In this episode, Max Clark talks with CallTower’s Chief Revenue Officer, William Rubio. William offers insight into the simplicity of CallTower’s offering and how it delivers unified communications and collaboration solutions with key UCaaS integrations. In addition, Max and William discuss CallTower’s COVID-19 Response Program and how they have supported their customers during the global pandemic.
INTRO: [00.00] Welcome to the Tech in 20 Minutes podcast, where you’ll meet new tech vendors, and learn how they can help your business. At Clarksys, we believe tech should make your life better, searching Google is a waste of time, and the right vendor is often one you haven’t heard of before.
Max: [00.18] Hi, I’m Max Clark and today I’m talking with William Rubio, who is the Chief Revenue Officer for Calltower. William, thank you for joining.
William: [00.23] Thanks Max, thank you very much for having us on. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, thank you.
Max: [00.28] What does Calltower do?
William: [00.31] That’s a great question. So, Calltower – we’re actually one hundred percent dedicated and focused on our business customers, and pretty much we have a wide range of customers, from the small all the way to the enterprise size, and for the past eighteen years, we’ve been a pioneer in unified communications. We’ve strategically positioned ourselves to really deliver a full end-to-end solution and not really a product with our core platforms. What we’ve done is we’ve focused our core platforms – I should say really focused on – Microsoft, which we both have a native platform, we’re both Skype and Teams, also our Cisco voice offering, and then our proprietary unified communications platforms, which is CP Cloud Voice, and we’re able to tie these unified communication platforms with different things like contact center, Office 365, SD-WAN, CIP, to really make sure that we’re able to give that customer a full end to end solution, while a lot of other competitors out there, they’re a little more single-threaded, for us it’s about making sure that we can provide different products to really provide that solution to our customers. So, we’re pretty flexible with the offerings that we have, we’re in about seventy different countries that we can provide the offering overall, and again – for us, it’s really just about making sure we have the right solution for the customer that we can provide to them and service them.
Max: [01.53] Going back to Microsoft, you started with a link that became Skype for Business, and that’s transitioned into Teams, and now Microsoft has different announcements with Skype for Business versus Teams and what’s going on. So, if a company still is on Skype for Business, can you still support them there, or what does that roadmap look like?
William: [02.08] Absolutely, so we actually have thousands and thousands of users – I think last time I checked there was about sixty thousand users on Skype for Business – and a lot of those customers that are on our version of Skype for Business have been asking that question, “Well, we’re kind of ready to transition to Teams and do voice with Teams, but is it the right time to do that?” And the simple answer is, yes. Teams has definitely evolved into the new medium – as far as what’s kind of the new norm, I should say – with Microsoft and voice replacement over all. So, Calltower’s been doing that since 2008, that we’ve been a provider with Microsoft. So we have our expertise, we’ve taken our bumps and bruises to know the dos and don’t of trying to make sure that we can transition a customer. Whether they’re on Skype for Business, online with Microsoft, or with another provider and they’re looking to make that transition to Teams, or they’re on another platform and they’re ready to do voice with Microsoft Teams, we can do all the heavy lifting for them. We have the expertise that, not just from making a migration, but also a successful shift that we could fill in the gaps with some of the limitations that Teams has with our other platforms, so we fill in those gaps that the Teams offering has, to make sure to give that customer the full UCaaS experience and the full turnkey experience that they’re looking for.
Max: [03.27] Calltower offers Microsoft Teams direct routing, and so the experience for the user is native to Teams, so how do you fit in that picture with Microsoft and with Teams, and what does the end user actually experience as they’re interacting with Teams?
