Try VoIP, Then Sell VoIP
A real estate agencyâ€™s experience with VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) leads it to start a VoIP reseller division thatâ€™s projecting $1 million in sales revenue this year.
Virtual Bridge Communications Corp. is a startup VoIP systems integrator and a division of Keller Williams Ottawa, one of the largest real estate companies in Ottawa. The real estate company has grown from 30 agents to 180 in just two years. One of the challenges it experienced was managing multiple phone systems. "All of the agents operate independently on multiple floors of a large building," says Ross Murray, CTO of systems integrator Virtual Bridge Communications. Agents work as part of small teams and are responsible for selecting their own phone systems and applications. For example, some teams use Bell Canada phone systems and Winfax applications, other teams use Panasonic key systems (a multiline phone system typically used in small office environments) with Symantec faxing applications. In all, the company had 15 different phone systems and a myriad of disparate faxing and business applications. In fact, about the only thing all of the teams had in common was their Microsoft Office applications and Microsoft Windows servers. Having disparate phone systems made it difficult for agents to communicate with other teams on different floors. There was no easy way to directly dial a person's extension, and the network was so fragmented that e-mail was the only way to exchange electronic files. Furthermore, each agent had approximately 10 passwords to manage. "Agents have multiple voice mail systems for work and home, plus special numbers that correspond to specific advertisements/property deals," says Murray.
Turn Customer Phone Bills Into Income Opportunities
After the company brought in more than 100 new agents, the CEO approached Murray, who was the director of IT at Keller Williams Communications at the time, about conducting a network assessment and unifying the company's phone system and network. "Even though agents were paying $70 per month toward the phone system, the company was still projecting to shell out $98,000 over a five-year period," says Murray. "We saw VoIP as the best way to offset costs and unify our network."
Murray checked into several VoIP solutions, then selected Objectworld's UC (unified communications) solution primarily because it was compatible with Microsoft servers and applications and enabled a phased transition to a full IP environment. Keller Williams purchased an Objectworld UC Server, Polycom IP phones, and an AudioCodes Mediant 1000 SIP (session initiation protocol) gateway. Four agents were selected to beta test the new phone system, which was installed in one day. Within two weeks of the beta test, agent response was so favorable that every agent asked to switch to the new system, and thus the rollout began. The phone system is integrated with Keller Williams' Microsoft Active Directory, which enables agents to locate anyone in the company using the system and to transfer calls without the aid of an operator. Also, agents are able to reduce the number of personal phone numbers by using the system's built-in call forward and/or simultaneous ring features. By switching from multiple traditional phones to a single, T1-based platform, the agency transformed its phone expense into a profitable service. "Agents now have a simpler, unified phone system that costs $50 per month, per agent, which is $20 less than they were paying previously," says Murray. "Additionally, the real estate company is planning to turn a five-year projected expense of $98,000 into a $158,000 profit — a win for the agents and the company."
As a result of Keller Williams' experience with VoIP, the company started an integrator division called Virtual Bridge Communications Corp. Murray is the CTO and cofounder of the new company and currently has three other employees. The integrator is currently working on building a solution that it's planning to brand as Real Estate Agent In A Box, which will comprise the Objectworld UC Server and customized faxing and call management software, geared toward the needs of real estate agencies and law firms. The integrator's initial target audience will be other Keller Williams offices in Canada and the United States. (Keller Williams has more than 70,000 employees and agents and more than 500 offices in the United States and Canada.) In the future, however, the integrator plans to market its services to other real estate companies and law firms. Virtual Bridge Communications is projecting more than $1 million in sales revenue this year.