When Closing the Deal Opens a New World of Possibility: Accelerating the Cloud Experience for Customers

CISCO

If it isn't broke, don't fix it, right? As an IT provider, Ionize knows what technology works, and when we've found something that makes customers happy, we want to replicate that success. But sometimes, a new solution comes along that shakes everything up for the better.


In our case, the big shakeup started with a car dealership in South London.

Without Our Go-to Solution, We Risked Losing a Client

I founded Ionize in 2018, and many of our existing clients are long-term partners from a previous business I founded in 2007. Ionize provides general IT services, typically catering to small businesses with less than 50 employees. We understand what small businesses need because we are a small business: a team of 11 people, with myself as the Managing Director. 

IT providers want to replicate past successes. But sometimes, a new solution comes along that shakes everything up for the better.


The London car dealership is one of our long-term clients. At the time, they were working across multiple sites and had terrible connectivity issues. Introducing them to Cisco routing and switching solutions solved their connectivity problems. But their phone system was an Avaya-based system and had always been managed by a third party. The existing Avaya solution was an ISDN, fixed location, and on-prem—about as traditional as PBXs get. 


The pandemic significantly disrupted the automotive industry, and chip shortages led to a lack of availability of vehicles. Our client decided to transition from being a single-brand dealer to a multi-brand dealer. To do that, they needed to expand to another site. These days, you don't put ISDN lines into a site. It's all done using VoIP technology, and we saw an opportunity to upgrade their systems from their traditional PBX setup to VoIP.  


We planned to approach the opportunity with Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express, a router solution that we could connect to the other site. We performed our first Unified Communications Manager Express implementation in 2009, and it has been our go-to solution ever since. But we ran into the same issue as our client: chip shortages meant we couldn't get the routers.

  

We needed to understand the unique value we could offer the customer without our go-to solution, and so this became an opportunity to explore and suggest a new, more modern option. 

A Modern Calling Solution

We'd been having a conversation about another client with Cisco's Contact Center team, and they asked if we'd thought about Webex Calling. We hadn't—primarily because we assumed it was just an add-on to Webex Meetings. But it was just what we needed.


Calling offered the PBX-like experience our clients want, with a rich feature set that we couldn't previously deliver. Users could take advantage of voicemail and things like call recording, which was complicated to provide before. With Calling, features like auto attendants are standard and easy to configure. What was initially suggested as a way to circumvent the chip shortage turned into a viable solution in its own right. 


But we faced a barrier: We had to undergo training to become certified to sell Webex Calling, and the customer was up against a hard deadline. They were going live in their new premises in just a few days and needed the solution by then. Going through a new certification process and getting a new product ordered in time seemed like it might be impossible. 

A Valuable Training Experience and Rapid Implementation

I have to admit, I dread training. There are plenty of solutions that allow anyone to sign up and start using right away, and training is often unnecessary. This training, however, was straightforward and worthwhile. It gave my team the confidence and the ability to deliver a quality experience. We completed the training and received certification within 48 hours, placed the order for the client, and within 24 hours of our order, received the provisioning email.  

  

That rapid turnaround enabled us to deliver what the customer needed in their required time frame. On the day the client moved into their new premises, we plugged in a handset and they made their first phone call right there and then. They were absolutely knocked over by the high-quality features such as call recording, voicemail, auto attendant, and call queuing. These are enterprise features offered as standard in Webex that are missing from so many on-premises solutions. 


The client was floored that we delivered everything they wanted so quickly. We had exceeded their expectations, and that's always our goal.  

Giving the Client More for Less

The deployment led to wins all around. Our client cut their telephony bill in half while receiving a better product. It's been great for Ionize, too. Previously, only two people knew enough to deploy a PBX on-prem. We've diversified our technical knowledge, and our entire team can sell, administer, and deal directly with customer requirements. Instead of serving a couple of customers a week, we can now serve several customers in one morning and get a better outcome. Calling has cleared a bottleneck, creating a more scalable model for us as a small IT business. 

Diversifying technical knowledge can create a more scalable model for an IT provider.


There are other business benefits too. Many of our clients with on-prem PBX systems are happy with what they have, and it's tough for us to convince small businesses to upgrade anything. It's not enough to tell them that not upgrading presents a security risk. They prefer to wait for a system to break first—but Cisco on-prem systems don't break. The systems are time-consuming to manage, and we didn't have any additional revenue from the initial sale.


With Calling, we improve a customer's security by removing systems that are end-of-life. We can sell clients additional features and offer them a competitive subscription model. The on-prem PBX systems are connected to SIP providers that charge a flat fee per line or per month. By implementing Calling, Cisco becomes the SIP provider. Our customers don't pay any more money, but Cisco's subscription model creates more sustainable profitability for our business.

Deeper Engagement with an Existing Partner

This experience has changed our relationship with Cisco. Prior, we operated in almost complete isolation. We would buy a Cisco solution and then implement it for the customer. Rarely would we need to use Cisco support.


However, during this process, we engaged with Cisco's various teams and tools. It can be daunting for a small business like ours to navigate a big enterprise like Cisco. But throughout our journey, Cisco demonstrated their willingness to collaborate and bring in more people. We may be small, but Cisco saw the potential for future deals. Seeing the complete Cisco team in action and working for our best interests changed my perception of Cisco as a partner.


This support has emboldened us to think about even more business opportunities. For example, we learned that every partner has access to Cisco's NFR program. That enabled us to start thinking about doing webinars and other new endeavours. It even led to a deal with our largest client, who just got Webex Meetings and Calling for 400 users.

The Cloud Delivers the Experience Clients Want

It might sound bizzare, but many of our clients still want to pick up the phone to make a phone call. They don't want to start a computer or log into anything, and simply sending headsets instead of handsets doesn't work for a car dealership showroom. Calling gives them a blended telephony model, where they can have that PBX experience, with additional features they can tap into from any location. 


The client feedback has been exceptional: they tell me, "it's amazing." Even if the network is down at the office, Calling enables the business to operate normally. That ticks the business continuity and disaster recovery boxes that we never included in our sales proposal before. 


Many small businesses don't have internal IT resources, which is why they rely on external IT providers like Ionize. Because Calling is an end-to-end solution, they don't have to worry about compatibility or configurations. The beauty of Calling is that customers can now manage a lot of things themselves. I'm not particularly eager to dump all the features on a client right away because it just overwhelms them. Instead, I give the client what they ask for first, and then we can demonstrate the expanded applications later. And if anything doesn't work, Cisco is known to have the best support in the industry. Having the full power of Cisco behind a system gives us confidence. 


In the eight weeks after our initial Calling deployment, we have sold about 20 more orders, for a total of around 600 seats. We've begun to help clients expand their capabilities using additional Webex features, including introducing Meetings. 


I think this is the end of on-prem PBX solutions for us. Before, we were worried that the cloud would take away skills from individuals, but our cloud journey has been remarkable. With Cisco, we can grow and scale like never before.