By Jared Smith
One of the things that has always attracted me to Simwood has been the company’s passionate focus on improving the customer experience. I observed that first as an outside observer, then as a customer, and now as a fairly new member of the Simwood team. Over the course of Simwood’s 24 years in business, and more particularly our 15 years offering voice services (the other 9 were SMS, just in case you’re wondering), we’ve seen customers of all shapes and sizes grow in all sorts of differing ways. We’ve got a good idea what does and doesn’t work and so would like to take a few minutes to talk about how Simwood’s latest offering may help you. But first, a bit of context…
Our greatest experience is in our wholesale voice product, or what I’d prefer to call ‘Carrier Services’. The term ‘wholesale’ means different things to different people and arguably is misused more often than not – reselling a reseller reselling someone else is not really wholesale! Arguably though, in a world where our competitors have £50k a month minimum spends and onerous legal responsibilities, our approach to wholesale has always been atypical – we defined wholesale as ‘those who know what they’re doing’ with startup-friendly plans. Many of our longest-standing customers came to us as startups, and have grown along the way. Generally speaking, they created value by combining Simwood services and APIs with open source software and made something truly great.
Some customers have done very well with this approach and been in a position to evolve their platform to cope with growth. Others have been so busy tuning the engine they’ve never really made it out onto the race track. We understand this temptation more than most and, intentionally or not, paralysis is a very real risk. An even bigger risk is time — finding your beautifully tuned and nearly-finished 1990s platform just doesn’t cut it in a 2020 DevOps world. We know we have customers in this trap, we certainly have competitors in this trap, and ironically we’ve lost customers in the past because of this. Before the acquisition of Sipcentric and the launch of our Simwood Partner platform, we had a few customers fitting this profile who made the impressively difficult decision to resell someone else’s platform and they’ve done pretty well since!
Some have gone the other direction and started life reselling other platforms and craved more control of the proposition. Of course, that often requires making a tricky leap. Simon likes to describe our sales function being a crucial filter: eliminating bottom feeders lying about their level of competence, only to feel entitled to us bridging the knowledge gap and giving them retail support at wholesale prices, while at the same time resenting those wholesale prices. We used to turn away far far more accounts than we signed up, but arguably those (thankfully few!) of those that snuck through the filter remain a source of stress and aggravation for our team. Amongst the others, though, were some real gems – sensible people who recognise the values of honesty and great customer service – who are on the journey to develop their business and grow with us. Many are now on our higher-tier wholesale plans, getting all of the benefits that come with consuming at scale.
Since we launched the Simwood Partner platform we’ve also seen the other end of the scale. We’re attracting many serious resellers who have outgrown competitors’ platforms. What is really interesting to us is that many of these resellers are very technical, with well resourced development teams. Just like our wholesale product, our Partner proposition has extensive APIs of its own, and while operating a layer above wholesale, can deliver far more value integrating with them to bring customer satisfaction. (Just as a side note — I’m a huge fan of well-written APIs. I could go on and on and on about how much fun I’ve had in my career by using APIs to glue different systems together and to create really interesting solutions.) If our Partner hosted PBX platform hadn’t existed, I wonder where they’d have gone; they’d have probably made the leap to creating and operating their own platforms, albeit out of necessity and not by choice.
It should be obvious that we have a diverse and growing customer base bringing many different solutions to the market and genuinely adding value in a variety of ways. Moreover, they’re all on a journey, and that path is somewhat fluid. The market hasn’t always provided a solution that can travel with them and fit their needs. Regrettably, that tends to favour the original supplier (as they do not allow wholesale porting of numbers), or the bottom feeders (to whom lying and shouting to get what he wants is just business as usual). We remain in a world where over-commoditised garbage is sold cheaper and cheaper every year (the so-called “race to zero”), with price and ‘hot air’ being the only differentiator. For bright integrators, doing things differently means not only struggling to get heard, but having to fight battles on all fronts in order to succeed. Surely life doesn’t need to be that hard!?
