Talkswitch is relying on the reseller channel to bring its telephony solutions to the small business market

Making even the smallest of businesses look like a big player is the focus behind the solutions offered by TalkSwitch, an Ottawa-based telephony vendor that could give Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) a run for its money in the “S” of the SMB market.

The company got its start in 1990 as Centrepoint Technologies and begin as a PBX vendor, focusing on the largely overlooked small business market. It rebuilt its offerings from the ground-up though in 2000 to launch TalkSwitch, a feature-rich phone system for small businesses designed to scale as the business grows.

Kim Dixon, vice-president marketing for TalkSwitch, said TalkSwitch is a phone system designed to function as essentially a PBX for an SMB, offering features such as auto attendant, voicemail, extensions, and offsite connections. The software allows it to work with traditional analog as well as VoIP phones, and scales up to 64 users per location.

“It is your phone system,” said Dixon. “When small businesses want to save money, look professional and connect everywhere they want to, they should have a good business phone system and that’s what TalkSwitch does.”

The TalkSwitch systems start at $795 for the low-end system, moving up to $2175 for the high-end system as the need for seats increases. In addition to the base system, TalkSwitch also offers a line or cordless, analog and IP phones, as well as accessories such as advanced software to manage an attendant console from a PC, or a sophisticated call reporting package.

“All the key features you would want in a phone system are included in there,” said Dixon. “It’s easy to use and affordable, can be installed and maintained by the owner, and it has all the key features someone would need.”

TalkSwitch supports both IP as well as traditional telephony, and Dixon said while traditional telephony remains popular in the SMB segment for very good reasons, as businesses begin to grow and invest in infrastructure she’s seeing a migration over time towards IP.

“VoIP offers cost savings and flexibility based on the kind of business you run, the calls you make and where you make them,” said Dixon. “The small business customer is looking to what do I need today, and for the future, and how cam I optimize my systems to get the features I need at a cost I can afford.

Most of TalkSwitch’s business goes through its channel of reseller partners, said Dixon, which numbers some 1500 North American partners, of which at least 400 are Canadian. The company does do some direct sales, but she said the bulk of inbound leads are referred to channel partners.

“The small business market is a very fragmented channel,” said Dixon. “So we do take calls that come in and if they’re interested we always offer them to a reseller first. We have a fairly substantial lead program for our partners.”

The company’s channel base has increased substantially over the past two years as it moved to a two-tier distribution model, working in Canada with Groupe Imeco, D&H Canada, White Radio and Crossover Distribution.

“We’d launched a new hardware platform and a new line of IP phones, so we had a nice portfolio and enough success and recognition in the market that (distribution) was the next step to being able to reach more and make sure the channel had good choices,” said Dixon. “If a channel partner is buying multiple products through a distributor its more efficient and effective for everybody.”

The vendor has a three-tiered partner program, with authorized, gold and platinum levels. To begin at the authorized level, certain base criteria around selling IP telephony products must be met and a not for resale system must be purchased. Authorized partners get access to a secure partner portal with sales and marketing tools, selling tools, and access to “revenue boosters” or special targeted promos to help them boost margin on target product sales. In-house account support and toll-free technical support are also available.

While TalkSwitch does offer training and education, Dixon said moving up to the Gold and Platinum levels is based primarily on volume. Gold partners need to drive $125,000 in business annually, while $375,000 is required at the Platinum level.

Gold partners get enhanced support, access to a more extensive lead referral program, and access to increased marketing support, including an in-house marketing team that will custom-design materials for partners. A dedicated account manager is also offered, as well as enhanced discounts. At the platinum level, the volume discounts are enhanced further.

Dixon said TalkSwitch is working with its distribution partners to strengthen its reseller base in major cities across Canada, targeting partners from service providers such as Bell Canada to smaller computer consultants and telephony resellers.

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