Over the past two years, mass adoption of cloud solutions and sustained momentum of the hybrid work environment have completely transformed the concept of the workplace. Throughout this transformational period, business owners have been trying to figure out how to go about business as usual when employees, processes, tools, and information are suddenly distributed across dozens or even hundreds of locations. Is it possible to maintain a winning culture and keep employees productive and happy instead of running toward the exits? The key is to let go of the idea of “business as usual” and instead adapt to the new situation. Keep what works, get rid of what doesn’t, and embrace the new tools, methods, and philosophies that others are succeeding with.

These disruptive forces may appear to be a threat to the traditional office equipment channel. But to savvy, future-oriented dealers, cloud technology and the hybrid office aren’t threats—they are opportunities. Businesses—many of which you already serve—are spending a lot of money on unified communications and collaboration technology to keep their hybrid working environments connected. According to Vantage Research, the global unified communications market is expected to grow from $79 billion in 2021 to $234 billion by 2028—a CAGR of 14.45%.

Your customers are changing, and as they transform, so must you. What the cloud and the hybrid office have done for office equipment dealers and managed services providers is create an entirely new office space in another dimension with its own unique problems that businesses need help navigating. As your customers’ businesses transform, they are going to need help figuring things out. Why shouldn’t that someone be you?

Embracing new dimensions

According to Gartner, “Unified communications (UC) products — equipment, software and services — provide and combine multiple enterprise communications channels, such as voice, video, personal and team messaging, voicemail, and content sharing. This can include control, management and integration of these channels. UC products and services can also be integrated with networks and systems, IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”

Unified communications solutions have become a viable revenue stream for dealers, and in fact, there are a lot of similarities between print solutions and UC. How? Well, they play an important role in communication, and while not every user within a business is going to need or use print and/or UC, for today’s workforce they are foundational technologies that businesses as a whole cannot function without. And even though they are mission-critical technologies that aren’t usually overly complicated, IT departments still don’t want much to do with them.

Since they are such complementary products, the move from selling print solutions to also selling UC isn’t a huge leap, especially compared to other popular diversification strategies, like managed IT and cybersecurity. UC is far less complex and doesn’t require as much time and energy to get off the ground, particularly when it’s offered as an as-a-service model, where the cost of entry is much lower, and dealers can partner with solution providers to do the heavy lifting as they build out their business. Dealers can decide how much responsibility they want to take on, from acting as an agent for a UCaaS provider all the way to implementing and servicing your own white-label solution.

Whether you rely on a partner or go out on your own, you already have many of the pieces in place to succeed. You don’t need to take on new staff, invest in new equipment, or spend a lot of cash to acquire new customers. You can upskill your current sales and service staff to sell and service UC solutions and make an immediate impact on your bottom line.

Beyond catalyzing growth within your existing base, UC can also be used to branch out and win new business, acting as the differentiator a sales rep needs to displace competitors from accounts or build a presence in new verticals that you’ve never been able to crack before. In addition, it gives sales reps another reason to approach customers in the middle of their lease—that way, when it comes to re-signing, they’re thinking about the awesome, company-saving UC solution you placed. 

UC is also a great fit for businesses that want to add or expand on current monthly recurring revenue streams. Dealers can blend unified communications, print and other services into a single monthly payment. Not only does this create more stickiness within accounts, but it also creates wider margins, especially as you grow your customer bases and relationships mature. Bundling services also has an advantage over individual pricing, letting you widen the moat separating your competitors from your customers. The more things you bundle together, the harder it becomes to unbundle them, and the more difficult it is for competitors to drive you out with a lower price.

Keeping the hybrid office connected

The Great Resignation. The Great Reshuffle. Quiet quitting. Call it what you want, but all these buzzwords are different names for the same problem that many of your customers have been confronted with—businesses that will not or cannot create flexible and engaging hybrid working environments will have trouble attracting and retaining happy, productive employees. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index 2022, 21% of workers who quit their job in 2021, did so because of a “lack of flexible work hours or location,” and that over half of all workers will switch jobs for hybrid positions in the next year. Replacing those workers won’t be easy for those who resist the hybrid office. Remote job listings on LinkedIn attracted “2.6 times more views and nearly 3 times more applications compared to on-site roles” according to the Microsoft report.

The reality is, the hybrid office held together with a strong UC infrastructure is an excellent remedy. According to Accenture, 83% of workers said that the hybrid working model is the “optimal” model. And according to Microsoft, 80% of employees say they are just as or more productive since they’ve shifted to hybrid or remote work. Resisting or failing to properly create the right hybrid work environment is akin to leaving money on the table—money you can help them pick up.

But it’s not just about allowing hybrid work—it’s also about making it easy for workers to be productive no matter where they work. In a study from Frost and Sullivan, 68% of employees prefer a “single pane of glass” solution for communicating and collaborating. They don’t want to open three different windows just to do one thing. Meanwhile, Microsoft found that 43% of workers didn’t feel engaged in meetings. Workers don’t feel like they are being heard or seen when communicating with others virtually, which can lead to huge losses in productivity.

This is one reason it’s becoming more common to see unified communications solutions bundled together with collaboration solutions like Microsoft 365, leading to a new area known as unified communications and collaboration (UCC). Customers need ways to securely share and work on documents together, and tools to defend themselves in their new environment. UCC can be your gateway to a whole-office approach, wherein customers turn to you for everything from document management and office productivity applications to basic security tools and full-blown call center management. The ability to offer these solutions as a service opens up a lucrative recurring revenue model.

Businesses can’t just throw money and technology at the problem and call it a solution. They need help thinking it through, and someone who can tell them what they don’t know. With unified communications and collaboration solutions in your portfolio, you can address the problem that most employers—your customers—are facing. You can architect a simple, engaging workplace to not only help businesses find and keep the best people, but to also create the most productive environment possible.

Go where the growth is

If you want to grow, then you need to be where the growth is. And right now, as businesses build out the foundations of their hybrid work environment, there is growth in unified communications. It is a great way for office equipment dealers to diversify portfolios and serve as a big step toward a transition into a whole office approach. Unified communications addresses most—if not all—of the most pressing needs of today’s businesses. It allows them to cater to workers’ demands, fostering flexible and engaging environments wherein everyone can thrive, regardless of their working style. It’s a fast-growing market that allows dealers to enhance their value as a service provider, grow their customer base, increase monthly recurring revenue, and widen margins—setting up a business line that can help sustain your business for decades to come.

Noel O'Dwyer
Noel O’Dwyer

Noel O’Dwyer is Strategic Alliances Manager at Intermedia. He has over 20 years of experience in promoting solutions to the copier channel market and he has held senior executive positions with eCopy, Equitrac and PrinterLogic. Noel is focused on building the Intermedia brand in the copier channel.