William: [03.38] Sure, I actually had that question come up the other day with a customer that actually, it was a potential customer… I had to move forward with this, and it was actually probably the simplest analogy I’ve used, or example I’ve used, and it was probably the one that hit home the best. You know, we were on the call with the customer, we were doing a demonstration within Microsoft Teams, and he said, “Well, these other competitors have the applications within Teams that we could download and you know, we could be a part of it.” And I said, “You’re absolutely right, let’s go to one.” So we show them the Microsoft Teams application, and we wind up putting one of our competitors in there and the app showed up, and the customer says, “Great!” And I said, “Alright, let’s show you the Calltower one,” and we put in the Calltower name and nothing showed up, and the customer kind of looked and he kind of had a strange face, like a little dumbfounded, and we said, “The reason that we don’t have an application is because we’re not a third-party. You’re native with us. You don’t need to download the application with Calltower, you’re automatically part of it.” And the customer, all of a sudden it’s like a light bulb went off and they said, “Oh! Now I get it!” And I said, “Same thing with your mobile app. I’m not going to require you to download a third-party mobile app that you have to work within Microsoft Teams. We use the Microsoft Teams completely, both on the desktop and on the mobile app, to make and receive calls, to transfer calls, to set up hunt groups, to have your auto-attendant, to do all your audio conferencing, your video conferencing, it all resides within the same application, without having to have any third party downloads to make it actually all work. So, very, very effective and very simple for a customer to use, because there really isn’t any learning curve with the fact that they’re already using – in a lot of cases – Microsoft Teams.
Max: [05.24] And you’re also a big Cisco partner. How are you helping companies with Cisco and their Cisco phone environments?
William: [05.29] Yeah, so we are actually what is called a Cisco Premier partner, and we actually have what we call Cisco HCS, which is Hosted Collaboration Services, with Cisco. And for all the folks that are out there that understand Cisco Call Manager, what it basically is, is this is Cisco’s version of Call Manager in the cloud. So we have a lot of customers that come to us and say, “Hey, I’m getting ready to move away from a premise-based Cisco solution, I have this Call Manager sitting in my datacenter, I have to run separate circuits to it, I have to maintain multiple datacenters just to make sure I have that redundancy…” With Calltower, we do that heavy lifting for the customer, so we’re actually able to remove that from the customer, put it into our private cloud environment, and make sure that they get all the benefits of being in the cloud, being redundant, give them all the same feature functionality that they’re used to and more, but now their end users don’t have to worry about learning a new system. The way that they did a 4Digital today is the way that they’re going to do it with us, the way that they retrieve their voicemail is exactly the same way that they were doing it before, so there’s really not much of a learning curve, and at the same time we’re going to save money to the end user, because of the simple fact that now you have… The removal of the smartnets, so smartnet kind of goes away, you have the redundancy in the cloud; so we have multiple datacenters that will run these instances of Cisco overall, so it’s really just been a successful transition for these customers, and we’ve been providing Cisco since our inception in 2002, I should say. So, about eighteen years that we’ve been providing Cisco solutions to our customers.
Max: [07.04] So If I’m a company and I have five hundred… You know, hundreds or thousands of Cisco phones deployed, and I want to move from an on-premise call manager environment over to Calltower, do I need to change my phones? Can I re-use my phones?
William: [07.15] Great questions, so the answer is no; you don’t have to change your phones, you don’t have to change your switches, you don’t have to change your routers, the way that you’re going to access your unity voicemail – for all the Cisco users that are out there – they’re going to go in exactly the way they’re doing it today, that’s the way they’re going to do it tomorrow. The major difference with us going into more of that cloud environment, is that we’re going to provide to them what is called Calltower Connect, and what Calltower Connect is, it’s a single pane of glass that you’re going to have access to that you don’t have to be an expert in Cisco to actually create an auto-attendant, change a hunt group, add a user, remove a user, activate a DID, deactivate a DID… Calltower Connect pretty much acts as that single pane of glass for Cisco, for Microsoft, so that the administrator can go in and make that change without having to be an expert in all those different platforms.
Max: [08.11] And so it’s more than just the phones, because your partnership with HCS and Cisco goes deeper. I mean, you have access to Webex as well, right?
William: [08.19] We do, so in our offering – again, going back to the whole unified communications platform – we’re doing everything from Cisco HCS, which is the voice component of it, Webex Teams, Webex Teams Meetings… So we’re doing the entire solution on the Cisco side that we can provide to a customer.
