How to Buy a Phone System for Your Business: A Phone System Buyer’s Guide

You’re here because you’re interested in buying a phone system for your business.

Buying a Phone system for your businessI’m here to help. I’m here to help, not with complicated lingo and industry terminology, but, with the basic information you need to understand the options, features, and how it all works, so that you can make an educated decision on the best way to go.

I’m going to lay it all out.  BUT, because there’s a lot to over, I’m not going to throw everything at you in one article, but rather, will break this topic into sections.

So, who am I, and how am I even qualified to provide this type of information?

I was in the voice business for over 27 years.

I started a telecom company in 1991, and sold VoIP products for over 27-years. I grew the business to over 50 employees, and to ultimately become one of the largest telecom interconnect companies in Canada by 2017, the year I sold the business. So needless to say, I understand telecom, and the nuances around how to buy a business phone system, and moreover, what questions customers ask when they embark on their VoIP business phone system journey.

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Fast forward to 2020.

I’m now in an entirely different industry. Not telecom related. At all.  But, I write this blog, The Kickass Entrepreneur, and one of the things I cover is how entrepreneurs should grow their business.  And answering business calls, call centers, VoIP, and technology is part of that bigger picture.

I’ve broken this business phone system discussion into multiple chapters, and if you start with chapter 1, and continue along, you’ll spend the next part of the VoIP journey getting educated, and hopefully, with me entertaining you as we move along. And don’t worry. It should only take you 20 minutes to read everything, but, it will definitely be 20-minutes well spent.

My goal is to help you decide what to do, and where to go to get everything done.

Business Phone System Concepts – Chapter 1

I’m going to start by explaining the concepts: Voice over IP. Circuit-switched … all of the confusing terms you might come across as you research phone systems.

We will look at the GLUE that holds a properly designed Voice over IP (VoIP) network together: cabling, and switches, and even some of the misconceptions surrounding Voice over IP, and circuit-switched phone systems.

How about phone system features?

Yes, I’ll explain the features as well.

We will look at some of the more popular features you might want to make sure are available in your new phone system. Features like: Call Center queues (some people call them hunt groups or ACD’s), Unified Messaging, silent call recording, conference bridges, interactive voice response, wireless handsets, video conferencing (that’s become a biggie lately), and integration with tools like Salesforce, Office 365, Gmail, and other CRM packages.

For old time sake, let’s call it nostalgia, and to provide you with some phone system background, I’m going to cover some of the history of the phone system business.  But, don’t worry. I won’t overdo it.

What is a PBX Phone System and how does it work?

Once we’re done with the history, I will try and present some of the various types of phone system options available. These include:

Like I was saying earlier, I was in the voice business for over 27 years.

In my 27 years selling and designing voice networks, this is probably the most challenging, and at the same time, most enjoyable time I have witnessed in this industry.

Challenging because in addition to explaining all of the issues that companies need to address from a traditional perspective (i.e. phone features, voice mail, call center etc.). This has been further complicated by the newer world of Voice over IP (VoIP) coming into play, at the same time coupled with the myriad of options available.

There are many serious considerations for any organization moving away from its existing phone system, which is likely to be based on the regular phone network or an expensive Centrex system, to a new system based around IP telephony. A key decision is the right IP/PBX system to choose and how to integrate that into your business’s existing IT and business practices while still planning for the future.

For some organizations, key functionality and features are going to drive the decision, and these will in turn drive many of the other potential decisions. However, in a majority of cases, the features and functionality on offer will exceed current planning and practices so dramatically that other more basic operational issues will come to the fore.

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The most critical of these, from the point of view of implementation and future growth, is what kind of system will be installed in the first place, and from there, what kind of features and add-ons will be used, and how those will be designed.

For a few organizations, this decision will stem from a fundamental philosophy of the business – outsourcing all functions that aren’t directly germane to the core business.

However, IP telephony and VoIP are new technologies with great potential and their benefits and future directions aren’t clearly understood yet by those in the field, like me, let alone the end user.

Some of the buying decisions when looking to buy a business phone system include cost, future expansion, control, flexibility, range of features and options, and implementation.

Before I explain the pros and cons of these different solutions, let’s review some of the common building blocks of the phone system itself. In addition, given that the buzzword at the moment is Voice over IP, cloud telephony, video conferencing and integration, and hosted PBX, I will spend a lot of time explaining all of these as well.

Some Points of Consideration

While you read these few chapters, some issues might come to the fore which will help you better understand the phone system market and features. A properly designed phone system, just like a properly designed computer network, or properly organized business plan, requires an understanding of where you are at today, what is potentially missing, and where you are looking to go in the future.

Do you need a call center for your business?

Where you are looking to go; what do I mean?

Where are you looking to take your business? How will the phone system assist with future plans of where you are looking to take the business? Do you need a call center?

Are you looking to centralize reception between multiple offices? How important is redundancy to your design (and how important is the phone system to your day to day business operation)?

Before embarking on a path of purchasing a new phone system you need to understand where you are going from a business perspective. For most companies, the phone system is their most important means of day to day communication. Unfortunately for many companies, they do not treat their telecom requirements as such.

My point?

Have a plan – formulate that plan as you read these chapters. Understand where your business is going, and how the phone system plays a part in the future of the business.

For those interested in some nostalgia and history, I begin the book with a quick history of the phone system. If you want to skip that, you can.  So choose between one of the two options below:

Chapter 2 – A short history of the business phone system industry

Chapter 3 – What is VoIP (voice over IP)