InPhonex Intros Cloud Telephony For SMBs

Televate adds CRM and mobile apps to traditional PBX and interactive voice response functions in a single hosted platform geared for small offices.

Kevin Casey

March 16, 2011

4 Min Read
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InPhonex on Wednesday announced Televate, a fully hosted phone system for small businesses that incorporates customer relationship management (CRM) into its user interface.

Televate rolls up a trifecta of services -- private branch exchange (PBX), interactive voice response (IVR), and CRM -- into a single cloud platform. Though InPhonex also sells standalone phone services that integrate with SugarCRM and, VP of marketing Matt Bramson believes that the "come as you are" bundled approach helps set Televate apart -- particularly with smaller companies that haven't yet taken the CRM plunge.

"A lot of businesses don't view themselves as really ready for or needing CRM," Bramson said in an interview. "We think that's the key: Making it a part of the meal instead of simply offering ways you can plug in third-party CRMs."

The Televate CRM application will suck in contacts from a variety of sources -- including Outlook, Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook -- into a single management interface. On the telephony side, Televate's feature set covers the typical PBX list: voice, voice mail, email delivery, auto-receptionist, local and toll-free numbers, fax, and virtual extensions. IVR functionality supports a variety of automated call management features.

Bramson said that InPhonex places heavy emphasis on mobile integration, too, noting that smartphones have added fuel to a common phenomenon in smaller businesses: Everyone, from owner to intern, is a customer service rep.

"Everybody in the business needs to know who's calling, why they're calling, who they spoke to last, what was the outcome of that last call," Bramson said. "They need the ability to transfer that call to somebody else in the business without having to put them on hold and cradle their smartphone on their shoulder while they go look up what someone's extension is."

Televate launched with an Android app that offers the full functionality of its desktop UI; Bramson said the company will release iPhone and Blackberry apps in the second quarter.

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InPhonex targets businesses with between four and 20 employees for Televate. Bramson says the company hopes to increase that profile size in the next year or so, but that the current sales cycle -- and the purchase decision between hosted and on-premises phone systems -- slows down considerably beyond 20 seats. Televate is offered in packages of four, 10, and 20 seats; individual seats can be added a la carte. Pricing ranges between $30 and $40 per seat, per month. Bramson acknowledges that's a higher price point than some other cloud telephony providers, but said that the CRM application and mobile apps justify the cost.

Though InPhonex will sell Televate directly to businesses, Bramson said that's mainly to stay in touch with the market -- the company's dominant distribution method is through channel partners. Bramson believes that model best serves SMBs considering a hosted phone system: "We think that the majority of businesses view their communications application as something that's critical, that's serious, and that demands a face-to-face conversation," he said, adding that he doesn't believe the direct sales route will drive the industry's growth. "That model is not going to be the one that conquers the big, fat part of the adoption curve."

Competition among cloud telephony vendors appears to be intensifying of late, particularly among those targeting SMBs. A recent study conducted by Parallels projected that hosted PBX for smaller companies will become a $3.9 billion business. Bramson thinks that hyper-growth has already begun -- and is sustainable long term.

"I think it's a boom with a potentially really long tail," Bramson said. He added that while hosted PBX might be the strategic "beachhead" for service providers, the more significant long-term opportunity lies in application integration -- extending even to seemingly unrelated functions such as payroll or human resources. "The smart [providers] are going to use that beachhead to layer additional applications on top, so that eventually the hosted phone system becomes the foundation upon which a whole bunch of application Legos are stacked."

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