Max: [08.38] Now a lot of companies are looking at this and trying to decide, “Do I stick with the Cisco environment or the Cisco phones, do I want to use Microsoft Teams, and switch to Microsoft Teams? You know, with Calltower happening in both Microsoft Teams and Cisco HCS support and Webex… You know, what does that look like if I’m evaluating these different platforms? Can I start on one and switch to the other, can I have both at the same time and they talk to each other? What happens there?
William: [09.02] Great question. So what we do Max, is we have the ability to do both. So if a customer says, “I’m still using Cisco, I have the equipment, I’m not ready to make the transition yet because I have some money already invested in the Cisco equipment, but I am looking at Microsoft Teams, or I’m starting to use it maybe just for instant messaging and presence, and using it maybe for my conferencing… What we can do, is we can set up that migration path for the customer, that they can pretty much crawl before they can walk, to move into a Teams environment. So, we give them the ability to actually do that. The great thing about is that if a customer starts in one platform or the other – it doesn’t matter which one they start with – since we’ve already ported over the numbers to them, since we’ve already done the hunt groups, we’ve already done the auto-attendants, all that information is already stored with us, so there’s no rip and replace that has to be done again. It’s a much easier transition to say, “Let me go to Calltower with the existing service that I have – let’s say on Cisco – and then six months down the road, a year down the road, I’m going to go over Microsoft Teams for voice,” that transition is a lot simpler, because again there’s no reporting of numbers that has to be taken place, it’s really just more… Some training on the back-end for the customer, and then we handle the rest for the customer in the backend.
Max: [10.16] So there’s… I mean, as you mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of companies getting into the Microsoft Teams app-enabled space. I mean, there’s options in the Cisco space… What makes Calltower unique? Why are you better at this?
William: [10.27] Well so, first and foremost I think it really goes back to the years of experience. We’ve been a partner, a gold partner, with Microsoft since 2008, we actually were the first ones to deploy Microsoft Link with voice in the cloud, back right around 2012 – 2013, and that was a big learning curve. And then we were also the first to actually deploy voice on Skype for Business, as well, and we were the first to actually deploy voice with Microsoft Teams back in November of 2018. So we’ve been doing it already for about a year and a half, which for Microsoft Teams, we’re kind of the grandfathers in that space overall, and that’s as far as we’re providing. The good thing is that since we are a voice company first, we understand the limitations of any other platforms, and we know that customers… Different things like paging, CRM integration, SMS texting, receptionist console, door buzzers, faxing – I mean, all these different things that a lot of our competitors seem to overlook… They’re important, and they’re vital to a lot of our customers because they still work in that environment, and if we’re able to give them a competitive advantage, and give them what they have today, and then also give the something that they don’t have, to give them that competitive edge, that’s what it’s all about for us; it’s really about making it as easy as it can for our customers to communicate, regardless of what platform they have with Calltower.
Max: [11.52] Could you give me an idea who your customer base is in terms of size? You know, are you targeting small to medium business, enterprise, North America – you know, international, like, specific industry verticals… How does that work for Calltower?
William: [12.07] Sure, I mean we have customers as little as five users, and we have customers north of four to five thousand users and plus, so it’s pretty much a pretty wide spectrum. For us it’s not really so much of the size of the customer, it’s just more of… What the customer is looking for overall. If they’re looking for just a basic phone that’s just going to do a call forwarding and a call transfer, we can do that, but there’s a million other companies that do that. For us, it’s really the customers that are looking for the full collaboration, that are saying, “Hey, I need contact center, I need video, I need to be able to share my desktop screen, I want to be able to do all that with security.” So I’d say overall, if I had to put kind of a number on a sweet spot, I’d say our sweet spot is somewhere between fifty to three thousand users, which again – it’s a pretty big spectrum of customers, but it really kind of sticks to, I’d say, the smaller to medium enterprise customer, overall.
Max: [13.01] And you guys are seeing really large deals with Microsoft Teams as well now, right?
