrap additional services around our products." Skype has recruited 20 such partners to date and plans to enlist solution providers in every city and state across the country.
The channel program dovetails with Skype's latest offerings to business customers. Last month, the vendor released Skype Connect Gold, an updated version of Skype Connect, which allows companies to tie in Skype with their IP-enabled PBX or Unified Communications (UC) systems. In May, Skype took the wraps off of Skype Manager, a web-based management tool businesses can use to manage Skype centrally. With the product, administrators can create Skype accounts for employees, manage balances, assign features such as call forwarding to specific individuals within their organization, and monitor Skype usage in real time. A free trial of Skype Manager is available through the end of October.
Robin says that, although Skype products can be used by businesses of any size, they're especially aligned with SMBs, which often have limited budgets and are willing to test out different things. He said Skype helps them do more with less.
VAR opportunities in the telephony space are myriad, Robin says, especially in the videoconferencing arena, where many small businesses are looking for viable solutions. One growing trend is the use of videoconferencing for interviewing job candidates. Here's a chance for specialized VARs to come in and deploy an end-to-end solution -- from mounting the projector and setting up the workstation to optimizing the acoustics and getting the customer up and running with Skype and any other software they may need. Another application that's gaining popularity is the "click and call" button on the contact page of company websites. Solution providers can help customers connect Skype to their phone systems for efficient, affordable customer service.
"We needed an effective delivery mechanism for our business products," says Robin. "We're limited, because we're not local to each and every customer. With our partner program, businesses can turn to their trusted advisers for the telephony solutions they need."