Survey Reveals U.S. SMB Perceptions and Usage of Business Phone Systems

By Peter Bernstein March 20, 2015

If you read the headlines of the past few years, and look at what industry observers have had to say, one would think that Small to Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) had all either moved to the cloud or were using open source solutions.  If you thought this, a new survey from Allworx Corp., a Windstream company, is going to be a true eye-opener.

The reasons are relatively plain and simple.  In a survey, conducted by  Hanover Research among 427 capital equipment purchase decision makers or influencers at businesses with 5-499 employees in the U.S. across 22 vertical industries, most SMBs have low awareness of the technology trends in business phone systems, and most are not utilizing advanced phone features that are widely available today.

The survey identified a number of key insights regarding the usage and perception of business phone systems among SMBs:

  • The vast majority of SMBs are unfamiliar with telecommunications terminology such as IP telephony, hosted PBX, IP PBX, virtual PBX, SIP trunks or Unified Communications.
  • Despite the rise of email, video, and social media, 74 percent said that voice communication remains extremely or very important to their business operations.
  • The top five phone features used most by SMBs are: 3-way calling (60 percent), intercom (42 percent), conference call bridges (41 percent), music on hold (40 percent) and calling other locations using extensions (37 percent).
  • The top five most desired phone features by SMBs are: voicemail as email attachments (38 percent), remote desk phones (25 percent), music on hold (25 percent), 3-way calling (24 percent), and mobile client for the desk phone (24 percent).
  • Nearly one in two SMBs plan to evaluate a new business phone system in the near future – with 86 percent of them planning to do so within the next three years. Sixty-four percent of them cited old or outdated voice equipment as the primary reason.

Allworx has produced an interesting infographic to capture the information above which can be viewed in its entirety here.

As a teaser, here is one chart that should capture anyone’s attention if you are looking to SMBs as customers of your solutions.

Source: Allworx

No,your eyes are not deceiving you. Awareness of even the basics is very low.

As a little context here are some numbers to noodle. In 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 5.68 million employer firms in the United States.  

  • Firms with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of those businesses
  • Businesses with less than 20 workers made up 89.8 percent
  • Add in the number of nonemployer firmsthere were 22.7 million in 2012—and the share of U.S. businesses with less than 500 workers increases to 99.9 percent, and firms with less than 20 workers increases to 98 percent.

My reason for bringing this up is that every one of those business represents a phone system.  And, when it comes to looking at markets and market opportunities while large companies have lines, SMBs have systems. The age of their installed communications equipment, despite us being well into the digital and Internet ages has never been older with estimates ranging to over seven years for those SMBs that have remained in business that long. It should also be noted that these figures do not include the resale market for older systems which is robust as investing in new systems is not always a priority for SMBs, especially start-ups.   

What is clear from the survey is that from a modern technology standpoint regarding communications, the addressable market is enormous, under-educated and under-served.  In short, it is ripe with opportunity.  That said, however, getting the value-proposition correct to get these customers to upgrade from something that they know how to use and works is a challenge.  In addition, providing them support and price points for products and services they can afford is equally daunting.

As further inducement to download the full infographic below is another snippet to ponder.

Source: Allworx

SMBs are in no rush to change.  Again, this can and should be viewed as a great opportunity to address SMB needs with new solutions and business models. Indeed, this is precisely what Allworx did recently with the introduction of a comprehensive new server family designed spefically for various sizes of SMBs.  

"Twenty years into the advent of the VoIP technology, business phone systems have become more intelligent and capable than ever before. These results tell us that there is a real opportunity to help educate SMBs on how they can optimize their business phone systems to increase efficiency, boost productivity, and do more with less," said Chris Hasenauer, vice president and general manager of Allworx.

Another point of interest in the survey was the importance that is still attached to voice communications.  We all may be making fewer calls, and younger generations may prefer text-based interactions to speaking with somebody, but as the survey also revealed voice is still the way to seal the deal and is and will remain mission critical for SMBs. 

If nothing else, the survey can be viewed as a wake-up call to the industry.  There is a real and substantial need for next generation communications in the SMB market, and while the time frames for addressing the need to upgrade may seem long, it should be remembered that most technology “revolutions” tend to be evolutionary.  When almost 50 percent of such an enormous market says they are thinking about making a change, attention should and must be paid. 




Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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