William: [13.04] Yeah, we are – you know, with Microsoft Teams, if you look at the latest statistics from them, especially with everything going on right now with COVID-19, back in November of 2019, Microsoft had about twenty million users that were on Microsoft Teams. That number increased to about forty five million right around the middle of March, and the latest numbers that came out right at the end of April, was that there were over seventy five million users on Microsoft Teams. So they’ve more than tripled the amount of users that are on Microsoft Teams overall, and we’ve been at the forefront of that; customers are going into a Microsoft Teams environment because of the security that it provides, the stability that it provides, and reliability, also the fact that it’s really adaptable to the remote worker, working from home… And now the next phase of that, with all those seventy-five million users is, if I’m doing the video, if I’m doing the collaboration piece, the instant messaging and so forth with my employees or with my customers and my vendors, why can’t I just add the voice component? Why can’t I do the audience conferencing? Why can’t I do the PBX functionality of it? And that’s really where Calltower comes in and really provides that gap for customers, because nowadays IT organizations are shrinking or staying the same… They do have now a seat at the table to grow their companies, right? That’s changed over the past twenty years, so let us do that heavy lifting for your guys, and let the IT organizations really focus on growing the company, and where they’re pretty much supporting would be an extension of their IT arm.
Max: [14.32] So we’re recording this post-COVID… When we look at this, there’s been a pretty rapid change for businesses and remote or distributed workforces. There was a necessity for people to not be in offices overnight. If you had a customer who was already with Calltower, they were already cloud-hosted, so I imagine the transition would have been much easier. For companies that were not already in a cloud-hosted voice system, that have been talking to you post-COVID, what are you seeing in terms of – let’s say trends – but also the experiences of onboarding new customers who are doing this in a very short amount of time, and under a certain amount of duress, as well?
William: [15.09] A lot of different things there, Max. First and foremost, we were prepared for this, right? I mean, that’s what we sell, right? We sell the services in the cloud so when this pandemic started to happen right away, we started to prepare for it, we actually took our offices and worked remote right around the beginning of March, when everyone else was kind of waiting, because we were prepared for it. This was just Calltower internally at first, but also from our customers, what we were able to do was really start to reach out to them proactively and say, “Hey, are you prepared for this? We’re here to help you, we’re here to support you, whatever we can do from a training standpoint, from a design standpoint, let us know,” and our customers are really receptive of that. The next thing that we did is we realized that we also have to be a good neighbour to our potential customers, right up to the guy sitting next door that might not be on our services… And we actually came out with a free promotional service on Cisco Webex Team meetings, and also on our CT Cloud meeting, which is powered by Zoom. So it’s basically the Zoom platform, but in our environment, and what we’re able to do is we’ll tell everybody, “You’re now working from home, you can probably still use your mobile device in the short term to make and receive calls, but you need to join meetings, you need to be able to collaborate with your employees,” and Calltower said, “Go to our website, sign up directly online, we’re going to give you the services through June 30th for free, there’s no contracts to sign, there’s no billing information that we need, just give us your username and your name, sign up online, and we’ll get you turned up within twenty-four hours. So our potential customers and our neighbours that actually saw that response, or saw that proactiveness from us, with open arms were just really excited with the fact that we were just saying, “We’re just here to help. Let’s start to work through this together, come June 30th we’ll see where we are overall with the services and so forth, but now for the next ninety days -” and again, we started this in March, “ – you’re going to get free services from us.” And then the response has been overwhelming with customers just saying, “You know what? Thank you. Thank you for that, thank you for helping transition my fifty, my hundred users to a home environment, so we can continue trying to work, at least with that you know nobody’s going to be going forward over an offer from my employees.
Max: [17.16] Can you give me an idea of your price range for direct routing, but Teams as well as HCS, for people listening?
William: [17.21] Sure. We’ll start first with direct routing… For direct routing, it varies anywhere from as little as four dollars and ninety five cents per user, up to about twelve dollars per user, and then between it really just kind of depends if you’re looking for what we call a metered plan, which is that you pay a per-minute rate on the outbound, or you just want to look at unlimited… The nice thing with us is that we allow customers to mix and match those different plans, so you don’t have to have everybody on one plan or the other, it just kind of depends on the usage of the user. So, if you happen to have the sales team that does a lot of outbound calls, you might want to put them on the unlimited, but you might have somebody that’s sitting in an administrative role that receives a couple of calls, but doesn’t proactively make a lot of calls out to customers, you might want to put them more on a metered plan. We help our customers design that based on their usage and what we’re seeing. On the Cisco side, it varies anywhere from as little as about twelve dollars up to about twenty-four dollars… Now those are kind of a little bit hard to compare because on the Microsoft side, we’re talking more about the calling plan, which we usually already have the phone system and so forth already in place, so that’s another twelve dollars or so that you already have on the backend, so that’s why with Cisco – it might seem on the surface it’s a little bit more – but they’re pretty much on par. And on the Cisco side, we do have an unlimited plan with them as well. It’s going to range right around twenty to twenty-five dollar range, but that includes everything from your mobile app to unlimited calling to everything from a PBX standpoint, that you’re going to have to make E911 calls, pretty much from beginning to end on the Cisco side.