Enter Simwood Partner Hybrid! Our Hybrid product enables a customer to combine a Simwood Partner account and a Simwood Wholesale account, so that they work together beautifully. You get all the features of the Partner hosted PBX platform – including SIP trunks and billing, all private-labelled to your brand. But behind that you also have all the features of your Simwood Wholesale account – including wholesale termination rates that enable you to build your own bundles, wholesale numbering rates and the ability for Simwood to host your own ranges. You also get the full power of both APIs, to integrate where appropriate. Those APIs are of course tied together so when your customers provision numbers through the partner platform they’re provisioned directly from your wholesale pool. I (like many of you) got to see the preview of Hybrid at SimCon earlier this year, and now it’s my privilege to share it publicly. I’m very proud of the entire Simwood team for the effort and long hours that they’ve put into getting this product ready for launch.
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Let’s look at Hybrid from the perspective of our journeys described above.
Those feeling the burden of operating their own platform, or otherwise paralysed, can pick and choose elements of the Partner proposition to enhance their own. It may be this is just the billing component, enabling them to add intricate bundles behind their own platform by adding trunks, but it could also be more advanced voice features, such as ring groups and queues and call routing based on dates and times.
Similarly, those who recognise the need to move to a more modern solution now have a much smaller leap to make. They can keep operating wholesale ‘as-is’ behind their old platform and provision new customers alongside on the new platform. This makes migrations very easy! Or if the pressures are of a commercial nature (such as meeting our wholesale minimum spending requirements), they can migrate their account to Partner entirely safe in the knowledge that they have a safe path back to adding wholesale when it makes sense. Those coming from the Partner world have an exciting growth path without changing the customer platform at all. They can seamlessly add in wholesale services, start creating their own bundles and benefit from breakage, buying numbers at wholesale, or maybe even adding their own number ranges which we host.
Of course, there is a further scenario – the Partner who adds wholesale and continues growing. We don’t believe someone will outgrow our platform and we’re keen to work with anyone at risk of doing so to ensure they don’t. But, anyone who thinks they have, still has options. They can remain a wholesale customer even if using the partner platform less, and instead add in their own solution. Again, that’s a graceful migration path.
There are those who would say this is suicide and that by offering Hybrid we risk canibalising luractive partner revenues. I’ve learned over many years that someone will generally find a way to get where they want, and that it is far better to help them. There are those who would seek to abuse us of course, which is why one omission on the Partner platform is bundles where we’re taking the risk. You can create your own at wholesale rates, but we don’t want to give opportunity for arbitrage.
Under the hood (or the bonnet, as I think it gets called in the UK), Hybrid is two distinct accounts with two distinct invoices (please see our price list) but they’re tied together at the API and SIP level. If you think about it, Sipcentric was a Simwood Wholesale customer prior to the acquisition, and so it makes sense that the Simwood Partner platform sits entirely on top of the Simwood Wholesale platform. With Hybrid it continues to do so but the wholesale account is yours, the rates are yours and the numbers are potentially yours. Anything you provision on the partner side is, where necessary, provisioned underneath on the wholesale platform. At the voice layer, the partner platform is just a trunk on the wholesale platform which doesn’t affect any of your other trunks.
A quick note about availability — Hybrid is a commercial option for any in-contract Virtual Interconnect or Managed Interconnect customer, or looking at it the other way, any Partner can add a Virtual Interconnect or Managed Interconnect account behind their Partner account. The usual set-up fees apply in either direction. You cannot add Startup or Developer wholesale accounts as, quite frankly, any account dwelling at that level for more than a short period of time would, in our opinion, be better off migrating entirely to Partner. And of course, they can always go back the other way if they choose to do so.
We’re really excited to see how our Hybrid platform can help with your customer journeys, and enable you to build creative solutions for your end-users. Please reach out to our sales team if you’d like more information on our Hybrid product.