“Chief Outsiders pointed out that our partners needed VoIP to be easy, and at every touch point, we’ve made it simple. As a result, we've more than doubled our partners and production.” Zane Conkle, CEO, Cytracom
Cytracom provides an enterprise-grade hosted VoIP platform to SMB companies through a nationwide partner network. Looking to hone the company’s growth strategy, CEO Zane Conkle engaged a Chief Outsiders CMO for proven channel experience and outside perspective. As Cytracom’s acting CMO, the Chief Outsider CMO encouraged a simplified approach with improved processes and messaging that fostered clarity and confidence in partners and customers. Six months after implementing the ‘simple’ strategy, Cytracom has more than doubled their partner network.
Cytracom was launched in 2008 to meet the growing demand for a world class VoIP platform offering advanced business communications for SMB companies across the United States. The company targeted Managed Service Providers (MSPs) as go-to-market partners to position and sell the solution.
With the key technical pieces in place, CEO, Zane Conkle, sought to build a market-oriented foundation and strategy for growth.
“We had spent so much time on our infrastructure and software, to ensure we had a rock-solid offering, that we had not focused much on marketing,” related Conkle. “We wanted to engage and review our strategy and execution to make sure that we could achieve our revenue goals.”
Partners Not Producing
Cytracom is a channel-only company, selling exclusively through partner companies who are MSPs. Although they were willing, partners hesitated to sell VoIP services because they lacked a complete understanding of the solution. Negative experiences from the early days of VoIP left them nervous about offering a product that had elements of risk for their overall relationship.
“We've never had a problem attracting our partners to sign up with us,” explained Conkle. “Where we ran into issues was in trying to get them to start producing.”
Seeking to educate and motivate partners and to improve end-user retention rates, leadership planned a partner certification program.
Full-time vs. Chief Outsiders
To refine strategy and ramp up marketing efforts, Conkle considered a full-time marketing hire, but ultimately decided on partnering with Chief Outsiders for an interim engagement.
“It made sense to work with Chief Outsiders at the time as we were at crossroads in planning our go-to-market plan,” he said. “We wanted them to come in and make recommendations both from an industry view and also as a firm with a fresh perspective.”
With years of experience overseeing channel partners at Sage Software as VP/GM, the Chief Outsiders CMO had the tools to guide Cytracom through the process of refining its channel strategy. Beginning in 2015, she spent time both onsite brainstorming with the executive team in its North Texas headquarters as well as working remotely.
“Those meetings were very productive, providing much of the value that we received from Chief Outsiders,” stated Conkle. “[The Chief Outsiders CMO] blended right in with the team and became part of the family, which is something that we really value and appreciate.”
Combining her channel experience and insight from competitors, internal staff and key partners, the CMO recommended a channel strategy focused on three areas of growth:
- Acquisition of new value-add channel partners
- Retention of existing partners
- Development of existing partners to increase production
After closely reviewing the existing go-to-market plan, leadership determined to move to a “no contracts” model would attract new customers and ease the concerns of their partners.
“We formulated the idea with [the CMO] and we all realized it was an opportunity to make it a big selling point and key differentiator,” explained Conkle.
The CMO also advised Conkle that resellers needed the entire process to be easy. “We kept coming back to the simplicity theme,” he related. “It compelled us to look at every touchpoint in the organization and every time that we interact with a reseller or a customer and ask, ‘Is it simple for them?’”
That focus on making it easy for resellers resulted in a clarity of message. “We simplified our message so that we only talk about three key points,” stated Conkle.
- Cytracom is a channel-only company
- Cytracom requires no customer contracts
- Cytracom includes phones as part of the simple monthly subscription
Resellers like the fact that customers are not locked in to a contract. They are not put in a hard spot if they make a recommendation that does not lead to total customer satisfaction. Customers benefit from no CAPEX on the front end and having the hardware refreshed every 36 months.
“The partners are embracing our key points,” stated Conkle, “And we’re getting great feedback that this message is resonating with our SMB customers.”
Every aspect of the message was crafted to reflect the commitment to simplicity, including the web site, marketing materials, webinars, customer onboarding, the new partner welcome process and a new tagline, “VoIP MADE SIMPLE.”
Certification Empowers Partners
To overcome the resellers’ hesitation to sell VoIP services, the CMO worked with Cytracom to refine the comprehensive certification program they had been planning. That training has been a critical component in enabling partners to sell the product with confidence.
“With Chief Outsiders as an integral partner, we were able to clearly define the certifications and different levels of partnership with associated benefits,” stated Conkle, “We have received a lot of feedback that our certification is the best they’ve seen across the industry.”
With the no contracts model, a simplified message and the new certification program, the CMO and company leadership developed an aggressive partner acquisition plan with talking points and partner selling tools.
Changes to the organization, processes and metrics include:
- Organized a partner advisory board
- Launched a unified portal with a single sign on
- Streamlined partner communications with newsletter and announcements
- Initiated case studies and proposal drip campaigns
- Began changes to website with simplicity theme
- Started tradeshow planning for 40 events
- Developed metrics to measure improvements in close ratios and partner performance
To continue the momentum after the engagement, the CMO screened 135 candidates for a new Director of Marketing. “With [the CMO's] help, we were able to find a great candidate,” stated Conkle. “Honestly, one of the best hires we’ve ever made.”
Doubled Resellers and Production
After refining strategy, honing the message and aligning processes with goals and targets in 2015, Cytracom has seen significant channel growth in the current year. With the certification program, resellers are actively proposing VoIP to their customers.
“We’re into the second quarter and we’ve more than doubled our partners since the beginning of the year,” stated Conkle. “Those partners are also producing at a greater rate than ever before; production has more than doubled.”
Increased Customer and Partner Satisfaction
Thanks to effective messaging, the no contracts service model has attracted new customers without negatively impacting end-user retention rates.
“The switch to no contracts helps us gain new customers,” stated Conkle. “And, our retention rates are equal to or better than where they were before.”
At several IT-focused trade events in the first half of 2016, MSPs have voted to award Cytracom several “Best of Show” awards, including: Best Partner Incentives, Best Revenue Generator and Best Channel Program. Working with simplified processes and satisfied customers, Cytracom’s partners are more committed and enthusiastic.
A Solid Foundation for Growth
Cytracom now finds itself in an enviable position with a solid growth strategy, expertly crafted channel execution and high demand for VoIP services. “We’re growing our revenues quickly and we are tracking to our best year in the company’s history,” related Conkle. Valuable insight comes from him on how the company got to that point.
“You can either lean on the shoulders of others with market experience or you can try to figure it out yourself through trial and error,” he concluded. “We were moving at such a fast pace that we didn’t have time to do the latter. Working with Chief Outsiders made my job a whole lot easier.”