Max: [18.53] And for companies with Cisco call managers now, looking at a cloud migration into a HCS evaluate Webex teams or Webex collaboration, there’s been a question of how many seats do I really need for video? How many licenses do I buy for Webex? And you have an option within that to make it a little easier for people transitioning… What is that?
William: [19.11] We do, so what we actually have on the Cisco side is, we have two different plans: we have a named user, and then we have what is called an active user, and we understand that customers need to have the flexibility, right? It’s all about providing flexibility to our users. So, to give you an easy example on that is, let’s say you happen to have a company with five hundred users, and you’re going to go into what is called a named environment. That means everybody is going to have a license, everyone’s going to have the same functionality. The active user basically means that they say, “Hey you know what, I have five hundred users but not all five hundred users need to have meetings,” as an example. Out of that five hundred, maybe one hundred and fifty of them are pretty proactive with being in meetings… It could be a sales or marketing organization or an IT staff that needs to collaborate with their teams, so what we do is we put them on an active user, which means… “Yeah, I’ve got five hundred, but realistically only a hundred and fifty are the ones that going to use it monthly,” so you pay for the one hundred and fifty instead of the five hundred. So, we do have that flexibility that we offer to our customers.
Max: [20.10] And in the active model, everybody gets access to it, it’s just the assumption is that only a hundred of fifty at any given time are going to be using it, is that right?
William: [20.17] That’s correct, yeah. So everybody – all five hundred – would have access to it, it’s just that at any given point in time, only one hundred and fifty are going to be using it at a time in a day.
Max: [20.28] Fantastic. William, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
William: [20.32] Sure Max, just one other thing to – if I could just mention here, take one more minute of your time – we just actually, recently released what we call our COVID-19 response program, which was basically an additional program that we did outside of the conferencing, but what we’re doing both on Cisco and on Microsoft Teams, we’re basically giving our customers ninety days of free service, then we’re also giving them the first ninety days to cancel the service and we’re also giving them a hundred and eighty days to do a business downturn. So, anybody that’s signing up with us right now in the month of May, we’re going to give them the free service, they also have ninety days from activation to actually go ahead and cancel the service with no additional obligation, and even after those ninety days – let’s say if they have a hundred users or a thousand users or five thousand users, if they want to go down to ten or fifteen users because the economy is kind of changing, or their economic position has changed, we’re giving them that flexibility. I’d love to go ahead and share with your and your customers, it’s a program we started last week of April, we got such an overwhelming response that we extended it through the end of May, and customers are really, really happy with that because we’re just giving them a lot of flexibility as we all get this pandemic and see what’s going to happen now in Q3 and Q4.
Max: [21.45] I mean, the trial period and – without penalty for cancellation is incredible, and the free offer’s incredible, but the right to downgrade later without a penalty, that’s fantastic.
William: [21.57] Thank you! You know, we wanted to make sure – again – we’re here to help out our customers and it’s all about flexibility and let’s get everybody up and running, let’s get America running and working again, and then we’ll worry about it later on down the pipeline.
Max: [22.09] That’s awesome, thank you William.
William: [22.11] Thank you, Max.
OUTRO: [22.13] Thanks for joining the Tech in 20 Minutes podcast. At Clarksys, we believe tech should make your life better, searching Google is a waste of time, and the right vendor is often one you haven’t heard of before. We can help you buy the right tech for your business, visit us at Clarksys.com to schedule an intro call.